Page 45 Review by Stephen
I'll tell you what happens when you finish a great story by Neil Gaiman: you go Very Quiet and Very Still. Nothing else happens except in your mind, and perhaps not even there for a few seconds. It needs time to process, to percolate. Shhh...
From the literary magician who can transform a motorcycle manual into something that not only sounds but is profound, comes another story about telling stories and indeed about stories told. Or, as Alan Moore might put it with particular application here, "All stories are true".
After Lord knows how many fingers tapping on Lord knows how many keys, and so many wrists rendering different shades of pencil, there are so very many tales told about Batman in so many different ways that not all of them join up. How could they? Why even should they? Does it actually matter? The only important thing is that The Batman never gives up: "There's always something you can do." He'll live, he'll die and he'll live again in animation on the television, in live action on the silver screen and on the page in prose and in comicbook form: revised, re-envisioned, reinvented.
This is Gaiman and Kubert's answer to the question of discontinuity, embracing it all in word, in form and in deed. And celebrating it by paying tribute. Kubert's pencils - which we are treated to substantially at the back here - are glorious, and his ability to mimic Mazzucchelli, Lee, Kane, Adams, McKean et al is stupendous. In addition, can I confess that I guffawed at Two Face's car?
As the story opens, Batman lies dead in a casket. His friends and adversaries from across the last several decades gather round in the back of the Dew Drop Inn (and you should, you really should) tended by the man who killed Bruce's parents in Crime Alley. Each stands up to tell a different story of his demise or recall what the driven dark knight said about life. As they do so, the man they are mourning listens to them closely and watches unseen, unsure of what he is witnessing. Is Bruce dead? And if so, who is his female fellow shade?
"This is Crime Alley."
"Yes. Very good."
"But it hasn't looked like this for sixty years or more. This is crazy... Why are we here?"
"Why? Bruce, you never left."
The finest pages are most certainly the last, but my secular self very much enjoyed this exchange edited to safeguard your own discovery, summing up exactly why I just don't care whether or not there is an afterlife. It's one of the best explanations of and exhortations to altruism that occurs to me right now:
"Are you ready to let it go now? To move on?"
"To go to my final reward? I told you, I don't believe in --"
"You don't get Heaven, or Hell. Do you know the only reward you get from being Batman? You get to be Batman."
BATMAN #685 and DETECTIVE COMICS #852 plus Gaiman stories from SECRET ORIGINS #36 and SECRET ORIGINS SPECIAL #1 plus BATMAN: BLACK & WHITE #2, all written by Gaiman.