You don’t go to the comic book industry for modesty. Dwelling on untrodden ways, by the springs of Dove — this does not go well with low-cut spandex and adamantium blades extruding from your knucklebones. So, even before the two special issues Batman #686 (reviewed at BVC here https://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2009/02/16/batman-686-a-very-short-review/) and Detective #853 came out, DC was billing them as classics.
And thanks to the talents of writer Neil Gaiman and artist Andy Kubert this little two-issue memorial run really is very close to classic. We must simply ignore the aggravation of the nonsensical basic premise, that Batman has died: a train wreck of a non-event which was done spectacularly badly and from which everybody just has to avert their eyes. It will go away soon.
In the meantime, here we are with a quite intelligent and deep analysis of what makes Batman who he is. Gaiman expertly palms all the cards that he handles so very well: the roots of character, alternate realities, death and reincarnation. I admire the smart construction of the two-part arc: the first half completely setup, and this second issue showing us what’s behind it.
Nothing new is revealed here, but that’s the true greatness of it — you say to yourself, aha, that’s what it really means, what really drives Batman. And it is here, at the (alleged) last moments of his life, that we get down to the genuine Batman. As a character Batman’s entire raison d’etre is masks and disguise. In almost every interaction his associates (and we) say, but that’s not how he really is — it’s a persona, a ploy, a complicated stunt to uncover a crime/preserve the secret ID/maintain game face/deceive the JLA/whatever. We, like everybody else, are outside. His inner character is built almost entirely from inference, one of the chief cores of his appeal. (The only other literary example I can think of offhand is Francis Lymond, from the Dorothy Dunnett historical series, but I am sure there are others.)
It is very, very unusual for Batman to stand on the page as his own naked self, and from pure rarity whenever this happens it’s a red letter occasion. And for such a prickly, protected man, it can only happen at the end of life. Admirably cunning, for Gaiman to realize this, and even more cunning to make it so sweet. I recognize the children’s book that Batman is recalling as he dies, and so will you — it is Goodnight Moon, lightly disguised to avoid copyright issues. We always knew that behind the juiced-up Bat paraphernalia, deep down in the Batcave, underneath the cape and the bullet-proof body armor, there was a boy. It is perfect.