So soon after Grant Morrison has provided us with his complex and layered ode to Batman, Neil Gaiman offers a rather more compact two issue version. Both mine the character's rich history of characters, both play with perceptions of reality in a way that keeps the reader on the back foot, and both took a shine to the idea of killing him off. Strange way of showing affection.
This story though has a more whimsical feel to it and for me, was a whole lot warmer. The way Andy Kubert has copied art styles speaks of affection for characters who have evolved through different eras. The fact that all these characters - heroes and villans - have been brought together to morn Batman's (not Bruce Wayne's) passing has a feeling of one large family.
All through the first issue and some of the second, Batman is in dialogue with an unseen female character. It's interesting that Gaiman chose to dispel the rumour that the character is Death (from the Sandman series) as if he felt the need to manage expectations for what would have been a truly newsworthy cross-over. This is purely a Batman story.
So who is the female character? Well you won't find the answer here because I'm trying to encourage you to read it. I will say that the identity and the role the character plays in the story once she has been revealed marks the point where Gaiman really nails his personality to the story so if you're not a Neil Gaiman fan, you may not be converted here.
I have to say I loved it in a way I never took to in the RIP story which, whilst challenging, left me a little cold. Yes, the second issue wanders a little with it's pacing as if all the plot points (apart from the female character identity revevalation) have been made in the first part. Also, the artwork is less impressive in the second part as it's brought into the Tony Daniel-style present and the story becomes more fantastical. Ultimately though, I was left with a renewed attachment to a character that had recently left me behind. When you strip away the many re-inventions and the strain it puts on the stretched continuity you're left with that colourful cast of characters and a powerful origin. Will it prove to be a "Morrison or Gaiman" debate or do the two story arcs compliment each other? I'd vote for the latter. Let us know what you think.
There's a nice but spoiler-filled interview with Neil Gaiman about the story in Wired Magazine. SLS