March 17, 2012

Batman - The Return of Bruce Wayne

Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Lee Garbett, Karl Story, Michael Lacombe, Waldon Wong, Mick Gray, Pere Perez, Alejandro Sicat

Review by Gavin O’Reilly

Batman-The Return Of Bruce Wayne trade paperback collects the acclaimed mini series brainchild of Grant Morrison with many artistic collaborators. The premise (as with so much of Morrisons’ work) is great. Batman is thrown back in time by Darkseid as, I understand it, a last bitch slap for challenging (and beating?) him. I didn’t read what precedes this tale so I am unclear, and having read the tale, am unfortunately no clearer. That’s the problem with long standing continuities I suppose. Anyhoo, the effect of previous stories to understand the current tale is not critical on this, it is just the fanboy completist inside me that would really quite like to know.

So Batman wakes up in prehistoric times as his start point and jumps forward  when he beats or confronts an evil in whichever period he lands in. He goes from the stone age to the time of pilgrims and settlers in the states, to a time of swashbuckling bad asses (in the form of Blackbeard and his not so merry men no less) to rolickin’ wild west action with a distinct tinge of the dark knight (with my favourite showdown against one non-plussed Jonah Hex) to finally a more familiar film noir type Gotham setting, dated maybe one lifetime or half a lifetime before old Brucey’s parents would have been knocking around.

While our man Bats is beating the individual odds beat by beat, chapter by chapter, a band of the Justice League types are in two teams- Superman and his gang going to ‘Vanishing Point’ at the end of time itself to try and find him through the archives kept there, while Wonder Woman heads up her squad to take Batman down when he inevitably re-appears. Says something for the chops of Batman- they all know he will find his way back through time. That is pretty kick ass. But, it does also reinforce the problem I have with a lot of DC heroes- they are just too kick ass and all powerful- Superman can make the world spin the other way on its axis? Seriously? The Flash can bend time and dimensions through vibrational speeds? Green Lantern can make anything out of his ring? Come on, Batman is non powered and can pluck his way back through time after being poisoned with something called Omega Radiation?

I guess the fact that he is non-powered, and just amazingly clever and resourceful is one of the draws of his appeal, and Wonder Woman does show that he was out of his league knocking on Darkseids door:

“He struck down Darkseid. Such hubris on the part of mortals has always had a price. BATMAN MUST DIE!”

Nice to know Diana has your mortal back there, doesn’t it Bruce? Well, it makes sense for an immortal warrior woman made of clay from the Gods to think that I suppose, not that I have had a skype chat with one about it recently or anything.

And then the show down, and it is pretty fun- but here I will resist spoilers. The art throughout works well, with such a diverse cast of artists it might risk continuity, but as each piece is period it is obvious each artist has been chosen for their strengths for the relevant style of period piece, and for the most part it works well. The panels and story telling jump a bit in the Wild West chapter by Georges Jeanty , and unfortunately I got pulled out of the story because of it (I couldn’t actually make sense of what happened in his confrontation with Jonah Hex). I am loving the slick art in the noir chapter by Ryan Sook and Pere Perez– despite the mash of artists,it gets across the Gotham we all know and love- dark and seedy and sexy and corrupt but enticing all the same.

As a story for me the concept is better than the ride, maybe its because I don’t have a particular affinity to pirate or western comics (or pilgrim comics??) but somehow each individual story lacked impact because you knew the characters were only going to last this short part of the tale- I only really gave a crap about his mate Jack (who has a nice trick or two up his sleeve) in the pirate tale, the rest felt a bit, I don’t know, rent-a-fleeting-supporting-cast-member? To be fair, this would probably be a problem for any experienced teller of a story for this particular time jumping tale (at least in Doctor Who there is always a possibility that one of them is, or might be important overall- I don’t get that from this at all). However, Morrison’s usual high standard of pacing, characters and bonkers concepts that work shines through, making this tale a fairly worthy, if not essential, addition to a good Batman collection.

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