Batman continues his great running leap through time in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3. While numbers 1 and 2 concerned themselves mostly with the mechanics of Bruce’s time-traveling (where has he landed this time? Puritan-era Gotham? On it!), number 3 begins to explore not just the how and the where but the why of this weirdness. For me, one of the few disappointing aspects of Bruce’s return is the “mechanicality” of it. Remember, he’s racing through time with the desire to get home, unawares that Darkseid has booby-trapped his very existence. If Bruce makes it back to the JLA in 2010, he’ll become a doomsday device. No conflict = no drama, ergo his JLA friends are trying to stop him, even as he reaches out to them.
It works fine on paper, but as story structure, it lacks subtlety. You say Grant Morrison’s written a swashbuckling pirate story, and Bruce Wayne’s mixed up with Blackbeard? Sign me up! (This, despite the widespread confirmation that Blackbeard is a time-traveler himself. Heh.) But in execution, Grant Morrison’s writing can’t help but show the clunkiness of the story, even as individual scenes shine. Without giving away too much, Bruce has been captured by Blackbeard on the beach near a flaming ship, and is mistaken for the dread Black Pirate. Blackbeard is convinced that he knows Bruce’s secret identity, and that Bruce knows the secret location of a hidden Indian treasure. In this, Morrison is able to lay many layers of context over simple scenes of Bruce grunting. When Blackbeard shakes the Black Pirate’s discarded cowl and cloak, the echoes of Bruce’s true identity are too strong not to smile. And then we receive the pleasure of the irony. For once, Bruce isn’t lying when he claims he’s not the masked man they’re looking for. It’s one degree removed from saying “I’m shocked at how that utility belt got in my backpack, Officer.” Very sweet stuff, indeed.
And the pirate section of the story is sweet. The true identity of the Black Pirate is revealed (he’s one of the cabin boys), and there’s a nod to the Goonies, and a scuffle, and then Bruce disappears again. Less satisfying are the sounds of the story’s engine screeching in the background. Watching Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne (the temporary/new Batman and Robin) talk on the phone to Red Robin and Wonder Woman was a slog. Once we know that Batman’s been thrown backwards in time by Darksied, that should be it. Cross-cutting into the Bruce story with a bunch of cameo’d superheroes is risky; To do this for the sake of (unnecessary) exposition just drags the entire run down. The contemporary scenes are dull, dull, dull.
Is it worth your time and money? Of course, but just be prepared for the fun to end whenever Bruce isn’t fighting his way back through time.