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Sunday, May 10, 2009 

It's not a happy birthday for the Caped Crusader

Here we go. The Nashua Telegraph gets all gushy about "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" DC's latest publicity stunt:
“Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” He’s having a heckuva birthday party, that’s what.
Indeed. It's his 70th anniversary, and he's not even here! Some way to cash in on the fame of Bruce Wayne.
“Whatever Happened to . . .” is the title of a remarkable two-part story by the remarkable Neil Gaiman (“Coraline,” “Graveyard Book”) in February’s “Batman” and “Detective Comics.” It’s a story with many parents, but stands uniquely on its own (and will be collected in hardback in July).

It began, kind of, with “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” That 1986 story, by the also-remarkable Alan Moore (“From Hell,” “Watchmen”), was a heart-tugging wrap-up of the Superman mythos up to that point – before the Man of Steel was re-launched the following year.

Something similar is happening in Gotham City, so the naming convention was re-used. But the story started a little further back – in the last couple of years of “Batman,” where the also-remarkable Grant Morrison (“Arkham Asylum,” “Animal Man”) ran the Gotham Guardian through perhaps his most punishing and brutal adventure yet: “Batman R.I.P.” Fittingly, Morrison referenced dozens of Batman stories from the 1930s to the present, baffling and delighting with esoteric, and often-hallucinatory, Bat-allusions. (Many of them are collected in the “Batman: The Black Casebook” trade paperback, arriving in June.)
Remarkable? No more so than a lot of other publicity stunts of recent. Punishing? Definitely insulting and tiresome, mainly for the audience! Just another excuse to replace the main hero with his protege(?), and then see if that sticks. And fittingly? I won't be surprised if some of the stories Morrison's referenced are better off forgotten.
It’s no accident this dovetailed with DC’s huge company crossover “Final Crisis,” which was also written by Morrison and ended with the world thinking that Bruce Wayne had finally bitten the batarang. Of course, nobody really believes that core characters like Batman can ever die, and to DC’s credit, they didn’t try to fool us – the ending of “Final Crisis” showed a Bruce Wayne very much alive, trapped in the distant past with no way home. But the gang in the present believes him dead, with a corpse to seal the deal.
And I guess in time, we're going to be reading all about "Bruce Wayne: Caveman", right? This is no justification for the current "direction", and anyone who's a true Bat-fan should reject this from the outset.
Which brings us back to “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?,” a thematic epilogue to Morrison’s epic (available in hardcover already). Like the classic “Batman: The Animated Series” episode “Almost Got ’Im,” we see Batman from the eyes of friends and foes in a series of vignettes. And like “Batman R.I.P.,” it references different eras of Batman, both in story and art. Artist Andy Kubert, for example, renders a 1940 Joker in the style of Jerry Robinson, a 1939 Batman as if drawn by Bob Kane, a 1950s Batman a la Dick Sprang, and so forth.

But, like its Super-predecessor, the ultimate result of “Caped Crusader” is to remind us of why we have long cherished this character. And if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, your super power is to be made of stone. And where does that leave us? Well, somehow Gotham City has gotten worse in the absence of The Bat. I know, that doesn’t seem possible. But Two-Face and Penguin are battling for control of the underworld, Black Mask has freed all the super-powered nuts from Arkham Asylum (and blown it up) and the city’s gangs are overwhelming a badly outnumbered GCPD.
This is just sooooo hilarious. If it's happened more than several times in the past, including No Man's Land and War Games, why shouldn't it be possible for Gotham's situation to get worse? And even if Batman isn't dead, these would-be memorials in honor of the fallen hero are getting quite tiresome already because of how repetitive they've become; they've got no impact anymore.
To the rescue has come Batman’s extended family and friends. In all the Bat-books for the last few months we’ve seen the cavalry arrive in the form of Robin, Nightwing, Oracle and the Birds of Prey, Black Canary, Batgirl, Batwoman, Wildcat, Catwoman, England’s Knight and Squire – plus a mysterious Batman wannabe, who may be the homicidal Azrael.

But the real story is found in “Batman: The Battle for the Cowl,” a miniseries wrapping up this month that determines the Dark Knight’s successor. That’s followed in June with Morrison’s return and a mysterious new Dynamic Duo in “Batman” and the new “Batman and Robin”; Batwoman headlining “Detective”; Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn starring in “Gotham City Sirens”; and one of the Bat-proteges continuing the hunt for Bruce Wayne in “Red Robin.”
In other words, more titles that are just part of the publicity stunt, and unlikely to stand on their own merits. I'm not sure who'll be Red Robin, but doesn't this signal that they realize good ol' Bruce doesn't fall down so easy, and needs to be found, whether in past, present, or future eras? It just shows how laughable DC's become. The Batwoman starring in Detective Comics is what signals the publicity stunt in motion, and if that title is being subject to this joke, the other spinoffs are likely to be just as lame.
It’s Bat-bedlam! Which couldn’t happen to a nicer guy – one who happens to turn 70 this year. Yup, the pointy-eared creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger first appeared in “Detective Comics” No. 27, back in 1939.
And Bruce Wayne, the one true Batman, isn't even here to celebrate his anniversary. This is not a good time to be a Bat-fan.

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