Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is a 2009 two-part Batman story written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Andy Kubert. It was to be the 'last' Batman story after the character's death in Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis and ended up more a summation of the Batman myth and a meditation on his character and its various interpretations.
The premise of the book is that various characters from the Batman mythos are attending Batman's funeral in Crime Alley. Both long time foes and allies of the Caped Crusader are gathered in a temporary truce to honor the fallen hero. Each of them proceeds to tell their story of Batman's death, all the while with the spirit of Batman watching the events along with a mysterious companion.
The stories and illustrations pay homage to many of the major periods and styles of Batman and interpretations of his character and relationships. After full stories from Alfred and Selina Kyle, the book then gives us only glimpses of those told by other characters. One thing known is that all of the stories conflict with each other. For example, The Joker's story has him killing Batman in a scene very reminiscent of The Killing Joke, Clayface's has him sacrificing himself in order to save Clayface, and Superman's has Bruce insisting that Clark take him into certain death, so that he can capture the villain's attention and divert them from killing innocents.
It is difficult to say exactly what the truth of the events is. It could all be a Dying Dream, an actual dream, a psychic vision, pretty much any interpretation you can come up with is possible, though the book seems to subtly favour the Dying Dream position. This interpretation would make it so that the spirit's final speech to Batman reveals that whenever Bruce dies, his soul is reincarnated as a new Bruce in a new universe to become Batman again, as something has deliberately set this up and stopped his soul from entering Heaven or Hell.
Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader provides examples of:
- Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Two-Face challenges the kid who offers to watch his car to a coin flip with the latter's life on the line.Two-Face: Tell you what. Let's toss for it. Clean side, you watch my crate and I'll give you a dollar. Marred side...I shoot you, and leave your body in the jalopy as a warning for people to leave my car alone.
- And Your Reward Is Infancy: At the end of the story, Batman is reincarnated as himself; his reward for being Batman is that he gets to be Bruce Wayne for eight years before he has to be Batman again.
- Antagonist in Mourning: Played straight with The Joker and Ra's al Ghul. Hinted to a lesser degree/possibly subverted with Clayface and Mad Hatter. (Depending on how much the former is actually moved to change by Batman's sacrifice, or if the latter actually feels the death too much).
- Art Shift: As part of the homage to the character's history, characters change in various panels or sequences to resemble specific artists' iconic styles, most notably the Killing Joke flashback. The collected hardcover includes pages from Kubert's own sketchbook, with studies of Kane's early Batman, Jerry Robinson's Joker, Dick Sprang's Catwoman and Bat-Mite, Jack Burnley's Penguin, and so on.
- Barred from the Afterlife: When Bruce Wayne dies, he is reborn as himself in another universe, and the cycle continues infinitely, barring him from being anything other than Batman even after death.
- Book-Ends: For Batman as a whole: Joe Chill, which he lampshadesJoe Chill: "I was here at the start of it all, Miss Kyle. I'm not going to miss the end."
- The Butler Did It: In "The Gentleman's Gentleman's Tale", Alfred claims that he was the Joker, having created all the supervillains from retired actors in order to keep his master entertained. Naturally the trope is lampshaded.
- Celebrating the Heroes: The story centers around a funeral celebrating the life of Batman.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: The cause of Batman's death in almost all the stories. Batman himself notes that he never gets to retire. He keeps fighting until it kills him.
- Comic-Book Time: Lampshaded in Catwoman's story, which starts in the 1940s, when Catwoman's actual first appearance was published and set.
- Continuity Porn: The funeral is not simply that of Batman, but every version of Bruce Wayne. As a result, every story and every character is a nod to one continuity or another. There's even a reference to the Adam West Batman, and how he was "Holy".
- Determinator: Invoked. Batman realizes that he never dies peacefully. No matter what the scale, his deaths come from the fact he never gives up.Bruce: Ive learned... that it doesnt matter what the story is, some things never change. Because even when they arent talking about me, they are. Because theyre talking about Batman. The Batman doesnt compromise. I keep this city safe Even if its safer by just one person And I do not ever give in or give up.
Sometimes I fall in battle. Sometimes I die hugely, bravely, saving the city from something that would destroy it. Sometimes its a small, ironic, unnoticed death I die rescuing a child from a fire or tackling a frightened pickpocket.
Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Every friend betrays me, sooner or later, and every enemy becomes a lover or a friend, but thats the one thing that doesnt change: I dont ever give up. I cant ever give up.
- Dying Dream: One interpretation of just what's going on here.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Many of the deaths.
- Eternal Hero: Batman definitely counts as a multiversal version. The idea, manifestation, and embodiment of Batman is inevitable in any timeline. It's implied that all the Batmen in different universes have or will reincarnate into each other. In fact, that comic is one big depiction and analysis of Eternal Hero, as a side affect of trying to be the end-all be-all summation and eulogy of Batman in all his forms.
- Foreshadowing: During Alfred's story, there's a panel of Bruce and his mom reading the Goodnight book together.
- Groundhog Peggy Sue: At the end of the story, Batman is reincarnated as himself, ready to grow up to become Batman again and keep fighting to save people.
- Heroic Sacrifice: A disproportionate number of Batman's deaths are due to the fact that Batman always put the lives of others before his, whether it be that of a single child or half the city of Gotham.Clayface: He died... Sssaving the city... No, that's not true... He sssaved the city, yes... But he died ssssaving me. I ssssaid, "I'm not worth it." He said, "Everyone's worth it."
- Legacy Character: Deconstructed. See Eternal Hero.
- Literary Allusion Title: To Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?.
- Lost in Character:
- One version of Batman's death has him killed by an actor who was only pretending to be a supervillain but got too much into the role. After explicitly telling Alfred this was why he got out of acting in the first place...
- That entire story, "The Gentleman's Gentleman's Tale", is about how Bruce Wayne can only be content when he's lost in the character of The Batman.
- Multiple-Choice Past: It's all about lampshading this, and pointing out that there are some parts of Batman's past that remain constant despite what else changes.
- Mythology Gag: The Comic Book.
- Rule of Funny: Lampshaded by the Joker, when he reassures somebody that they're in no danger from him because it wouldn't be funny to kill them right now.
- Sanity Slippage: Doesn't stop the kid from collapsing into a nervous breakdown from the perceived Catch-22.
- Sarcasm Failure: The Joker experiences this on finally killing Batman.Joker: He was right. It wasn't funny. But it should have been.
- Series Fauxnale: In the same vein as Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, this was written as "the final Batman story." Given the nature of the story though, this can still be argued as the finale to the mythos.
- Shout-Out: Neil Gaiman does one to his previous work:Batman: Are you death?Martha Wayne: I don't think death is a person, Bruce.
- Snowclone Title: "Whatever happened to"...?
- That Man Is Dead: Eddie Nash went away. I'm the goddamn Riddler!
- Thememobile: The Joker, Catwoman and Two-Face each show up to the funeral in one. They're the cars driven by the late 40's/early 50's versions of the characters.
- Undying Loyalty: Alfred, of course, in "The Gentleman's Gentleman". He's willing to play along with Bruce's fantasy of being a superhero to cope with his grief that he invents fake villains and tragedies, and he himself becomes Bruce's Moriarty by becoming the Joker himself.
- Whole Plot Reference: Catwoman's tale of Batman's death is lifted directly from Robin Hood. Batman points this out as evidence that it's nonsense.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: Joe Chill, who tends bar and directs the mourners out front, is a young man when the story begins and an elderly one by the end of the funeral.
- You Can't Fight Fate: The underlying theme of the story is that no matter the story or medium, Bruce Wayne is destined to become The Batman, and it is an eternal commitment.