Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Longbox Junk - Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of comic reviews nobody ever asked me for!

I know that it's the middle of September as I write this, but I STILL have to apologize for summertime Longbox Junk delays. You see, when you manage a hotel in a state that's 75% National/State Parks (Utah), then "summertime" actually lasts until some time in October when it starts to frost up and they begin closing trails. Luckily, I'm not really near any ski areas, so I don't have to deal with THAT insanity.

What I'm saying is that it's STILL extremely busy. . .to the point that I'm writing this at 12:30 a.m. and I'm writing it a couple of minutes at a time because the phone is ringing off the hook and there's people wandering to and fro wanting this and that, even this late. It's not as bad as full on July madness, but it still makes me wonder why the hell all these kids aren't in school by now.  By the way.  It's now 1:15 a.m.  It took me 45 minutes to write the paragraph above.

BUT ENOUGH OF THAT!

What we have here is another Longbox Junk "Rescue Review". Called so because I've "rescued" them from the hard to find and navigate archives of a certain well-known comic site I used to work for that has become more of a "comic related' site. I've shined them up a bit. Added some pictures, and put them in a place where people who still care about comic BOOKS might be able to enjoy them.

The comics at hand are a 6 part mini-series put out by DC after their mega-amazing and supremely super-duper (or so I hear. . .I haven't actually read it) Final Crisis "Event" which SPOILER ALERT! features Batman sacrificing himself in the end to stop Darkseid from something something Anti-Life Equation something. And that led into a whole thing where everyone thought Batman was dead. But Batman wasn't REALLY dead, of course. Darkseid had sent him back in time using Omega Rays as part of a plan to something something Vanishing Point something using Omega Energy to blow a hole in time!

Okay.

As you can probably tell, I wasn't really interested in the whole "Event" aspect of this series. . .but what I WAS interested in was Batman travelling through time. Caveman Batman! Pirate Batman! Cowboy Batman! Awwwww. . .YEAH! Some time-hoppin' Batman sounded pretty good to me.

Was it as good as I thought it would be?
I'll let the short and sweet original introduction tell you everything you need to know.

Let's do it!

ORIGINAL INTRO:

Welcome to what I consider one of the top 5 worst modern Batman stories!

Shall we begin?

BATMAN: 
THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE
DC (2010)

ISSUE 1
SHADOW ON STONE

SCRIPTS: Grant Morrison
PENCILS: Chris Sprouse
COVER: Andy Kubert


First off, let's take a look at the good. The cover.
Kubert. Awesome. Two words that just belong together.

Unfortunately, the rest is a hot mess.
And not just hot, but hot like a thousand suns. It's bad.

See. . .the basic problem here is that DC decided at some point to let an insane Scotsman with an obsession for minutiae and a smug expectation of readers being familiar with everything he's ever written to write one of their tentpole characters for a while.

I may be in the minority when it comes to my opinion of Grant Morrison's writing. I understand that there are those who regard him as almost some sort of comic messiah. I'm not one of those people.

That said. . .

Just because a particular person writes a particular thing, that doesn't make that thing good OR bad by default. The question HERE is whether or not this first issue can cut it on its own.

Taken objectively. . .no. It's awful.

The main reason it's awful is because it relies on such a string of improbable coincidence that what little narrative there is (to be fair. . .it IS pretty much cavemen) collapses under the weight of groaning through things like Bruce Wayne just happening to find a cave filled with bats. . .one of the young cavemen painting a domino mask on and becoming Bruce's sidekick. . .Vandal Savage just happening to be the leader of a tribe just over the hill. . .and so on and so forth. . .one coincidence after the other completely ruins this story.

No.  Just. . .no.

That was the neutral view. Here's my prejudiced view. . .

Morrison smugly ruins what SHOULD be a simple, pulpy tale of a hero trapped in time with his obsession for fan service and trying to connect EVERYTHING in the DCU.

At least the art isn't bad.  Too bad it's in service of a story so toploaded with Grant Morrison's particular brand of insanity that it's not nearly enough to save this comic.

This COULD have been great. . .in the hands of another writer. As it stands, I find this first issue to be convoluted and entirely dependent on the reader having knowledge of "Batman R.I.P.", "Final Crisis" and (then current, pre New 52) DC continuity. It's also pointlessly smug and full of coincidence and needless fan service that stands in the way of an otherwise simple story of Batman waking up in a cave with partial amnesia and finding out he's in the stone age instead of dead.

ISSUE 2
UNTIL THE END OF TIME
SCRIPTS: Grant Morrison
PENCILS: Frazer Irving
COVER:  Andy Kubert

Batman is pulled forward in time to Colonial America, where he becomes embroiled in Puritanical witch-hunting shenanigans while Superman, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, and Rip Hunter frantically search for Bruce through time in order to keep him from destroying the universe with Omega Energy he's unknowingly building up as he pushes his way forward to his own time!

Once again, Grant Morrison bogs down what should be a fairly simple tale with a string of improbable coincidence and fan service nods to make what would probably be a decent story in another writer's hands into a muddled, almost unreadable mess that pretty much depends on the reader's knowledge of Batman R.I.P, Final Crisis, and past DC continuity. It's just bad.

Frazer Irving's art is the star of this issue. His dark, moody, and muted style is perfect for a tale of Bruce Wayne finding himself colonial times. With the exception of Superman, though. Irving never gets a handle on Superman for some reason. 


Overall, I liked this issue better than the first.  The scenes of Superman and Company searching for Batman were interesting, but confusing to say the least.  Thankfully, Morrison kept most of his insanity in those sections and left the main story of Bruce Wayne in Colonial Gotham somewhat straightforward.

ISSUE 3
THE BONES OF BRISTOL BAY
SCRIPTS: Grant Morrison
PENCILS: Yanick Paquette
COVER: Andy Kubert

This issue was a LITTLE better than the previous two. A lot of that is due to the fantastic artwork. Very dynamic and detailed.  I have to say that in each issue the art in this series has definitely done its best to prop this story up.  It's not enough, but credit where credit's due.

So what we have here is Batman still somehow pushing his way forward in time.  This time into the 1700's and the age of pirates!  Pirate Batman vs. Blackbeard! How could this possibly go wrong?

Yar HARRR!

Unfortunately, the same story problems that ultimately sunk the other two issues are here as well. . .and in a way they're even magnified as Morrison gives us a longer look at The Justice League's time trippers trying to find Batman, which distracts from the swashbuckling pirate story advertised on the goddamn cover of the comic!

AND THEN. . .

Improbable coincidences pile one atop the other. Smug nods to obscure continuity details. Confusing narrative that relies on the past work of the writer in other places instead of just concentrating on the fairly simple story at hand. 

One begins to wonder. . .is Grant Morrison even capable of writing a simple story? 

Bruce Wayne and pirates on a treasure hunt through an ancient cave. That story doesn't cry out for complexity. Still, Morrison does his utmost best to try and make it unreadable to anyone that isn't already a fan of his.

ISSUE 4
DARK KNIGHT, DARK RIDER
SCRIPTS: Grant Morrison
PENCILS: Georges Jeanty
COVER: Andy Kubert

I love western comics and am a big fan of Jonah Hex (who appears in this issue), so I had (fairly) high hopes for this issue.  As a matter of fact, it was wanting to read this issue that made me throw down my 5 bucks for this set of comics.

Unfortunately, once again Morrison drops the ball.
But oddly enough, not in the same way as in the other issues (well, mostly not). 

For once, he didn't bog down the story with needless convolutions and reliance on past continuity. No. . .Morrison flubbed this one by breaking his own characterization of Bruce Wayne. That and a continued over-reliance on coincidence.

See. . .with the exception of Wayne grunting his way through the opening Caveman issue, he's been fairly chatty with other characters. . .in a confusing semi-amnesiac sort of way. In THIS issue, Wayne doesn't say a word at all.

I realize that Morrison was trying to evoke the silent gunslinger archetype. . .the "Man with no name", but it makes this issue stand out like a sore thumb. To be fair, Morrison did a decent job with Jonah Hex. That was a nice surprise, and thank God for it. . .so credit due where credit's due.

And although the art was good (and once again props up a practically unreadable story), how come in previous issues, Gotham is a gloomy seaside town while in this one it looks like it's in Arizona? 



At that point in time, Gotham wouldn't have been just a frontier town with a dusty main street. With Jonah Hex in it, the time was post civil war. . .late 1800's. Gotham would have been a big, stinking metropolis with thousands of people.

Overall, despite the artist and writer both taking the western theme a bit too far, this was probably the most enjoyable issue of the series.  It had none of the distracting Justice League scenes to distract from the western story being told, and Morrison was somehow able to make himself write a fairly straightforward narrative with two of my favorite characters going against each other.  That said. . .one out of 4 still ain't good.

ISSUE 5
MASQUERADE


The two best things about this issue are the completely amazing Kubert cover and the "To be concluded" tag on the last page.

After a short break from continuity creeping with last issue's too-western western theme, Bruce Wayne skips a HUGE chunk of time between the 1800's and the 1940's so Morrison can try to write some noir, I guess.   

A Dame.  It always starts with a dame.

To be fair, he doesn't do a bad job with the inner monologue, but coming directly on the heels of Bruce Wayne's "Silent Gunslinger" and giving him the most dialogue of any issue so far is just strange. . .especially when Wayne is constantly cracking wise and making tough guy jokes (that mostly fall flat).

WORD OF WARNING:  If you aren't familiar with "Batman R.I.P." (from Batman #676 - 681) you will have absolutely no idea what is going on in this issue. Besides the usual pile of coincidence, this issue leans HEAVILY on "R.I.P."  

For that matter, the efforts of the Justice League to find Batman in "Real Time" lean very heavily on "Final Crisis", so you'd better wiki that up too if you don't have your back issues handy for reference.

QUESTION: Why the hell do I need reference material to read a story about Batman trapped in time?

"And that. . .is why you fail."

-Yoda

Overall, this was actually a pretty good issue. . .which is to say that if the quality bar for an issue to hurdle is set down at "pretty good" it's still not that great.  The main thing keeping this from being a nice little noir adventure was an almost complete reliance on an unrelated story that came out 2 years previously.

AND FINALLY. . .

ISSUE 6
THE ALL-OVER
SCRIPTS: Grant Morrison
PENCILS: Lee Garbett & Pere Perez
COVER: Andy Kubert


All I can say is, thank God it's over.

This issue was the worst of the bunch. It's practically unreadable.

I proudly present Grant Morrison the achievement award for convoluted storytelling in comics. *slowly claps*

I'll tell you the completely honest truth here. I have very little idea of just what the hell happened in this final issue. All I know is that at the end, as promised, Bruce Wayne has returned.  He's back in his own time and free of the Omega Energy that was going to blow a hole in the universe.  Hooray?

Wait. . .What?

Aside from some great artwork, this issue has to be one of the most mind-numbingly worst single issues I have ever read.  And this is coming from someone who is the "proud" owner of the entire 13 issue "Heroes Reborn" Captain America run by the esteemed Rob Liefeld. 

CONCLUSION

This whole series has suffered from one simple thing: Grant Morrison.

What SHOULD have been a fun romp through time with a bunch of cool moments and guest stars turned into such a hot mess that I've rarely been so glad to see the end of a series as I was with this one. 

I submit that almost ANY other writer could have done this story better. Morrison's obsession with obscura and fan service destroyed an otherwise simple tale of Batman trying to get back to his own time.  

I asked the question before. . .is Grant Morrison capable of writing a simple story? 
This mini is the answer. The answer is no.  Unfortunately, Batman had to pay the price for this answer, and that just makes me sort of sad.

2019 RE-READ CONCLUSION

As usual for these "Rescue Reviews" I re-read Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne so I could give a little fresh commentary on it.  I wish I hadn't.  As you can see from the review above, I barely gave any sort of synopsis for the individual issues.  That's because there's barely any story!  You come into this expecting Pirate Batman, Cowboy Batman, etc.  What you GET is extremely thin surface stories attempting to prop up an extremely dense and self-referential underlying story.

Look.  I understand that there is a place for stories with layers.  Batman trapped in time is not one of those places. This was a missed opportunity for DC to tell a fun time travel story starring one of their greatest heroes desperately trying to find his way home while everybody thinks he's dead.  In the hands of someone like Alan Grant, it probably would have been just that.

Unfortunately, I stand by my original conclusion that the main problem with this series is Grant Morrison and his strange obsession with smugly expecting readers to be familiar with everything he's written previously.  I'm sure he's a very nice man and his family loves him, and I'm glad he's found success. . .but Grant Morrison is NOT a great Batman writer in my extremely humble opinion.  One should not need reference material to read a Batman story. 

In the end, what we have here is a 6 issue series where there are two "Pretty good" issues and one "okay" issue with the last issue being practically unreadable.  The whole story is propped up on a combination of increasingly-ridiculous coincidence and reference to past material that the reader may or may not be familiar with.  The art is reliably good and is the best thing about this series. Unfortunately with comics, art is only half the equation, so that's not enough to save this mess.

I can only recommend this series to Batman completionists and fans of Grant Morrison.  Anyone else. . .do yourself a favor and stay away, even if you find it in the bargain bin for cheap.  You have been warned.

Up Next. . .

Hopefully the next Reader Request edition of Longbox Junk: Vertigo's American Vampire.

Thanks to Comic Book Realm Member Brucifer for the great suggestion!

Be there or be square!