[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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The Return of Bruce Wayne, part 5 of 6

"Masquerade"


The first thing that struck me about this issue is that it does a nice job of blurring the edges between 1930’s detective noir and the era when Bruce’s parents were killed. Which is clever, as the killings of Batman’s parents first happened in the 30’s (and were first published then), but if we are to say they happened 25-30 years ago, that means this story is set in 1980-85! Of course, Mafia chic never went out of fashion with Gotham’s criminal set, so that helps too. Bruce protests that the pinstriped suit the nurse produces for him looks like a fancy-dress gangster outfit show that the story itself is commenting on the 'blurring'.

The slippage in eras does mean that Bruce finding himself in Gotham in the immediate aftermath of his parents’ murder is a bit of a surprise to the readers, who were probably expecting a hard-boiled Private Eye story set in the 30’s. Further, Simon Hurt's and John Mayhew's dealings here start to fill in some very big blanks in the story so far. Not so much in The Return of Bruce Wayne, but in the whole saga that Morrison has been writing since 2004.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the plot details here. It's common when Grant gets to the later stages of his longer projects for the ‘wild ideas’ to give way to resolution of the various plot-threads. (Often the later issues lose something thereby.) Suffice to say, we see a lot of things coming together in this issue, tying back to puzzling events regarding Bruce’s parents and their connections to John Mayhew, especially.

There are those who will complain that The Return of Bruce Wayne is now depending on too many narrative points outside itself to be a satisfyingly self-contained story. They are probably right if that is their focus. For those of us who have followed Grant’s current run on Batman from the beginning, however, the scope of the whole story is just breathtaking!

I’ve said in passing elsewhere that this feels like the biggest Batman story ever written, but it bears repeating here. All of the early storylines and one-offs felt at the time like fairly standalone storylines. This was accentuated by the huge variety of art styles and formats they were presented in. We had 3-issue masterpieces like Batman and Son and the Club of Heroes and one-issue head-scratchers like Batman 666, The Clown at Midnight (a text story!) and Joe Chill in Hell. As well as the multi-author Resurrection of R’as Al Ghul crossover, we had a genuine, pull-out-the-stops, Crisis blockbuster in Final Crisis.

We put what felt like gaps and unfathomable ellipses in earlier stories down to Grant’s signature style, and of course had fun trying to fill them ourselves. The genius of these Bat-comics is that it turned out they were all parts of one huge story all along, and the gaps would be filled once we were able to put the whole story together. I reckon there's about 66 issues in total, including all the parts of Resurrection of R’as and Final Crisis. That's comparable to Gaiman's Sandman, Grant's own Invisibles and Ennis' Preacher in terms of issue numbers alone.

Bat-stories like Knightfall and No Man’s Land may have had more issues, especially if all the hanger’s on Bat-family comics are included, but no single Batman story before this has had such sheer scope. Those stories hardly left the city-limits of Gotham. This story has gone all the way back to Anthro, ‘the first man’ and has included the Wayne family history going back centuries. We’ve already seen that Batman's travels also bring him to the end of time itself. Rather than just fighting criminals and gangsters, Batman took on Darkseid, the ultimate personification of evil in the DCU, and helped turn back a full-on invasion of the Earth by the alien despot. Emotionally, it’s pushed Batman much further than he’s been before, as he’s had to deal with revelations about his beloved parents and even with becoming a parent himself.

Elements of these might have appeared in previous Batman stories – in fact the premise of the whole series is that Batman has done everything by now – but they’ve never all been woven into one epic story before. Batman #702, in particular, pulled a sudden stroke that fused the various plot elements together in a way that surprised even the most avid and attentive readers.

If I may slip into hyperbole, this is arguably the BIGGEST, most AWESOME Batman story EVER!!!!!!

(And the fact that its a BATMAN story, makes it all the more fantastic!)

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