The second part of Neil Gaiman’s brief foray into Gotham certainly delivers conceptually, but the implementation of his light-bulb moment leaves a little to be desired. You can’t quibble with the level of thought that’s gone into this companion to Alan Moore’s Superman classic, but it regrettably feels a little artificial, due to the on-the-nose delivery of the central conceit.
Even before the arrival of the demonic medic, there was always something rather biblical about Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. Within the space of a few issues, Bruce Wayne faced an unwelcome prodigal son and had been smitten by an alluring Jezebel. All the talk of transcendental meditation couldn’t disguise the writer’s examination of whether Batman would fit into a Christian perspective. Gaiman takes this theme and provides a very different viewpoint, with the second part of ‘Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?‘ presenting a strongly Buddhist conception of the Dark Knight. The central conclusion is a truly brilliant one, arguing that Bruce Wayne’s actions are so perfectly balanced in terms of karma that the only possible next life for him is to be reborn as himself. The genius of this idea comes from the resonance it has with the dozens of retellings of Batman’s origin story that there have been over the years. More than any other superhero, Wayne is integrally tied to his past, and Gaiman’s idea is a superb way of acknowledging this.
Unfortunately, what DC has published is precisely that: an idea, not a story. The dramatic device of Batman’s funeral is soon discarded, with little of the Planetary-esque flitting between conceptions of the Batman canon that characterised the opening segment. The writer is soon reduced to having a narrator actually telling the title character the message of the story, being unable to find a way to convey it through events. Gaiman has only done half the job here. He’s told a story about Batman, but not a Batman story, and it’s unlikely that the unique view he gives of the title character will persist in the absence of a memorable narrative to hang it on. It’s hard to think of a way in which the situation could be remedied and stay within the “two single issues” format- there’s no room for the bold statements that the late Mrs Wayne makes to have been rooted in the various deaths related to the reader during the funeral. By trying to imitate a classic too slavishly, DC has squandered the chance for another to be born.