Ah, Grant Morrison. Love him or hate him (and I love him), he’s just a man – and there’s no way around the needs of comics’ story-telling machinery when writing a 6-issue run. Some critics are chafing at the delays in getting these issues out, but I’m all for delays in the writing and production if it means we won’t see the seams in this weirdo garment he’s creating. So Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 is finally seeing the light of day. Great. Haven’t read it yet, but it can’t any more be full of exposition than issue #4.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4 finds Bruce in the Old West. Okay, not really. It finds Bruce in 1870’s Gotham, this time as a non-speaking clean-up-the-town type who’s made too many enemies. Powerful enemies. Powerful, immortal, heavily-scarred enemies: Vandal Savage and Jonah Hex* (okay, to be fair, Hex was just paid to take on Bruce.) Again, I have to point out that this story does not take place in the Old West. It takes place in Gotham. The dusty streets and horses with saddlebags full of gold, the “bastards that hanged a good farmer.” This is all in Gotham, which I can’t imagine wouldn’t have been better suited as a real-world mirror to Gotham by Gaslight. So why include Old West characters, if the plot is going to keep time-traveling Bruce tied to Gotham? Le sigh.
But poor plotting isn’t what’s keeping this book down. The problem is the sheer amount of plotting that has to happen during what should otherwise be a fun and wild ride through time. The story’s there, but the need to make every character, every line, feed into a predetermined end is a total slog. So we’re given a warts-and-all character study of every generation of Waynes from Bruce’s great grand-pappy on down. It doesn’t feed the story. It barely feeds the miniseries. It’s just not necessary.
And sadly, that round peg/square hole feeling never quite leaves this issue. I have to admit, if I’d known that Grant Morrison was going to use this title as nothing but a history lesson of the Wayne family and how they got their awesome mansion, I might have passed. Ah well, issue number 5 hit the stands today, so may be there’s hope.
*I don’t know if there’s a memo, framed in glass on the DC Editorial walls, stating that all stories that take place in the 20-odd years after the Civil War have to feature a cameo from Jonah Hex, but seeing his melted mug was so not-surprising as to be an actual disappointment. Heck, maybe it’s leftover synergy from the failed Jonah Hex movie this summer.