Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Gaiman’s Wake for Bruce/Batman

This two part story (Batman 686 and Detective 853) by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert brings to mind lots of things.

The art style harkens back to the work of Will Eisner and Dave Stevens.  There is a “Bob Kane’ishness” to the Batman’s costume. 

The storyline makes me recall Alan Moore’s and Curt Swan’s “the Last Superman Story”, from just before the John Byrne reboot.  Moore and Swan created such a loving tribute, capturing something so genuine and true about the Superman of the 60s and 70s. 

The holding of the wake in Crime Alley, and having Joe Chill as the bartender brings to mind the classic O’Neil/Giordiano story where a visibly upset Batman goes on a rampage, beating up crooks and fiercely demanding from them information on where to find Leslie Thompkins.  I remember thinking that this Leslie person must be a real bad-assed crime boss guy – the truth at the end of the story is that she’s the social worker, now old, who comforted a young Bruce Wayne just after his parents were shot by Joe Chill, and is still working to bring hope and love to Crime Alley. 

It also harkens to the Sandman “Wake” story cycle, and I would not have been surprised to see Death of the endless make an appearance.  As with the end of Morpheus, it’s also a “not-end”, a beginning of sorts.  There is a lady character that leads Bruce to his transition, but it’s not Death. 

First up to speak at the wake are Alfred and Selina – both claiming to have been responsible for the death of the Batman, both telling stories so brilliantly inventive in the context of the relationships they’ve both had with Bruce.  These short snippets of story could each be easily expanded into graphic novel length productions.  They are that interesting. 

A quote I like from Alfred’s eulogy/confession:

“And then he began dressing as a bat.  As an Englishman, I find it difficult to identify the place that eccentricity ends and madness begins.  That Master Bruce was eccentric, I do not deny.  And I admit that it is not normal to dress as a giant bat and fight crime.”

Another quote, from the mysterious woman at the end of the story:

“Remember the goodnight book, Bruce? It’s just like that.  You remember.  It’s time for you to say goodnight.  Say it.”

Which evokes memories of that bit that Death of the Endless says in “Facade” (Sandman #20):

“When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting.  When the last living thing dies, my job is finished.  I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”

The wake is held at the back of the Dew Drop Inn, which is the title of a short piece written by Gaiman, dated Dec 1995, and posted on Tori Amos’ site, hereinmyhead.com

Reading this story also brought to mind a 4 part Batman story by David V Reed (and art by John Calnan) ages ago – sometime in ‘77, titled “Where were you on the night Batman was killed?”.  It’s a very “David Reed” type of story – featuring Batman as a brilliant detective rather than as a superhero.  News gets out among the denizens of the underworld that the Batman’s body is found, but no one knows who killed him.  Various villains start claiming credit for the murder, and a court is convened where 4 villains give their testimony of how they killed Batman (depositions by Catwoman, Luthor, Joker and the Riddler).  Two Face acts as the “District Attorney” debunking their stories lawyer style, and Ra’s Al Gul presides as judge.  At the end, we discover that Dent (Two Face) turns out to be Batman in disguise, and as he knew the details of the death of the person wearing a batman suit (an admirer/impersonator) was waiting for the real killer’s story to match the facts he knew.  So the whole “court” was a trap Batman had set up to find the killer in a murder where so many were claiming to be the killer.  While searching the web for references to this story arc (I had trouble recalling the artist’s name – I first thought it was Jim Aparo), I came across this very entertaining write up of another 4 part David V Reed Batman story from the same period – the Underworld Olympics 1976.  Damn – I actually remember it now – and can picture myself reading the issues on a hot afternoon, on the shaded side of the house, by the drain, close to where the watermelon vines were growing, and near where the wind blew noisily through the patch of jungle land from which snakes sometimes emerged, only to be slaughtered by yours truly. 

A last recollection before I end – one I don’t recall too well as it’s a Punisher story I just leafed through and didn’t actually read – there’s a wake at the back of a bar for one of the villains in the Punisher’s rogues gallery, and the other members of said gallery get together to pay respects and reminisce.  Turns out the bartender is the Punisher in disguise, and he uses the opportunity to do-in the collection of his enemies in the room.  Not sure I recall this correctly, but I think he blows up the bar with explosives.  Which pretty much illustrates dramatically the difference between Batman and the Punisher.