The Return of Bruce Wayne
Martin Skidmore — 13-Dec-10
I’m sure even small children reading superhero comics don’t take superhero deaths terribly seriously by now, and when the character is one of the company’s biggest stars, it’s even more blatant that their death is merely a storyline that will lead to a triumphant return, hopefully with thousands more comics shifted along the way.
So all credit to Grant for the way he has played Batman’s death. Yes, he gave us some ‘he really is dead’ stuff in the wonderful Final Crisis series (well I loved it, even if many didn’t) where Batman and Darkseid kill each other, with Superman carrying the clearly dead body. However, he also ended the series with a clear statement that he isn’t dead, that he is now somehow lost in the depths of the past: we see someone drawing a Bat symbol on the wall of a cave.
So in the meantime we have the battle to take over the mantle of Batman, won by Dick Grayson, who takes on Batman’s son Damian as his Robin. And in a different sort of meantime, Bruce Wayne finds himself in caveman days in The Return of Bruce Wayne #1. Yes, we soon get a Batcaveman: Grant loves the silly old DC comics, and understands thrill power. We wouldn’t be happy without this. He also gives us a proper supervillain – there’s only one in existence at this time, of course, so it can only be Vandal Savage. But of course today we expect more than just Batcaveman and a fight scene, and we get that too: at the finale of the issue, Batman disappears – and moments later Superman, Green Lantern and others appear, looking for him. They tell us Batman has no memory of who he is and has no idea what is happening. Booster Gold suggests even he can’t make it. Superman says “You are joking, right? He can survive anywhere. Anytime.” Then he adds that if Batman does somehow make it back to his own time, “Everyone dies.” So we also have a big plot here, albeit a mysterious one. The first issue ends with Bruce in some new time period, faced with a demonic monster.
The second issue gives us some more new things: the story is in the Salem days, with witch-hunters and pilgrims. It’s also set in a village called Gotham, and the cave where Bruce appears is surely the Batcave – indeed, this turns out to be a pivotal moment in the formation of the city, and perhaps in the Wayne lineage too; and we soon get suggestions that the cave in #1 was that same Batcave. And the demonic monster – Bruce concludes that he brought it with him. We also get more of the JLA plotline, set now at the far-future heat death of the universe, where some strange semi-artificial being seems to be Bruce Wayne.
Subsequent issues bring more time-travel fun: Batman in a pirate setting vs Blackbeard; Batman in cowboy days taking on Vandal Savage again, who has hired Jonah Hex. Batman in a rather unclear time, perhaps around 1940, trying to solve his mother’s murder (there’s a strange deliberate anachronism here: how can that have happened 70 years ago? This can’t possibly be 20 years or so ago, but it can be the time of Batman’s comic book creation). They also tie everything in more to the city and family and to bats, though they leave the JLA strand alone. In particular they start linking more and more to the major ‘Black Glove’ storyline in Batman & Robin. I think Grant showed in Final Crisis his taste for making multiple links, but in ways that do not require you to read or have read countless other comics to make sense of what you are reading – though I don’t suppose too many readers of one Morrison Batman comic were skipping the other.
The ending in #6 jumps into SF: we are back at the end of the universe, with what I guess is all or most of the JLA trying to take Batman down before the Omega Effect takes its toll. But Batman has his own plan, devised along his time travels, written in journals passed on. Sadly it means his death – he has to die, the Omega radiation has to leave his body, then he can be revived, if that is still possible. I totally love Tim Drake’s line at this point: “I know how to bring him back. Tell him Gotham’s in trouble. And tell him he’ll need this.” (He’s holding out the cape & cowl.)
I hate comic reviews that ignore the art, so I’m sorry to be guilty of that. Clearly it is the story that is of primary interest, and there are different artists on each issue, most of them good ones. I thought Lee Garbett did a particularly good job on the final issue, which set some major challenges for an artist, and I really liked Chris Sprouse and Ryan Sook along the way.
I enjoyed this a lot when I read it as it came out, and rereading it now was even better – the echoes and connections and complexity is more evident and comprehensible. It has made me want to reread the Batman & Robin run again too.