Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #'s 4-6 (Cover to Cover)

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 last half: Issues 4 to 6. You can find the first half here.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4
by Grant Morrison and Georges Jeanty

The first four pages serve as a small prologue to the issue: after seeing her entire family murdered by the operations of one crime boss Vandal Savage, a mother prays for God's darkest, truest angel of retribution -- enter the Lone Bat Star:

Unfortunately, the issue derails itself from there. There's comprehensible talk of Savage hiring Jonah Hex to gun down this weird bat dude, but then it turns out Savage is also in cahoots with one Thomas Wayne. Here's a snippet of his dialogue:
Yes, the bells of BARBATOS, THAT'S IT!
I stood in the circle with JEFFERSON and when we raised batwinged BARBATOS and drank the STARRY VENOM!
The box is MINE.
It's probably supposed to be incomprehensible, because T. Wayne is one crazy guy, but there's a particular amount of drama placed on the box, and there's just zero clues as to what the box does. Bruce goes so far as to save the Wayne family, the current holder of the box, and that's the dramatic arc of the issue. Morrison's referred to the crazy rituals of Thomas Wayne before (or concurrently, if you're reading these by publish date), and it was just as incomprehensible then.

Later, the last few pages are devoted to a hasty epilogue which turns out to be the origin of Wayne Manor. Whoop-de-doo, but these one-off origins have grown tiring in the light of confusing storylines.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5
by Grant Morrison and Ryan Sook

For his troubles, Bruce gets shot by Jonah Hex to wake up in a hard-boiled Gotham City hospital! The art here is a knock-out from Ryan Sook, and I enjoyed it much more than last issue. The very first panel acts as a thesis statement: Red Robin says that "being marooned in the past with no memory of himself is just one more problem for Bruce to solve." Batman is a detective, and he hounds logic and sense to its single conclusion. He's always asking questions to learn more and to solve the murder of this one dame's friend, Martha Wayne. He plays the hard-boiled detective well, and Morrison nails the outrageous metaphors and deadpan humor in the dialogue:
Lady, I have a bruised LUNG and the X-RAYS to PROVE it. This is what it must be like trying to breathe on JUPITER.
Cigarettes are PACKED full of vitamins and give children PEP, sweetheart, haven't you heard the LATEST from the A.M.A.?
And later:
. . .so. . . I think you should talk to Martha's MOTHER.
In your capacity as a DETECTIVE, of course.
The delight of seeing Bruce Wayne as a hard-boiled detective ends around the point where there's an artist change. There's a plot twist, and the dame in distress turns out to be more than a dame in distress. For some odd reason it's a Mother Box from out of nowhere that saves Bruce and seemingly catapults him to the modern time.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6
by Grant Morrison and Lee Garbett

Let me just say that the change in colors and the pencilling lines were a great choice for Bruce's transition to a superhero-dominated comic book issue. It looks great for the issue and evokes the square jaws and broad shoulders of an Oliver Coipel. I'll badmouth the comprehensibility of the script as I will, but DC made some smart choices with the art.

I suppose that the writing still deserves some commentary. Bruce Wayne is converted by the archivists at the Vanishing Point, the library of all history before the end of time. It turns out that Darkseid never meant to kill Batman -- just send him back to time so that, when he does return to his own time, hes built up so much "Omega Energy" that it'll lead to the end-all. Sure. This is a comic book, after all.

The Justice League throws all of its superheroes at Bruce, including the other superteams, and fails. There's another plot twist in that Batman planned for all this to happen, and somehow they negate the Omega Energy. Fine. Let's just get this story over with. After that scene there are flashbacks, symbolic and otherwise to key moments in the birth of Batman, and then Batman comes back to life, because "Gotham City needs Batman."

It's just not worth trying to decipher the pages. There are words, there are pictures, there's even symbolism and whatnot, but there just isn't some kind of a story. It's Grant Morrison throwing a bunch of ideas at your face and figuring something will be so over your head that you'll be impressed. And the thing is, he could have done more, easily, with these stories. And I don't mean added more plot, or more words, or script. He could've made legitimate stories off of these insane ideas, instead of making a dozen references to other plotlines from the future, or the past, or some other. He could've made them comprehensible.

Batman as a swashbuckler? A caveman? A hard-boiled dick? Who wouldn't want to read that, they're exciting genres to graft a classic comics character on. Taken individually, sure, a few of these pages count as stories, in a flash of brilliance, but it's just brain-busting to try to consider them as a whole. You get lost in the mire. I'm sure he has enough clout in the industry to do this, but it's not going to expand the readership. It's just not a good reading experience. This isn't accessible at all, and it fails as a complete story.

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