“Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” And Us

I’ve just finished Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? It is a Thursday in April. I am on a plane from New York to Chicago. I have checked a 59-pound bag stuffed with Jack Kirby, Grant Morrison, an ugly brown coat. I’ve listened to songs by the Pixies over 44 times in the past 4 hours. Any of this might be important, I suppose. The most important of anything. More likely, not.

In a couple hours, assuming this airplane stays its course, I’ll be typing this up on my computer and sending it into cyberspace, where an average of 14 faceless people might read it everyday. Maybe that matters, I guess, and maybe it doesn’t.

Here’s what I want to say: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, a two-part story spread across an issue of Batman and an issue of Detective Comics (not traditionally the most venerated or celebrated of literary tomes), is one of the most sobering, incredible things I’ve ever read, and I’m wondering if I might look back on this statement 10, 20 years from now and wonder what it was about a giant bat and a pearl necklace that meant so much to me, but this, I suppose, is not quite the point. Batman, super heroes, these myths, are eternal. Could I “grow out of it”? Perhaps. But Batman will always face the hellish night in Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum and come out the other side, prevail against the sadistic Azrael, fall to the lord of all evil while saving Earth, be Adam West and Christian Bale, leap from a bridge to save Commissioner Gordon’s baby, and, well, Batman will always be Batman.

It is this very idea that’s most obviously explored in the keenly self-aware Whatever Happened, which details a Batman brought to the brink of death and/or sanity (presumably as a result of R.I.P. and Final Crisis, but it doesn’t really matter in this story, all things considered), who must accept his ultimate fate however it may come. This is a story about icons. And it’s not the first of such – Morrison seems devoted to this concept in almost all of his super hero stories but very obviously works it in throughout the aforementioned R.I.P. and Final Crisis, especially the Superman Beyond 3D tie-in – but this could be the best.

Because ultimately, it doesn’t have to be about comic books or mythology or Bruce Wayne. My girlfriend and I recently had one of those stereotypical college kid discussions about “time,” and I’m not quite sure I really understand what she was getting at (her GPA is better than mine), but the idea is that she doesn’t buy into time as a linear concept. “But tomorrow is tomorrow and today is today,” I would argue; there are such things as “past,” “present,” and “future.” But not for comic book heroes, as writer Neil Gaiman so beautifully conveys here. And I realize, maybe not quite for us, either.

I mean, yes, I am on a plane now and an asteriod might lodge itself in my face a week from now. But that’s missing the point. What does time mean when I remember countless winter nights on a telephone or a smile in a Gold Creek Court hallway? A night on my best friend’s patio or next to my father when his remaining breaths could be counted on one hand? Or the feeling I get remembering “Airbag” first blaring into my life, or Black Francis’ banshee screams? These aren’t things you quantify. Maybe for you, in your mind or memory, they aren’t there forever (brain tumors happen), but to recall anything, to hold a memory close to your heart is projecting it into eternity. These things aren’t just the past, because in some way, they will always be happening, their reach ever pushing into your heart or tickling your brain. And that’s why something like “Batman,” a drawing of some man wailing on a criminally insane clown, can be just as real as this plane ride; blasted into the ether and played upon our hearts, what’s the difference between the two, really?

So I guess, basically, you should read some Batman comics.

(And I should get a life?)
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One Response to ““Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” And Us”

  1. sonnywilkins Says:

    Wow man. That was an amazing, beautiful, inspirational little piece of writing. I stumbled onto this because I’m one of the “Related Posts”. I’m very glad I did. I understand what you’re saying, and I too was quite moved by Gaiman’s second conclusion to “Whatever Happened…”. But to be honest, I might have been more moved by what I just read. Bravo. Don’t stop what you’re doing. And this post alone might force me to include an RSS (link) to this site on my own. Be seeing you.

    -Sonny

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