Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #'s 1-3

There was a war -- and evil won! Darkseid struck Batman with the Omega Effect, hurtling him through the beginning of space and time! Now it's up to Bruce Wayne to fight his way back home!

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne is Grant Morrison's epic of how Bruce Wayne died and came back. It's the story of Bruce Wayne's struggle for identity when Batman is stripped away from him. Morrison uses the six issues to throw Bruce Wayne in a western setting, a hard-boiled noir setting and a puritan setting, among others. Each issue defines Bruce Wayne in a way that is essential to his identity as Batman. Today we're going to examine the first half: Issues 1 to 3.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1
by Grant Morrison and Chris Sprouse

Of these six issues, the first is the strongest. It's an oversized issue that throws Bruce Wayne in a neanderthalic era. Due to the Omega Effect, his memory isn't completely with him, and when he tries communicating, the words come out as jumbled to the tribe he meets. The tribe holds a man called "man" whose son is called "boy:" here, everyone is boiled down to their essential identities, a reference to Bruce's need to find his own.

When the neighboring tribe attacks this tribe, Man gets killed, and Bruce Wayne is kidnapped, to be eaten for the next day. It's in this moment of crisis that Bruce discovers it. There are no words, but we know. We know when Bruce takes the carcass of a giant bat and wears it. It's this triumphant moment that tells us what Bruce is: he is a survivor, and he is a savior. With the help of his grappling hook, Bruce escapes and saves Boy. The two of them escape the tribe by jumping off a waterfall.

The leader of the invading tribe was Vandal Savage, the immortal man, scourge of the JSA! When Bruce disgraces him by defeating him in combat, Savage flees from the tribe and swears a revenge that would endure time itself! This in turn is a reference to the Batman himself. Bruce Wayne is a man, but Batman is an idea that endures time, literally epitomized in future issues and in Bruce Wayne's journey through time.

Chris Sprouse's clean lines and clear layouts are an effective way to tell Morrison's script. It's not a story about a cape or a costume: it's a story about men, and the issue in question is a story about shirtless man named Bruce Wayne.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2
by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving

When Bruce Wayne emerges from the waterfall, he awakes to Puritan-era Gotham! It's a small village that's prone to the occasional witch scare. Despite using small clues and logic to discover the murderer of a man, the villagers accuse the murderer of being a witch! He pleads with them, but fails to convince.

Here's another definition of Bruce Wayne that's essential to Batman. Not only is he a survivor and a savior, he's a detective. He follows logic, relentlessly to a single conclusion. Although the people may not agree with him, he realizes that the system doesn't always work and accepts it.
When the witch is being burned at the stake, she utters one last curse: on the village leader's lineage, and on Gotham itself! This is directly parallel to Vandal Savage's promise, and just as enduring.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3
by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette

Bruce Wayne is thrown forwards in time again. He wakes up in a shipwreck as Blackbeard's hostage; the legendary pirate is convinced that he's the fabled Black Pirate (he isn't). Blackbeard forces Bruce to lead him to the cave of the Miagani, the "Bat people."
The theme of this issue is fear: fear and superstition. Blackbeard urges his crew to set the tips of his hair on fire, "to scare off any ghost or injun" while in the cave of the Miagani. This provides a direct contrast to Bruce who, when taking them through a hall of bat droppings, tells the men to burn out their torches and hold their breathes, for fear of the methane and explosion. Batman is a force of logic, but he has no qualms about using someone's superstitions against them (see above).

That'll be it for me today! Who would think that talking about Batman would have tired me out? Come back next week for the conclusion of my reading of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. The latter half trails off into incomprehensibility, but I'll try to think it out for you. For America.

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