Ever wonder what Batman’s funeral would be like?
With Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? we don’t have to wonder anymore, as writer Neil Gaiman has crafted a surprisingly original take on what the dark knight’s funeral might look like. Of course, this is no stanandard story, but instead an intricately woven tale with Bruce himself narrating it, as he attends his funeral from a distance and watches his friends and enemies remember him.
One of the biggest draws of this comic is how much it pulls from classic Batman lore, spanning the entire run of the character. I was especially excited to see a brief appearance by The Cat, the original name for Catwoman, in all of her cat-head costumed glory.
In theory I could see this being an odd inclusion, seemingly making light of an otherwise somber story. Instead, it helps shed light upon the rich and vibrant history of Batman, emphasizing his darkness in comparison to the over-the-top nature of his foes. This version of Catwoman doesn’t pop up too often, but I like knowing that it hasn’t been forgotten. As silly as it might seem to a modern audience, it’s a part of the Batman lore, and as such should never be forgotten.
But this story isn’t about Catwoman; no, it’s about Batman, and his journey to understand why he’s watching his funeral play out before him. As various people rise to speak about his life, he realizes that their stories all ring true, even though he doesn’t think they actually happened. He soon comes to realize the truth of who he is, and that his death is an inevitability.
I love this, primarily because it’s something the fans sort of need. We all want Batman to get his happy ending, but that’s not who he is. As he says, he’s not the type to retire and take up golf, and would we really want to see that happen anyway? We’re drawn into Batman’s story because, despite the insurmountable odds, he never gives up. He will keep fighting for Gotham until he dies, and we’d never expect anything less from him.
As his eyes are further opened, he realizes that his mother is guiding him through what he has dubbed a “near death experience”, believing that his life is flashing before his eyes. Only this time, it’s not near death, but the real thing. Batman notes that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but his mother is quick to tell him that that’s not what’s in store for him.
Yes, Batman will inevitably die, but he will be reborn. In the interim, he’ll have a few all-too-brief years of happiness with his parents, before the tragedy that will shape the remainder of his life. I love the meta-implications of this story, emphasizing the fact that Batman is a true legend who’s story may be altered in small ways, yet the core tenets of the character remain the same. He fights for justice and he never gives up; so what if the “whos” and “hows” may differ? The “why” never changes, and it’s this solid foundation upon which such a long-lasting legend has been built.
This is arguably the best possible story that could have been written at the time of Bruce’s death. I’m not naive enough to think that he’s permanently dead, but if he had to have a death at all, this is a wonderful way to explain its significance. Even having died, Bruce will inevitably be reborn, destined to fight the same battle over and over. The details may change, but his mission never does. He’s Batman now and forever, and this story explains that rich history beautifully.