[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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Another great piece, Figs. I was reading this the other night and Holly was drawn in by the art and thinking it was a new Solomon Kane comic. She kinda rolled her eyes when she found out it was Puritan Batman. ;)
Reading the synopsis of the last issue kind of solidified how bizarre this mini is to me.

I like Grant, but I think I'll sit this one out.
Irving has a wonderful style doesn't he? He's a great fit with the Puritans, which is an odd specialism for an artist. Even his name sounds like a great 19th century illustrator! I re-read the first part of his Klarion/Robin team-up last night. It really whets the appetite for his B&R arc. I'll have to find part two in the back issue bins.

To be fair Larfleeze, I didn't really mean these to be synopses, but if they can be read as such, that's great. I do tend to try to pull as much as I can out of what's on the page. Like most of Grant's work, it'll read much better in collected form when the great art and hoaky genre adventure stories will carry the reader forward and a few chapters later show what all that chat in the 64th century was about.

If you read the comic, you'd see Batman be saved by a beautiful woman and fall in love with her. Then tragically he's unable to save her in turn from the superstitious locals. "Meanwhile"(!), in the 64th century, the Time-Travellers looking for Bruce find that he's one step ahead of them still, and the stakes are very high!
She kinda rolled her eyes when she found out it was Puritan Batman. ;)

You did explain that it wasn't another Elseworlds story, and this time it was really Batman, though?!

:-)
I love how Grant Morrison went through and took a bunch of old Elseworlds and is making them into canon, somewhat.

And wouldn't Frazier Irving be the perfect choice for a Solomon Kane one-shot?
I love how Grant Morrison went through and took a bunch of old Elseworlds and is making them into canon, somewhat.

It was bad enough that the starting point of his Batman run was "OK, everything that happened in the Batman comics has happened to this one guy in one lifetime. What kind of focussed hyper-sanity would he need to have to live through all this without cracking up completely."

As you say, he's now throwing in the Elseworlds stories as 'really happened' too.

By the way, I think that's his 4D vision that Superman is using in the 64th century to read the time-lines. As seen in Superman Beyond.
The Return of Bruce Wayne – part 3 of 6

“The Bones of Bristol Bay”

This was a fun instalment in the series. In part, Batman’s solemn meeting with the Miagani ‘Bat-People’ in what will become his Bat-cave was a closing of the circle with the Bat-Tribe of issue one. They are described as the last of their people, so I’m not sure we’ll see them again.

Rereading it, it's hard to find a strong thematic throughline like the previous two issues had. We still have Bruce building up his persona, by adding more elements of what Batman is to his identity. In this issue, Bruce finds out about the Bat-cave as a safe retreat from his enemies, and finds that he can use a big dark cape to seem ghostlike when fighting in shadows. These are important elements of the Bat-mythos, but not overly profound aspects of it, as the primal bat-myth or the rational thinking were in the first two issues.

Bruce doesn’t just add each element as he goes forward, but is continually trying to work the previous lessons into his psyche. “Remember” is the first word of this issue. In addition to another look at the Bat-people, we see Bruce using his detective skills to deduce Jack Loggins ransom value.

I found the whole issue to be more about ‘upkeeping’ the different elements of the narrative while Morrison gave us an episode of his time-travelling tale set in the same era as Alan Moore’s Black Freighter segment of Watchmen. Morrison’s ship is called the Black Rose, captained by the Black Pirate. In retrospect, he was never not going to stop off here…

Blackbeard gets off lightly at the end, which surprised me. It’s almost as if Morrison himself, as well as the Black Pirate, has a soft spot for him. I’d always thought he was as blood-thirsty as any pirate cut-throat, but not according to wiki: “A shrewd and calculating leader, Teach used his fearsome image instead of force to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day image of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews, and there are no known accounts of his ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive.” Perhaps Morrison sees him as a sort of anti-authoritarian 18th Century Invisible, sticking it to the man...

Israel Hands was a real person too and served as Blackbeard’s second-in-command as in this story. This is curious as the last pirates we saw in Morrison’s current DC phase were the subway degenerates All-Beard and No-Beard in Seven Soldiers of Victory. Their names tie in nicely with Edward Thatch’s famous nickname, but there’s more. No-Beard, who had a 2 hooks instead of hands, relied on a serving boy to do his manual tasks for him. That characters name? “Hands”, of course!

Israel Hands is also the name of one of Long John Silver’s pirates in Treasure Island, so Morrison is layering fiction and fact in an intriguing fashion.

I think Blackbeard is the first real historical figure to get such a central role in Morrison’s current DCU comics. Given how fans love to spot tributes to Alan Moore in Grant’s work, Thatch’s fine fulsome beard is certainly worthy of note. Blackbeard and Hands are British, like Grant, so their speech patterns come across as a little less generic than his American characters.

Paquette’s art looks wonderful. Quite ‘European’ in line with the subject matter. It’s funny how much of Morrison’s work has shown that a variety of artists can be a strength if used properly. The Invisibles and Seven Soldiers of Victory being the most obvious examples.

Once again, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the seriously illustrated historical segments with Batman’s brightly coloured 21st Century super- friends. Is that the two new Justice Leagues that Wonder Woman is talking to? Or have they been re-amalgamated after Ollie and Hal’s little Fratboy lark? I see Black Canary is still there. Is she still leader, or is that just when Diana, Bruce or Clark aren’t around? In any case, the Justice League is looking like a real mish-mash of second-stringers and misfits these days.

The Time Masters are still gone. I wonder were we supposed to think they were in great danger when Batman left them stranded at the end of time last issue? It never occurred to me that they might be, because Batman wouldn’t do that to his buds, would he?

We find out that ‘The Relic’ was found by tracing the movement of Cavemen (presumably a branch of the Miagani) from America into Europe via the Siberian Land-bridge. But then we see that the relic is Batman’s costume on Deer antlers that Bruce himself finds in the original Bat-cave on the east coast of the present US in 1718.

What am I missing here?

We also get our fanboy stroked, as the superfolk start to join the dots between what Batman experienced at Command-D during Final Crisis – torture by a minor henchman of Darksied – and what Batman and Darkseid did to each other at the climax of that story. (Or one of the climaxes, naughty Grant!) They are able to satisfy themselves that it is the costume Bruce was wearing when he was shot by Darkseid, because the holes in the cowl correspond with the holes that the torture device in Command-D would have made as it monitored and manipulated Bruce’s mind before he escaped. Red Robin has a little hesitant moment where he has to admit that there is now another Robin. I wonder does his own series tie in with this at all?

We also see just enough of the rest of the Black Pirate’s life to see that mementoes and records of Bruce’s journey through time are being kept in a special box, by ‘a brother and sister in Gotham Town’. The book written by Bruce and passed on to the Dutch artist last issue is mentioned and something else ‘of which I cannot speak’. I wonder what this might be? Especially mysterious considering it has to come from a time Bruce has already been in before this adventure, and also most of his suit seems to be kept by the Miagani in the cave, so it can't be that. The apocalyptic ‘All-Over’, mentioned in the first issue, is referred to again here, so it looks like the narrative is building up to its own Crisis...

Issue three ends with an appetiser for next issue’s Spaghetti-flavoured showdown between our ‘mysterious stranger’ Bruce and Jonah Hex himself. Tasty!!
Rather than hijack the "Sparse Week" thread, I thought I'd respond to this string over here:

Figserello said:
ClarkKent_DC said:
Does anybody else have the feeling that Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne reads more like homework you should be doing rather than an adventure you really enjoy? I have that feeling, and I'm not sure I want to stick around to the finish.

It's ironic you should feel that CK. I thought the adventure with Blackbeard was quite a cool done-in-one team-up with the Black Pirate.

The stuff you probably found hard going were the bits that he put in just for readers who haven't been following all his stuff for the last few years. eg Command D and and showdown with Darkseid. The JLA were suming up some of the content of recent Batman and Robin storylines.

(I thought it was funny that Robin said 'shouldn't we get back to the Joker?' as the last issue of B&R finished with them suddenly finding themselves in the same room as the Joker. It's as if they left the Joker standing there while they went off to explore the bunker and told him to wait til they got back!)

But once again we're up against the drawback of the monthly publishing model. How do you know when you start collecting a series that its going to be something you enjoy? You don't know until the series is over... It becomes more problematic the more they charge for the comics.

I found all of it hard going, but I think you identified one problem: I haven't been following the Batman titles in general, or Grant Morrison in particular. In any event, this isn't coming across to me like a cool story in its own right loaded with cool Easter eggs just waiting to be discovered if I was really in the know -- like, say, Toy Story 3, which works whether you've seen all of them or if that was your first, but isn't it cool that Sid the bully from the first movie is in this one? And hey, there's the Pizza Planet truck, which was in all the other Pixar movies!

This Return of Bruce Wayne, loaded as it is with allusions to Elseworlds and Gotham history and DC Universe lore, make me feels more like I'm taking an advanced calculus class without having taken introductory algebra. Maybe it's just not for the entry-level reader.

Plus, I have a hard time with the very notion that Batman is some kind of mystical god fated or ordained or predestined to be Batman through all time, past, present and future -- I fear this can only cement the "Bruce Wayne is a daytime mask for the Batman" nonsense.
I think this mini is establishing Bruce Wayne as the greatest human hero of all time...with or without the "Batman" persona. He completes the DC trinity of alien-goddess-mortal or science fiction-fantasy myth-gothic mystery. They really, in three characters, encompass popular fiction.
This Return of Bruce Wayne, loaded as it is with allusions to Elseworlds and Gotham history and DC Universe lore, make me feels more like I'm taking an advanced calculus class without having taken introductory algebra. Maybe it's just not for the entry-level reader.

Obviously you are much more qualified to say how Morrison's Batman work reads to someone who is just picking it up cold than I am.

Still, the allusions to Elseworlds have nothing to do with the story in hand. Further, I've never read a Black Pirate story, but could 'get on board' with this guy fine. Likewise the allusions to Gotham history are mostly to events that Morrison made up for this very story.

Good grief! I've just looked them up and The Miagani were first seen in Jim Starlin's rather demented Batman:The Cult miniseries! I didn't know that, and my ignorance didn't deter from my enjoyment of the first three issues one whit.

Similarly, I avoid 90's Dan Jurgens comics like the plague, so I hadn't seen the Vanishing Point before issue 2 of this series, but I don't think I'm missing anything as to what its doing here.

So that's two big allusions I knew nothing about that hasn't affected my enjoyment.

I get it that you aren't enjoying this series, Clark, but I don't think you've put your finger on why you are not enjoying it. It probably has more to do with Morrison's writing style. I had to surmise a lot to figure out that Bruce meeting Superman in issue two wasn't chronologically happening in the middle of his fight to save Annie from witchfinder Wayne and the villagers, but thematically, showing Bruce later mourning his inability to save Annie, it belonged in issue 2. Thematic rather than chronological sequence isn't something that we get much in comics, so readers like you and Brian Hibbs are being put off.

Similarly most of the story elements in Batman #700 were new to everyone who read it, not just those who hadn't been following Morrison's Batman. In fact someone like you, who would have recognised Professor Carter and the 60's Mad Hatter 'imposter' should have been more likely to enjoy that story rather than less likely, if familiarity with allusions had anything to do with it.

Bill - have you been reading Morrison's Batman since Batman and Son? If you hadn't , do you think you'd be able to get as much out of RoBW?
Before I move on to RoBW #4, I thought I'd post this link to a Mindless Ones blog post which analyses Red Robin's meeting with the poor-man's JLA in issue 3.

"These guys really need to shore up their self-esteem, and in the absence of any proper baddies to fight or any decent comics to appear in, they’ve obviously brought in Tim to have someone to look down on. It’s backfiring on them though – some of them are starting to feel guilty about using him like this, and the atmosphere in the room isn’t conducive to the schoolyard, social-knockabout fun they had hoped for."


Very funny in an irreverent kind of way, as the writer imagines a whole subtext to the meeting that's pretty sore on poor Tim "third time's the charm" Drake. The language is pretty salty too!
The Return of Bruce Wayne, part 4 of 6

"Dark Night, Dark Rider"


This issue doesn't work so well as a standalone cowboy tale, although it does have so many elements that are faithful to the wild west mythos we are all familiar with. It does, however, push forward a few threads of the overall story. The exact contents of the bat-emblemed box that Bruce has arranged to pass down through the generations are now the central mystery of the series. This is all the more strange because so far it's seemed that the box and its contents were Bruce's doing, but in this issue we see that he's shocked by what he sees in it.

Further, we get more hints, bordering on confirmation at this stage, that whatever is in the box will cause the “Allover” if opened in the wrong circumstances. The readers haven't been shown who might have put such catastrophic things in there, or when it happened. This all connects to the JLA's worries in the present that Batman's return will herald the Apocalypse, but that was tied to Darkseid's machinations rather than Bruce's box o' tricks.


I wonder did Bruce’s fiddling about with the timestream that we saw in issue two have anything to do with what’s in the box? Is there someone else that we haven't seen yet? Someone who’s operating outside the little windows into the narrative that we get from Bruce’s appearances in each era?

Another thread that is firming up in this issue is the idea of the Wayne family line being cursed. Thomas Wayne is a major bad guy here and thought to be 150 years old at this stage. Perhaps this is Dr Hurt? It would explain his family resemblance to Bruce and Bruce's father.



To keep things nice and 'Timey Wimey' Bruce himself, in his Dark Rider persona, prevents one of his direct ancestors from throwing himself off a bridge and saves that ancestors wife - another of his direct ancestors - from abduction and probable murder by Vandal Savage. We learn that that couple had only one child who may have been a bad un too.

The big recurring motif from Grant’s Batman run as a whole that makes an appearance here is the red and black squares of the roulette table. Those colours together have been recurring almost from the first issue of Batman and Son. Red for Life, Black for Death and all locked together in a game of chance.

If this issue shows us Bruce developing another aspect of his Bat-persona, it is probably his aversion to guns and refusal to kill. Bruce as masked rider disables the gun arms of his opponents with batarangs. That he is doing this during the most violent and bloody period of American history (or American pop culture, at any rate…) highlights how ingrained this stance of his is. The opening scenes of violence, murder and bloody mayhem show us, after all, why it is something that true heroes would avoid at all costs.

People make all kinds of arguments that Batman should kill really bad guys, or that he’d be killed easily by some lucky punk with a gun, but Morrison addresses that straight-on. Jonah Hex, dirty varmint that he is, challenges Bruce to a gunfight even though he already has his weapon pointed at Bruce, and Bruce doesn’t have time to reach for his batarang, and so, as probably happened all too often in the real wild west, the bad guy wins the day. The final showdown reminded me of a great European western called The Big Freeze, that ends in a similarly unfair showdown.

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