I had to sit on this read for a bit after Batman #686. “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” is an unmistakably moving slice of Bat-verse, but it’s singular nature demands hard swallow to add up the parts of what Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert put together here. Does this story deserve a place in the Pantheon of top Batman stories ever told? No, but I think people will still read it and mention it ten years from now. I don’t think it will be remembered vividly alongside Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and consistently mentioned in the same breath, but it will often be a fond afterthought to discussions of that work.
Despite the finely tuned writing and elegant arrangement, story never seemed to put anything at risk for me, and the meaty subplots of Moore’s work were absent, which meant the real danger was mostly cerebral, implied and floated lightly upon the playful turns. The end result was satisfying reading experience, but I don’t feel like it added anything to the character beyond a confrontation with death that was interrupted by the “Goodnight Moon” homage at the end, which was also clever and entertaining, but a soft landing for a story that had already relieved its tension.
What I’ll remember Gaiman and Kubert for in this story is their salute to the Golden Age and Silver Age Batman tales of the past. Their tour was heartfelt and worth the cover price on this issue, but I don’t believe my Batman reading experience over the last year would have been impacted on way or another if I’d read this comic when I first bought it. It’s a love poem by an all-star pair of creators, but it’s just not a Batman contribution for the ages.