[This thread is part of our Grant Morrison Reading Project.  Unlike most of the other Morrison threads, this one was written as the original issues came out.]

 

Issue 1 (of 6)

The man in the street says:  A very well illustrated story.  Beautiful clear storytelling on the visual level.  Is that guy in the grey trousers with the yellow belt perhaps Batman?  His name is on the cover... He can certainly sock it to the bad guys when he gets going.  What’s he doing in the Stone Age?  Is that Superman at the end with those other guys?  He looks very mean.  Why does Batman jump to Puritan times at the end?  He doesn’t seem to know who he is or what he is doing?

 

The average DC comics fan says:  Beautiful art.  Has Sprouse ever drawn DC characters before?  If not, why not?  Who are these cave men?  Vandal Savage is the main villain.  Why is Bruce in the Stone Age?  Is this related to the last scene of Final Crisis?  Why are the skies red?  Is there a Crisis going on somewhere, or somewhen?  Why don’t the superheroes refer to each other fondly by their first names?  I like it when they do that.  I’ll bet there’s a good comics series to be made out of Booster, Superman, Green Lantern and that guy in the bubble travelling through time!  I’d buy it! 

However, the baffling history trip (an extended version of Captain America's stupid time travelogue) simply makes no sense...especially with the "just missed him" cameo. Terrible!

 

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Never mind that lot.

This Morrison junkie says: Boy that’s still some good art! More great artists to come, too. Some of them carried over from the somewhat topical Seven Soldiers of Victory project. In fact this series seems to have quite a bit in common with Seven Soldiers of Victory. As well as the top rank artists each telling a very different story, it also shares the “archeological” approach of SSoV, in that we are about to see a story built up on layers of past history.

There are a few other nods to SSoV as well, but this story begins exactly where Final Crisis left off. I had liked to think that after 70 years of continuous non-stop adventuring, that scene in Final Crisis represented Bruce spending quite a while getting some ‘me-time’ away from the treadmill of cyclical monthly adventures. God knows he deserved it. Grant's run especially emphasised that he'd been through so many traumatic events that he didn't know if he was coming or going. I liked the thought of him resting back in the subconscious cave of our primordial dreamtime, where he'd emerged from in the first place.

Although this story does indeed explore where our legends and myths come from, it begins right after the final scene in Final Crisis, only a short time after Bruce has arrived in the Stone Age. After drawing the symbols of Metron, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman on the cave wall beside the body of Anthro, Bruce Wayne steps out of the cave. He encounters members of Anthro’s tribe, who seem like a prototypical superteam themselves, insofar as they are made up of a leader, a serious/surly one, a joker, a strong giant and a youngster. Think Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty Pride. Anthro was their Professor X, having been gifted with wisdom by Metron in FC and we even hear of White Fawn, who was their mother figure/Jean Grey.

In fact, there isn’t much difference between their characters and their names. Da-Man is the leader (a pun, surely?) to Serious, Joker, Giant and Boy. Morrison is speculating on how in earliest times there might not have been such a gap between a word and what it referred to. As it is, Anthro’s people speak almost entirely in monosyllables, and the language they use has a simple directness. The word they have for the apocalypse (a very abstract word in English) is the All-over. It’s an interesting subject for speculation, but I personally think that once you have a functioning language, you have double-meaning, abstraction and symbolism. It’s a joke amongst the tribe that the onewho calls himself Serious is named Surly by the rest, but it illustrates my point.

The whole episode is built around Boy’s initiation as a Young Man. We see the important work of the tribe taking responsibility for his education and passing their values onto him. They obviously have a different value-system to Savage’s stone-age fascist model. Da-Man makes much of the necklace which belonged to his mother – Anthro’s wife. It is to be treasured by the tribe “until the All-over”. To them it is a symbol of love and nurturing, but to Savage, it is just a trophy of war, a symbol of ‘might is right’. As another example of Morrison playing with our expectations, Giant is also perhaps the most perceptive of all of them. He is the one who voices the realisation that encountering Bruce – who they take to be a Sky-God similar to Metron – has amped up the significance and importance of this rite of passage.

“This makes everything different.”

The key event is where Boy returns decked out in Bat-motifed war-dress to the captured Bruce Wayne. During their face-off with Savage’s warriors he declares – “It’s not the Deer People you face now! The Bat People are here!”

His initiation has been a momentous traumatic event for his whole tribe. Boy has taken on the attributes of the frightening mysterious bat in order to fight for his people. This encounter with the seemingly divine has inspired him to become a true warrior. It’s also clear that going forward, this tribal scuffle will become the foundation point of the former Deer People’s new religion, and will explain Native American references to a bat-cult going forward in this series. If the action stays concentrated around the part of America that will become Gotham, it also helps to explain all those seemingly coincidental re-occurances of the Bat-motif and Bat-Gods in so many Batman stories. (I think a Bat-God was even implied as protecting and inspiring Bruce in Arkham Asylum, but its years since I read it.)

"What's it of"?,Boy asks in the very first sentence of the series.

It's a strange first line of a book, and I guessed it must have some significance. He's talking about the rocket they find that has delivered Bruce to their time and place. He means what is it 'made of'. (Maybe 'sky', they conjecture!)

Later, because of the bat-infested cave he'd stepped out of, they call Bruce "Man of Bats." Now we know the significance of that little preposition. To be 'of' something is to share its properties, to have access to its power. In this case it means to be more than human and touched with the divine. People have tried to harness special qualities and appeal to higher powers by this associative power for virtually all of human history.

We are seeing a whole myth being born from a minor incident, that will grow and evolve over thousands of years. I’m reminded of Ed Stargard’s explanation of the significance of Jake’s adventures with the Subway Pirates in Manhatten Guardian. He says that here are “Stories of how human beings make culture and meaning for ourselves, even down there in the garbage.”

Guardian’s ‘fellow Soldier’ Klarion also had this to say: “If there is no Witch-God, we can easily make our own Gods out of hopes and dreams and the stories of unsung heroes.”

By the end of this comic, we don't even know Boy by a proper name. He's unsung, but the encounter he was a part of will echo down through the years.

When they find out that Anthro has died, Boy asked "If Old Man's dead, who'll teach me the songs? How will I ever be a man?"

Serious later tells him: "Dawn comes, I'll tell you everything Old Man told me when I was you. There's not much to being a man..."

It seems that in the early days there wasn't much to pass on, but in The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 we are witnessing how societies build up culture and meaning out of possibly insignificant events, so that simplicity gives way to complex empowering mythology and religion.

Profound stuff for a superhero comic!
Well you really have this nailed down well, Figs! It makes me want to immediately go back and reread it.

I was actually wondering if "Da-Man" was supposed to represent something I'd missed.

I love the way Morrison builds upon layers and layers of what he's done before, as well as what has come before at the hands of other writers. While I love reading Morrison's work as it comes out, it's almost frustrating not having the whole story at one time. At least as each issue comes out, I'll probably go back and reread each one thus far.

Well said, Figs!
Grant has certainly been working on a huge mega-epic since Ultramarine Corps. Whereas that comic had Batman jumping up and BOOM-tubing off to the edge of the Solar System, this one has him being flung to a far-distant time rather than place.

I loved seeing the further development of Anthro's people. He only got a few panels in Final Crisis, but he was obviously incredibly important as the first human - at least symbolically the first boy. Pre-history and the beginnings of humanity is something I love reading about anyway. This Neolithic world was so well-sketched for only one issue that it's hard to believe we've moved on from it completely.

Think too, that Seven Soldiers of VIctory showed us a possible ending for humanity in the rapacious, decadent Sheeda. That's both ends of the entire history of humanity covered. The whole thing has real scope and ambition.

While I love reading Morrison's work as it comes out, it's almost frustrating not having the whole story at one time.

I'm with you on this, but Morrison really does play on the serialised long-form nature of this project. Look at how Mister Miracle didn't seem to relate to the Seven Soldiers story too well, but 3-4 years later it turned out to be the corner stone of the Final Crisis, with the War in Heaven and Darkseid winning.

Did you see that he is writing issues 700-701 of Batman which will follow on from the ending of Batman RIP, showing how he got from the helicopter crash to Final Crisis? Did he mean to only relate this episode now, after all the events of B&R (plausible), or was he asked to by DC because everyone complained about the gap in the narrative (Also plausible - Grant can be very obliging to DC and the literal-minded fans sometimes!)

He loves having fun with the serialised form, and plants stuff that he knows he won't get back to for years, if ever.

I did get the feeling with RoBW #1, however, that we are on the home stretch now. The fact that some close reading can tell you almost everything about what he's doing in this comic means that all of the elements are now out there and the next 6 months or so of his DCU comics should wrap up a lot of what he's been doing.

We still don't know how Darkseid's Omega Sanction sent Bruce to the Batcave at the same time and place as the rocket sent by Superman and Wonder Woman arrived there. We don't know what's causing him to jump forward in time. We don't know how/if this is tied to Dick and Damien's historical research in the present. These mysteries and plotlines were always going to take years to play out.

Hence people like Hibbs throwing his hands in the air!
I plan on reading this whole mini series. But not being an avid Morrison fan I wasn't blown away by this issue. It was a fun read but I think some things may have been lost of my. That's why I appreciate your posts, Figs!
I had a look at one of the previews for #1, and I have one question; what kind of time-travel his Bruce 'using'?
Da-Man makes much of the necklace which belonged to his mother – Anthro’s wife. It is to be treasured by the tribe “until the All-over”. To them it is a symbol of love and nurturing, but to Savage, it is just a trophy of war, a symbol of ‘might is right’.

You probably realized this, but it also echoes Martha Wayne's pearl necklace...the one that falls apart in the alley after she's killed in front of Bruce.

Great analysis, Figs!
Horn'd One said:
I had a look at one of the previews for #1, and I have one question; what kind of time-travel his Bruce 'using'?
Neither Bruce nor the readers are yet aware of any method of time-conveyance.

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Dagwan said:
Horn'd One said:
I had a look at one of the previews for #1, and I have one question; what kind of time-travel his Bruce 'using'?
Neither Bruce nor the readers are yet aware of any method of time-conveyance.


Not strictly true. Bruce was hit with 'Omega' beams from Darkseid's eyes in Final Crisis, and the next time we saw him was at the end of that story in the cave. We know from an old Kirby New Gods comic that that sometimes the beams send people back in time. Sonny Sumo was sent back to medieval Japan in The Forever People . Perhaps where you end up depends on what you are interested in. Someone with Sumo for a stage-name might be interested in Japan after all.

Likewise, Morrison's Batman has been written as lost in a maze of his own history and backstory, and might have been interested in tracing it back as far as he could.

Complicating things is that sometimes the Omega beams totally obliterate people, and sometimes they send them back in time. It occurs to me that the beams are more fatal to those more given over to Anti-Life. Darkseid is often shown zapping his craven minions to nothingness, but doesn't just zap his righteous good guy foes as soon as he walks into the same room as them.

Another theory is that Kirby just made it all up as he went along...

Morrison no doubt is just bouncing off the old Kirby stuff, so they aren't a bad place to start working it out from. Whatever the whys and wherefors, I'm sure they'll be expalined in the story itself.
Doc Beechler said:
Da-Man makes much of the necklace which belonged to his mother – Anthro’s wife. It is to be treasured by the tribe “until the All-over”. To them it is a symbol of love and nurturing, but to Savage, it is just a trophy of war, a symbol of ‘might is right’.

You probably realized this, but it also echoes Martha Wayne's pearl necklace...the one that falls apart in the alley after she's killed in front of Bruce.

Great analysis, Figs!

Thanks for the kind words, Doc.

I had missed the pearl necklace thing. Were there any pearl necklaces before Frank Miller came along? They are really an iconic part of the mythology now.

Do the new Christian Bale movies replay the shooting/necklace scene, or is it offscreen?
The Return of Bruce Wayne #2

The man in the street says: Why did I pick up a comic about puritans that’s the second issue of a series? This happens every time I forget my medication. I couldn't even tell you where the comic shop is!

Sad Brian says: How can Batman be fighting the squid-thing in the 1600s and thumbing his nose at Superman in the 64th Century at the same time? Comics were a lot easier to understand when I was a tyke. And hostess fruit-pies seemed like a great idea too. It's not that I’m stupid either. I have a job and do grown up stuff. I’m at least 30! But comics should be straightforward. If this panel is on the preceding page to this one, then the first must have happened before the other.

Gah!

TMJ says: It’s strange. The first issue illustrated the heavy anthropological revelation that mankind as we know it owes its very survival to the creation of myths, and the superstitious appropriation of power from those elements of the universe ‘outside ourselves’. This one, however, immediately jumps into a story showing how a superstitious, all embracing religion is another kind of life-denying trap. Even if, like me, you’ve never read Nathanial Hawthorne, I’m sure we’ve all seen plays, films and books where a society turns on itself in a state of religious fervour as here. (Footloose for instance, is only one degree removed from this story.)

So there isn’t anything terribly original about this issue, but I’d argue the execution, and its place within the 6-part scheme makes it something almost as special as the first issue. There’s probably a term from alchemy, or perhaps metaphysics for the way this issue immediately shows us the flip side of everything that was good about mythology/religion from the first issue. The solution from there has become the problem now. There is never a final perfection, but we have to start over again once understanding has been reached. Initiation never ends, as both ourselves and Bruce know by now from other Morrison comics. Bruce's lesson doesn't really save anyone this time. Bruce gets caught up in it, and it seems that there is nothing he can do to stop the outworking of Nathanial Wayne’s righteous self-aggrandising bloodlust.

We do see Bruce tempering the people’s superstition throughout with reason and logic. “I’m less inclined to lay blame at the Devil’s door when an Earthly explanation is forthcoming”. He even uses the nuts and bolts of the settlers own belief system to show the flaws in their thinking: “They say Satan is hairy and hell is exceedingly warm, Mistress Tyler. [...] Strange then that Satan would choose as a weapon a knitting needle. What we are seeing is Bruce Wayne slowly building up his Batman persona from nothing. Yes, he’s appropriated the power of the mysterious night-dwelling Bat and he vows not to forget that lesson - “Don’t forget this time. Man of Bats”, but here we see him adding rationality and compassion to that basic ingredient.

There are no handy prepositions to give us a boiled-down insight into what this story is essentially “of”, but I think one important word is “serve”. The Puritans serve their harsh God and his laws, without their own conscience coming into play. Nathanial can hide behind the statement that he is doing his "duty". Even Annie probably thinks she serves her Bright Ones and the old ways, but she brings a terrible beast into the world to prey on the poor benighted villagers. “Responsibility” is Wayne’s watchword. He and he alone takes personal responsibility for what he helped to bring to Colony Hill. Even before that his investigation of the murder was built on his own code of getting to the truth, no matter what.

The flow of the Puritan tale is broken by scenes of Superman and the Time Travellers encountering a recorder-type being that exists at the end of the timeline of Earth Zero. They are basically shown how hyper-time works. Time-lines criss-cross and converge and intersect. I’d guess that Earth Zero is the best alternative timeline to view this ‘loom’ from as all others branch out from it. I’d love to know if Earth Zero has been mentioned before. Rip Hunter hypotheses the existence of powerful beings who live outside the DCU.

“Perpendicular to the Time Plane must be Cube Time from where we look flat. Things live out there, I’m sure, things with scale and depth and dimensions we can only begin to imagine.”

He is of course referring to 4D us looking into their 2D world*. Some critics might lament that Animal Man was 20 years ago and move on already, but we’re seeing the knowledge of us higher-dimensional beings becoming disseminated throughout the DCU. The notion of being aware of and interacting with us is becoming another part of the fabric of the DCU, like regular Crises, which were a big deal at first. Or like Galactus went from being the ultimate God-like threat in the MU who vowed never to return under threat of total existential annihilation, to becoming this big guy that just won’t stay away.

Once the metaphysics is out of the way, we get to the dramatic meat of this story. Somehow, Wayne has been pulling the wool over their eyes and he has been disguised as the Recorder-being. It seems the reason he was here at the culmination of the Earth Zero timeline was to trace what impact his actions are having on the timelines and to see what he can and can’t do without disrupting time forever, or just messing up the timeline he himself is on. Of course, in Bruce’s own story, this happens long after his life amongst the Puritans. It is here because we see the tragic story-beat where he realises that he can’t save Annie.

I’m sorry, Annie. I’m so, so sorry.

I love what Clark and his super-pals bring to this story. After the long slog through Bruce’s lonely, insanity-inducing battle of wits with Dr Hurt, we are finally seeing that Bruce has friends and team-mates. As always, however, Bruce is one step ahead of them. Shockingly, he apologises for what he’s putting them through.

Who says a man can’t change? Or perhaps the hardest word starts to come easily to time-travellers? They seem to have unlimited power, but they end up stuck in narratives they aren’t proud of.

I also love that we’re getting 6 great artist’s interpretations of the Man of Steel too in this series. We all know Batman is cool BUT HE HAS SUPERMAN FOR A VBF!! Irving is about to start as the artist for the next 3-part arc of Batman and Robin too.

At this point I have to admit that I’m not sure what facet of Batman’s persona we will see in the next Blackbeard-starring instalment. That it’s not good to pillage and rape, maybe?

*Of course they misguidedly think that they are living in a 4D world, but we know better, and to them, we would seem to be 5D beings – perhaps manifesting ourselves in their world sometimes as horrendous 5D Squids, as Batman encounters here.
Is Earth Zero the cube world created by Superman in All-Star Superman, which was seen long before in Ultramarine Corps and in Seven Soldiers of Victory, which is supposed to be our world? At least that's my assumption. But if your question is whether that exact terminology has been used before, I'm not certain.

I also liked the metaphysical idea that we perceive them only in two dimensions. Very cool.

Where did you pick up on the fact that the Recorder guy was Bruce? I never noticed that, but I haven't reread the story yet.
He's either Bruce, or Bruce is somehow remote controlling it and using its head to display Bruce's own face to talk to Superman and co. Probably the latter as Superman's X-ray vision would be able to see through the disguise, and its probably too skinny to be big hunky lumpa man Bruce.

I'd say it's Bruce from much later in the story. He says to Superman something like, "I can't stop now, after all I've been through to get here."

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