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Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is a 2009 two-part Batman story written by Neil Gaiman. It was to be the 'last' Batman story after his Bruce's death in Batman RIP and Final Crisis and ended up more a summation of the Batman myth and a meditation on his character and its various interpretations. It was highly praised on its release, but remains fairly obscure considering the author's and the character's popularity, probably due to it still being relatively new.
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.
Exactly what the truth of 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 reveal 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.
- And Your Reward Is Infancy / Groundhog Peggy Sue: 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).
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: The cause of Batman's death in almost all the stories. Batman notes that Batman never gets to retire. He keeps fighting til 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: A good example of how Tropes Are Not Bad. 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.
- Dying Dream: One interpretation of just what's going on here.
- 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 entire comic is pretty much 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.
- Groundhog Peggy Sue
- Legacy Character: Deconstructed. See Eternal Hero.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the graphic novel, one of the stories bundled with the main story has The Riddler noting that he could be Eddie Nash, or Edward Nygma, and several other identities. He also notes that for some odd reason, the old Batman villains (referencing the TV show) suddenly became violent, including The Joker. During his interview, he keeps swapping his various outfits, from the original TV show costume through to later versions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mythology Gag: They're the cars driven during the late 40's/early 50's versions of the character.
- What Could Have Been: Bat-Mite was originally to appear in the story.
- Whole-Plot Reference: Catwoman's tale of Batman's death is pretty much lifted directly from Robin Hood. Batman points this out as evidence that it's nonsense.
- 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.