A while before New 52, and after the events of Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis in 2008-2009, Gotham City was missing its original Dark Knight and was forced to cope without Bruce Wayne. February saw the UK release from Titan Books of the trade paperback collection chronicling Bruce’s return to the DC universe – Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, originally published in single issue form in 2010.
For those unfamiliar with the events of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, it culminated with Bruce Wayne’s Batman being shot by the omega beam of Apokoliptian despot Darkseid. The beam sent Wayne back in time to live several lives in succession, fighting to make his way back to the present.
Wayne’s absence left the then-current DC universe in confusion. His former ward Dick Grayson, the original Robin, would briefly take up the role of caped crusader in 2009’s Battle for the Cowl. Morrison followed up Wayne’s return with the global focus and multiple Batmen of Batman Incorporated.
The Return of Bruce Wayne picks up where Final Crisis left off. Bruce appears confused and amnesiac in the prehistoric era and must, throughout the course of the story, live several lives acting as a caveman, pilgrim, pirate, cowboy and noir detective before he can return to the life from which he came.
Grant Morrison’s work on Batman was mostly unfamiliar to me before picking up Return of Bruce Wayne in trade – shock horror! – aside from a few isolated issues of 2009-2010’s Batman and Robin that featured the new Batwoman. I thought Return would be appealing, as I’ve been reading several of the post Final Crisis/Batman R.I.P. series.
When it was announced that Bruce would be return in 2010 there were two deliberate tie-in series to accompany the event. One was Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – a series of one-shots featuring Barbara Gordon’s Oracle, Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl and other characters of the Bat-books. The other series was Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.
My initial choice was to pick up the series of one-shots as they covered characters I had been reading on a regular basis. The idea of ‘cowboy Batman’ etc. didn’t have me running into the comic shop. However, having now read Return, the aspect of alternative eras seems less like a gimmick that it did initially.
Each issue is penned by Morrison – and drawn by artists including Andy Kubert, Ryan Sook, Frazer Irving and Georges Jeanty – with a distinct style that reflects what is known and what is perceived about the various periods in the story it depicts. The eras are short, individual adventures where Bruce displays his innate heroic tendencies, despite having the memories of a goldfish.
The book also describes the present day Justice League’s attempts to find Bruce and prevent him destroying the world with his ‘omega energy’. Even deeper, there is a more sinister plot featuring the seemingly immortal Vandal Savage, Morrison’s villain Doctor Hurt and their quest for eternal life. A few hints to the Wayne family history are thrown in for good measure. Sound like a lot to pack into one book? It is.
The plot moves through time at a fast pace and there is a lot of action. Small pieces of the mystery are revealed throughout the story – just not always in the right order. The journey proves to be a tough one with very little time to stop and breathe; I found myself reading several pages over again to make sure that I had not missed any important details before I moved on.
Infuriatingly though, when I finally closed the book I found myself more confused then the first time I watched David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. To quote Riddler from Batman Forever, ‘Too many questions.’ Return of Bruce Wayne is not a book that will give you the answers. They’re out there, but you are expected to care enough to go and look for them.
Morrison takes for granted that you have not only read but well-remember Batman R.I.P., Final Crisis and some of his run on Batman and Robin. After some thorough research I feel I have a decent handle on the more subtle elements of the plot at last. I only wish that I had that knowledge beforehand, as it would have made the book a far more satisfying experience.
Having re-read the book with this new knowledge in mind I found the narrative much more appealing and the depth of the detailing of the story is actually quite outstanding. The feeling of resolution in moments like the final chapters of Harry Potter, or the Bad Wolf moment in Doctor Who, probably have nothing on Return of Bruce Wayne when it comes to pleasing the loyal fan who has waited patiently for the payoff. After all, some of Morrison’s details have been in the works since the prehistoric era.
Knowledge of the plot of Batman R.I.P. and understanding the role of Bruce’s parents in the plot is essential for comprehending the origin story of Doctor Hurt, why there are two Thomas Waynes, and just what happens in the noir detective story of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. It’s not a lot to ask, but if, like me, you are unfamiliar with Batman R.I.P. then this book will leave you with some strange questions about the dearly departed Thomas and Martha.
Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne functions satisfactorily as a stand-alone book, especially the chapters involving pilgrim witch-hunters, pirates and the Old West. To fully comprehend the story underneath the time travel you need to know Morrison’s previous titles – at least by cribbing on a wiki, if not from reading the books proper.
If you’ve played Arkham City and are looking for somewhere to start reading Batman then Return of Bruce Wayne is certainly not it. If you are interested in an ongoing story mired in the character’s history that spans several archetypes and eras then this book is an absolute must.