BATMAN THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE DELUXE ED HC
What did the
Art by CHRIS SPROUSE, FRAZER IRVING, RYAN SOOK, YANICK PAQUETTE, LEE GARBETT, GEORGES JEANTY KARL STORY and MICK GRAY
Cover by ANDY KUBERT
Size: 224 pages
When Bruce Wayne appeared to shuffle off this mortal coil at the end of Final Crisis two years(!) ago, most of us who had been reading superhero comics for a while knew it was only a matter of time before he returned. What we didn’t know was how much we would come to enjoy Dick Grayson’s career as Batman in the meantime.
As we found ourselves growing to like the former Boy Wonder more and more with each new adventure, Bruce’s return became less and less anticipated. Yet it still loomed on the comic book horizon, and we felt a strange sense of dread and shame as it approached.
But we cannot put off the inevitable any more. This is comics, after all, where nothing lasts forever and nothing ever ends. And so, The Return of Bruce Wayne, as its title suggests, has our eponymous and amnesiac hero trapped in the past, jumping ever closer to the present and to his former position, all the while trying to solve a millennia-old mystery and recover his memories in the process.
This is exactly the type of story that only Grant Morrison could have told. His much-discussed, multi-layered mind laying out a time-travel detective tale, leaving a trail of clues for Bruce, his allies in the present, and the reader to decipher.
And, like Morrison’s opinion-dividing Batman #700, an awful lot is left to you to work out on your own. While many have a problem with this kind of storytelling, I do not believe that it is harmful to the overall enjoyment of the plot, neither here nor in #700. It is obvious that this is not some nonsense dressed up in fancy language, and that Morrison actually knows what he’s talking about. One does not feel lost nor spoken down to, merely carried along by the writer and gently prodded into relying on our own intelligence.
The opening issue, taking place in the Stone Age, is perhaps the best example of that. The strangely beautiful caveman-speak and Bruce’s own slurred speech (rendered from the locals’ point of view), throws the reader completely into the deep end, but pushes the story onward nevertheless. And there in the first panel of the whole thing is an inherent mystery. We’re off!
Bruce leaps on through time (it’s so tempting to add “putting right what once went wrong”) into colonial, pirate and western times, as well as just after his parents’ murders, before a brief visit to the future and then back to the good ol’ present. There’s a few guest appearances from DC’s more historical characters too, such as: Anthro, Vandal Savage, the Black Pirate and Jonah Hex; but these never feel gratuitous. Maybe Morrison’s portrayal of Hex raises a few questions, but these are quashed by his superbly in-character exit.
Laced throughout the narrative are traces of the elements that make Bruce Wayne Batman. Certain motifs are repeated: bells ringing, parents’ deaths, the idea of legacy, pearls, etc. Morrison truly is stripping this character down to his basic components, examining them, and them rebuilding him back up, right to that final panel, just as hard-hitting as the first.
What’s most remarkable about this character examination, is that Morrison is not afraid to reintroduce some humour into the dour Bruce. His completely out-of-the-blue joke about being a “butler inspector” totally threw me. Not only was it unexpected in this “grim and gritty” age, of which Batman is the poster boy, but it was pretty damn funny too. From what I hear, this is just the start.
It’s a shame that on books with multiple artists, I can never seem to find the time to discuss all of them, but in truth only one completely blew me away and that was Frazer Irving on issue two. From the quietly frightening appearance of the Archivist, to the breathtaking autumn scenary, I was hooked to the page throughout. Everybody on this story was brilliantly up to the task, but it will be Irving I remember most.
And speaking of memory (another recurring theme); while many may simply give up first time around, decarling the finale to be indecipherable gibberish, even they will be unable to stop their minds from wandering back to the mysteries in here. As with all things Morrison, it warrants many a re-read, and even then may not be completely explained.
That said, it is not without its “lesser qualities”. The finale is indeed somewhat out of step with the rest of the story’s pace, some elements seem altogether irrelevent (e.g. the giant prehistoric bat), and the “Time Masters” subplot would seem better contained to their own mini-series.
However, The Return of Bruce Wayne remains a testement to the longevity and greatess of Batman, making us feel a little better about his comeback, and reminding us why we missed him in the first place. Not only is this a literal return, but a spiritual one as well. A long-awaited return to form.
Art: 4 - Very Good