Everyone is familiar with the idea of alternate universes, right? This is how comic book writers gradually get into trouble over the years. Somebody invents a concept too cool to not use, like Superboy. When there are too many stories, too many Superboy crossovers, it is easier to declare that all those stories take place in another reality, just like this one only furnished with a Superboy. Do this enough and the entire universe becomes very, very complicated. This is when the editors usually try to simplify. DC did this about a decade ago. Naturally things began immediately to ramify again, and this past year or so they threw in the towel and allowed multiple universes to reappear again.
This issue of Batman is deliberately designed to signal the arrival of the Multi reality. As you know (if you read previous Very Short posts) Batman is allegedly dead. Nobody is excited about this because nobody believes it for a minute. With a multiuniverse setup, even if he is dead in one of them, there are plenty of other Batmen to go around. What to do then, to generate excitement? Well, getting Neil Gaiman to script a story about it is surefire. Neil is a fan favorite, a New York Times bestseller, and just won the Newbery Award.
And the good Mr. Gaiman does not fail. At Batman’s funeral everybody in his life tells the story, a different story, of how he died. Perfect. Side characters like Alfred and Catwoman get to take the stage, and the listeners mutter about how that wasn’t how they remembered it. It is obvious that they are from different realities. Even the art (there seem to be two Jokers, one from the animated cartoon and one from the main comic) shows this.
Each little segment is a gem of plot and character. There is no actual conclusion or resolution of course, since they’re going to drag out the mystery for a long time, probably including a Search for the Bat and then the Return of the Bat. And will we be surprised, if this major event occurs just in time for the next Batman move? We will not. But of course I will be there for the next bit, in Detective #853, which I hope will be more off-kilter reminiscences.
And it’s not only comics that have alternate universes. In another reality far from this one I wrote of Neil’s influence on the modern imagination about funerals and cemeteries. The great example of this is his Newbery-winning The Graveyard Book, but he also delves deeply into the subject in his Sandman comics — who could forget Dream’s elaborate funeral? This comic is another little entry on that side of the ledger. Orphans taking refuge in cemeteries, okay. If only people don’t insist now on having viewings in seedy bars!