Bruce Wayne Returns! (but should you care?)

Posted by Rob Noble on May 23, 2010

The short answer, for those of you with only a minute to spare, is YES!

When it began to leak that Bruce Wayne was not only not dead, but stuck in the past and soon to be making his way through the DC timeline back to the 21st Century, you could color me unimpressed.  Unimpressed, uninterested and bored. You see, I love continuity.  I’m so into continuity that any hero who dies or retires, and stays that way, is tops in my book.  If Damien’s 10, Tim Drake’s 20 and Dick Grayson’s pushing 30, then Bruce has to be somewhere in his early-to-mid 40’s.  Barring some Ian Karkull-style anti-aging bullshit, there’s no way Bruce should still be doing what he’s doing at his age.

I mean, Jeezus, even Steve Rogers had the Super Soldier Serum to keep him “young-ish.”

So it’s with a surprising amount of excitement that I can say Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, 1 of 6 is more than worth your time and cash.  It’s exciting, makes use of some very good genre tropes, and plants the Easter eggs right where you can find them. And all of this is due to one man: Grant Morrison.

Now, I like Grant Morrison.  A lot.  Firmly in his hand, and happy to go where he takes me.  Do I think the Invisibles is the end-all, be-all?  No.  Does Batman and Robin sometimes seem like a tapas plate instead of a full meal?  Yep.  But damn if he doesn’t hit this issue out of the park.

We open on a band of Stone Age hunter-gatherers, the Deer People Tribe.  Man is taking Boy to meet his own father, Old Man.  Alongside them are their companions Surly, Joker and Giant. When Bruce shows up, disoriented (from a cave full of bats, natch), they assume he’s a God and are flummoxed when he seems more concerned with his sky-carriage and belt. Morrison uses an interesting trick, making Bruce’s speech the phonetic gibberish and the Deer People are the ones speaking English.  When I was a kid most writers would have just stuck the Deer People’s dialogue into brackets, indicating a different language, like so:

Where am I?

Deer People
<He seems so strange>

The phonetic thing is more natural, and hearkens back to Chester Brown’s experiment with the first few issues of Underwater, or like a graphical representation of this hilarious scene from the Michael Crichton-based mess The 13th Warrior.  From this auspicious meeting we jump straight into the action, as a neighboring tribe descends to wage war on the Kitten People.  Excuse me, I mean Deer People.  When the bloodbath is over, only an agile boy is left, swearing revenge for the death of his father and looking to Bruce for guidance.  I’m just going to assume that when not picking berries or hunting bison, his folks were trapeze artists.

Without jumping too deeply into spoiler territory, a certain immortal caveman enters the story and it plays out like Morrison’s own take on this classic Justice League scene:

Now, who doesn’t love seeing time traveling superheroes fighting with fur capes, hand-forged tools and whatever 20th century gadgets they managed to bring along?  A great read and a whistle-whetter for issue 2.

Random thoughts:

  • Is there a better signifier that your group is harmless and safe, than naming them Deer People? A little o.t.n., Grant.
  • Realllly dig the Chris Sprouse artwork. Not because it matches the detailed splendor of Frank Quitely (my current favorite superhero comix artist), but because it makes makes Bruce look/seem a lot like Tom Strong. which leads me to…
  • how much I liked the Tom Strong preview that backs up this nice read. Always good to see Pneuman and King Solomon going at it again.
  • Comicdom has a long, awesome history of splash covers representing scenes that aren’t actually inside.   Bruce looks so awesome on the cover, stone hammer in hand, cannibal cavemen gnawing on his legs, that it doesn’t matter that the fight inside is a standard 3-page punch-out featuring the utility belt’s finest.

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