On Wednesday, a friend of mine picked up the first of the two-issue release of Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, written by Neil Gaiman, penciled by Andy Kubert, and inked by Scott Williams. I love Batman, but I have a terrible time keeping up with recent releases because some storylines suck more than others, and the good ones tend to have multiple tie-ins across various series and titles. (Organizing and keeping up with both Final Crisis and Marvel’s Civil War sucked; I gave up.) Usually, I will just wait for compilation releases like The Long Halloween or pick up the superspecialawesome oneshots like Arkham Asylum. This is probably why I end up reading more manga than Western comics, or at least, mainstream Western comics.
But since my friend had it handy, I read the issue. It was fantastic: beautiful, well-drawn, and well-written. It was nostalgic. And sad. And it made me think about how different superhero comics are from all the manga I read because there isn’t just one creator. There are hundreds of people involved in the creative process and there are generations of stories because the titles last so long. People of different ages have different perceptions of Batman because different medias are popular at different times, but just about everyone knows who Batman is. The character is immortal in that way.
So how can they write character deaths like this? How can Batman die?
Of course, it’s easy to say that Batman won’t really die or stay dead. I believe DC has a reputation for retconning deaths anyway. (Or otherwise making a plot out of it, ala The Many Deaths of Batman in Batman 433-435.) But Marvel killed Captain America for realz, so why not? The way Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is playing out at the moment doesn’t seem to lend itself to someone taking up the mantle like Bucky did for Steve Rogers, but the planned hiatuses (cancellations?) of Nightwing, Robin, and Birds of Prey, and the upcoming Battle for the Cowl three-part story seems to suggest as much. Will someone replace Bruce Wayne as Batman? Is Batman really Batman if it isn’t Bruce Wayne?
Assuming he remains dead, the decision to kill Bruce Wayne will impact the series for the rest of forever. Will there eventually be a generation of fans who will have never known him? Will they only know Dick Grayson or Jason Todd to be Batman? Or someone else entirely? Terry McGinus? That thought is bewildering to me. It’s so different from manga, which pretty much lives and dies with its original creator(s). Even though new Astro Boys are being produced after Osamu Tezuka’s death, there is still the original to trace back to.
What is the original Batman? A comic credited to Bob Kane when in reality, Kane contributed very little beyond the name “Batman” and Bill Finger did everything else. Bob Kane’s Batman originally had red in his costume, wings, and no gloves. Is this original relevant anymore? The debut Batman was really quite campy and had no problem with using firearms. The modern Batman has become a psychological wonder with his refusal to use firearms a core part of his character. While I’m sure most people will appreciate the original as part of the history, very few will herald it as the best as I’m sure most would with Tezuka’s Astro Boy.
So if Bruce Wayne is dead, even if he will forever remain Batman to my generation and those before me, will he be nothing more than a detail of history for kids fifty years from now? It’s a depressing thought, but the same could be said of Captain America. (And I wonder, what does Steve Rogers’ death say about our country in recent years?) It’s such a strange idea.
It’s too bad business won’t allow for the name Batman to die with Mr. Wayne. That would be ideal to me. It isn’t like they couldn’t just sell repackaged copies of No Man’s Land or Cataclysm or Arkham Asylum: Living Hell forever. It isn’t like they’d have to stop making movies. I mean, it’s working well enough for Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion and Dragonball, right?