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NEAL CONAN, host:

Batman is dead. Neil Gaiman, the man who bat him farewell, joins us in just a moment. His two-part series, "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" has just been collected in a hardback edition. And the celebrated writer of "The Sandman" and many other comics and novels, including "American Gods," describes this as a final love letter to a character whose persona has changed many times in different areas of the comics, in the old live action show on TV and several animated series and, of course, in the movies.

And which one would you describe as your Batman? Our phone number is 800-989-8255; email us: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Neil Gaiman joins us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in Saint Paul. Congratulations. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. NEIL GAIMAN (Author, "Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"): It's lovely to be back, Neal.

CONAN: And which is your Batman?

Mr. GAIMAN: Oh, that's a hard one. In many ways, I did "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" so that I didn't have to choose. I got to try and put all of them in there, even the Adam West one.

The first one is always probably the most impressive and, obviously, I'm of a generation where that was the TV show.

CONAN: Oh, the TV show is with the Adam West you're talking about.

Mr. GAIMAN: The original Adam West TV show.

CONAN: Biff, bam, pow.

Mr. GAIMAN: Absolutely. And, of course, what was great about that, though, was I was six, seven years old when it came to England. So I didn't regard it in any way as camp or funny.

I used to worry. They do those cliffhanger endings at the end of everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GAIMAN: And there would be Batman and Robin tied to a balloon being sent off into the air to die a horrible death with a cackling Joker or grinning Penguin. And I would worry for a week until the next episode came on to make it out.

CONAN: They eventually went to two episodes a week, so you were doubly troubled.

Mr. GAIMAN: Exactly. It was very worrying.

CONAN: The - what you're talking about, bringing all of those characters back in this one, two-part comic book, that involves some interesting writing. You have to work very closely with your artist, for one thing.

Mr. GAIMAN: I was incredibly lucky. I don't think I could have done this thing. And "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" is essentially a two-part Batman story. I was asked if I'd like to write something that would be a two-part story that could be the last episode of Batman comics and then the last episode of Detective Comics, where Batman started all those years ago.

CONAN: And Detective - DC comics is called Detective Comics because it's DC, Detective Comics.

Mr. GAIMAN: Exactly. And in Detective Comics number 27 back in 1939, Batman made his first appearance. So it was very fitting that the last Batman story in Detective got to be, what, they've got to be in Detective.

But it was the point when they told me that I could have Andy Kubert as my artist that I got really excited and go, okay, I could probably do this completely mad thing where I get to talk about every single aspect of Batman or all the ones I've ever cared about and even some of the ones that I didn't. And I can put them all in there and I can get - because Andy is somebody who could draw like Frank Miller, like Brian Bolland. But he can also draw like this people like Dick Sprang…

(Soundbyte of laughter)

Mr. GAIMAN: …these forgotten '40s Batman artists. And I was able to - I hope to at least doff my cap to all of them to, you know, 70 years of Batman.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation.

We're talking with Neil Gaiman. You may have seen his film "Coraline" most recently in 3D. That was pretty cool.

Let's go to David. David with us from Portland, Oregon.

DAVID (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Which is your Batman?

DAVID: Adam West.

CONAN: Adam West. What attracted you to that particular Batman?

DAVID: Well, Adam West, his mother used to live in Oregon, at a hotel in the Oregon Coast. And I think it was one New Year's Eve, my sister actually had dinner with him and I met him and - interesting man.

CONAN: So you actually went to dinner with Adam West, the Batman?

DAVID: Right. Well, my sister was the attendee at the dinner. I was just onlooking.

CONAN: Well, that's as good as anything. Can I get your autograph?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVID: I'll try.

CONAN: All right, David. Thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it. Let's see if we can go next to Jared. Jared with us from Shawnee in Kansas.

JARED (Caller): Hi, Neal. Oh, hi Neal and Neil.

CONAN: One of us spells his name properly, but go ahead.

JARED: My first Batman would be - I was about five years old when "Batman," the movie, came out. And I actually got to read my first Batman comic right after the movie on going to a pizza store, and they had a signing from someone in a Batman costume there. But I wanted to ask you, Mr. Gaiman, I've been a big fan of your work for a long time, but how was your two-parter, "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader," influenced by Alan Moore's story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow." And I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: Okay, Jared. Thanks very much. And of course, Batman not the first character to die in the comic books. Go ahead.

Mr. GAIMAN: It wasn't really. I was actually quite surprised when I learned that - I was going to call it "Batman the End." And then I learned that DC had actually titled it "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader" to basically clarify for people that it was the same kind of thing as Alan Moore's wonderful last Superman story back in, I think it was about 1985, '86.

The - I think what Alan did, which was so brilliant and so beautiful, was essentially bid farewell to the Mort Weisinger era, the silver age Superman. He got everything that made that era what it was in history and you had something that was basically a love letter from Alan to the things he loved about Superman, most of which were going to finish at that point.

What I got to do, rather than try and pick a specific era of Batman to say goodbye to, was to essentially try and celebrate the entire thing, to say that the glory of Batman is that, you know, yes, he's dead in the comics right now and everybody in comics gets to stay dead until they get up and get better again. That's the rule.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GAIMAN: So I was going to - I wanted to acknowledge that. And I wanted to acknowledge and glory in all of the different creators, all of the different aspects of Batman, including the original Batman movie, including the most recent versions, including Neal Adams, a wonderful Batman artist, and you know, the third Neal to be mentioned on this show who also didn't spell his name correctly. He spelled it like Neal Conan.

(Soundbit of laughter)

Mr. GAIMAN: Neal Adams who re-imaged, who gave us the longer, pointer ears, the more swirlingy cloak, he put Batman back at night back in the '70s and essentially made him cool again after the Adam West version of Batman had had un-cooled him ultimately. So I got to try and say - talk about how much I loved all of those things and of course have essentially the same format that Alan had, which is you get the last issue with that numbering of your comic. But I don't think that you could look at them as being the same kind of thing at all.

CONAN: I asked this question to the man who did so much with the Sandman. Is Batman the most interesting character in comics?

Mr. GAIMAN: I've never thought of any character as being the most interesting character in comics. I don't there is the most interesting character in comics because the truth is, characters are as good as you write them. And the glory of great characters and the glory of great writers and creators is that point where you put a wonderful creator on a second, third, fourth or even a fifth-string character and suddenly you have Frank Miller doing Daredevil and everybody going, oh, Daredevil was such a great character, or Alan Moore doing something who was just considered a joke.

I think what you get in that mainstream comics thing is you get out of it what the creator is willing to put into it. The joy of Batman, I think, is that he is A) incredibly old now. He's been around since our grandparents and our great grandparents' days. And that allows you to have an awful lot of history to play with. On the other hand, I think that the - and he became the archetype of all of the vengeful avengers of the night.

But I do think the problem that you can get in with Batman in that kind of situation is you can look at it and go, well, every story has been told. They have all been done before, which was why I started. I think one of the things that attracted me to it was just the idea of, okay, tell the last Batman story. What would the last Batman story be?

CONAN: And you came out of retirement to do that. You had said many times before, you didn't want to write comic books anymore.

Mr. GAIMAN: I did definitely said I didn't want to write any mainstream superhero comics anymore. And I lurched out of retirement because they phoned me up and they said - would you like to write the last Batman story? And I thought, you know, I'll probably screw it up. But then at least that way it'll be me screwing it up as opposed to somebody else. And I will screw it up with love and passion.

CONAN: We're talking with Neil Gaiman, "Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader"'s deluxe edition, a collection of the two-part final story of Batman is out today in comic book stores and next week in book stores. And he's joining us from Minnesota Public Radio. And if you'd like to get in on the conversation, who was your Batman? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News. And let's get Jennifer on the line. Jennifer with us from Louisville, Kentucky.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to say that I'm a tremendous fan of Neil Gaiman's and I've read pretty much everything he's written. I went to the comic book shop the day that "Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader" came out and bought a copy of both covers, read them, and I was heartbroken.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENNIFER: Mostly because Batman is my favorite comic book character and Neil Gaiman is my favorite author. And - well - and the way that - what happened with Alfred just lurched at my heartstrings.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENNIFER: I'm not going to give any spoilers for those who haven't read it.

CONAN: Well, he dies at the end. But, you know, it's - Jennifer, I have to say I had this - I was halfway through that last, you know, collected volume of the the Sandman and I had to stop it because I couldn't bear it anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENNIFER: No, I've - I just loved all of that, but that was in my darker gothic days when I was a teenager back in the '80s.

CONAN: Did you dress like that?

JENNIFER: I did. I used to go out dancing just with eye makeup and the ankh and all that crazy stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Jennifer, thank you very much for that. We appreciate it.

JENNIFER: I also wanted to congratulate Neil Gaiman on his Newbery for "Graveyard Book," which I have my eldest son reading right now, and I had my husband read "Snow Glass and Apples" last night for the first time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENNIFER: Thank you so much.

Mr. GAIMAN: I got to go to the actual Newbery dinner the other night and be presented with the Newbery Medal. And it was such an honor, and the American Library Association, and a wonderful thing to get.

CONAN: You - all the stuff, the movies, the comic books, the novels, that's where the real money is too. It's children's books.

Mr. GAIMAN: Is it? I don't know. I - Neal, I - my theory on this - what, 20, 25, 27 years ago, something like that, I wrote my first book for money and it was a biography of Duran-Duran that I was asked to write, and I did, and it sold out the first week it came out.

And the second week it came out, the publisher went into bankruptcy and I never got the royalties. And I looked around and I went, you know, I just did something - I wrote a book that I probably wouldn't have ever wanted to read for money and I didn't get the money. I don't think I'll do that anymore.

And so the only thing that's actually made my career, what there is of it, have any sense ever sense is just doing the stuff you think is interesting, and the money normally follows. If it doesn't, you've done something that was interesting.

CONAN: Let's talk with Dominic(ph). Dominic with us from Lafayette in Louisiana.

DOMINIC (Caller): Yes, hi. How's it going?

CONAN: Good.

DOMINIC: I'm actually calling from my local comic shop right now, out buying the first issue of "Black as Night." But for my favorite Batman, I'm going to probably say that it's honestly the new one right now with Dick Grayson in the comic books.

And the reason why is just because that I feel that with Dick Grayson learning to become Batman after being Robin for the longest time, it was a good jumping on point for me to read Batman comics and so I could learn about Batman as Dick Grayson's learning about being Batman.

CONAN: So it is always being reborn.

DOMINIC: Oh, yeah. Of course. I think definitely. And now don't get me wrong. I grew up with the Adam West Batman, on the TV show. I started watching the TV show and I thought it was absolutely wonderful. And really, the past couple of days, I've been wondering about also, like, what it was like for the Batman back in the '40s and the '50s before there was computers and 15 different Batmobiles that he drove.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DOMINIC: Because the only Batman I've known is this technologically, superiorly advanced Batman. And so what must have it been like when he lived in a time where all he had was really a radio and a typewriter?

CONAN: Good questions. Dominic, thanks very much for the phone call.

DOMINIC: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Email from Michael in Cape Coral, Florida. My Batman will always be the often under-appreciated "Batman: The Animated Series." Years later, as an adult, I still watch and enjoy these extremely well-written stories. And Neil Gaiman, I should add, very well drawn too.

Mr. GAIMAN: I was about to say, they're not just incredibly well-written, which they were, by likes of Paul Dini and Michael Reeves and so forth, but beautifully designed and designed in this sort of glorious futuristic retro kind of way, taking everything down to basics and just - to just beautiful lines. I loved "Batman: The Animated Series." I think it was wonderful.

CONAN: Congratulations on the Newbery Medal. Can you tell us what you're working on now?

Mr. GAIMAN: What am I working on now? I'm writing a bunch of short stories, working on a film script for "Anansi Boys," my last novel, my last adult novel, and working on a non-fiction book, my first non-fiction book for about 22 years, which is about China and Chinese myth and the legend of the journey to the West. That's what I'm working on this week.

CONAN: That all sounds fascinating. And after this most recent book, you have to remember to say my most recent book, not my last one.

Mr. GAIMAN: I do. I really do.

CONAN: Neil Gaiman, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it. And good luck with "Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader."

Mr. GAIMAN: Thank you so much, Neal.

CONAN: Neil Gaiman joined us. Out of the - the deluxe edition of the "Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader" is out in comic book stores today, next week in most book stores. You can preview some of the artwork at our Web site at npr.org, just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

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