3 out of 5
The Return of Bruce Wayne – Grant Morrison’s post-Final Crisis ressurrection of the Darkseid-zapped Batman, just in time for Batman, Inc. – often skates by on some admittedly surface elements: some fantastic artists, a great concept, and fleetingly rewarding “it’s all connected” moments. When the artists aren’t so great, and when that concept seems to shift and bend in unsatisfying ways, and when those connections start to feel more like Easter eggs than necessary plot points… is when the mini-series buckles a bit. Morrison steers the ship to a successful conclusion, and there are absolutely enough winning moments throughout to make it worth a read and a revisit, but it’s those revisits that tend to expose some of the cracks in the construction.
But here’s your pitch: Bruce isn’t dead, he’s just been zapped backwards in time, hip-hopping through key moments in Gotham history, from caveman times up through the 70s, charged into a living weapon by some oddball Darkseid machinations dreamed up by our writer. When this trajectory is in full swing, plus the genre writing of each era – Kamandi battles in issue 1; pirate tales in 3; noir detectiving in 5 – the book, and its issue-by-issue artist changeup to give the various time periods a distinct feel, is a lot of fun. Grant’s repeated mentions of many of his Batman themes (namely ‘the hole in things’) and images and characters helps to make it seem like one story, while each book theoretically could act on its own.
However, Bruce’s memory is fractured throughout this process, requiring some sleight-of-hand each time around to get that issue’s plot in motion, and then Grant seems to get heavily distracted by rewriting Gotham / Wayne history in this process as well. Not that that latter bit wasn’t part of his initial plans, but it’s a lot of names and connections to track, and these details don’t always feel wholly relevant to whichever issue’s story – sometimes they feel downright random – interrupting our immersion at those moments. And as the series goes on, it also feels like we’re being pulled away from time traveling adventures in some way; that there’s not enough room per book to set things up for Bruce’s return while also making sure to tie in to previous issues and Final Crisis and also also giving us a proper one-shot genre tale. It’s at this point that the cutaways to heroes in the present, trying to stop this Darkseid-charged Bruce bomb from making it back to modern times, become distracting – they read like setup for other books – rather than, again, integral to our adventure.
Lastly, Grant’s writing is very much the kind of stuff that relies on visual cues, and while 5 out of 6 of these books are all-stars on that front, George Jeanty’s cowboy issue, book 4, feels rushed: perspectives are off; characters are indiscernible; the action is stiff and boring. It’s an unfortunate roadblock right in the middle of the run.
That’s a lot of criticism, so let’s zip back around to the pitch: Batman traveling through time! Taken solely on that level, The Return of Bruce Wayne mostly delivers a good time, and as comboed as part of Grant’s overall run, while the series gets more cluttered as it goes along, there are a lot of enjoyable nods to the writer’s several years with the character and title throughout.