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Grant Morrison & Various Artists
BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE
DC Comics / Warner Bros.
Format: Hardcover
Release Date: February 2, 2011
By Nick Dean April 28, 2011

Batman has been through a lot these last few years. Nevermind the movies and other media; writer Grant Morrison has been putting both Batman and Bruce Wayne through their paces in a number of DC titles since 2006. With Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Morrison delivers another domino in what has become such a long track, even longtime readers are left a little confused. Casual comics fans thinking they’re picking up an easy-to-digest, stand-alone graphic novel are sure to be stunned.

The single most common criticism aimed at this six-issue series is that it’s a “weird read.” Of course, weird reads aren’t always a bad thing. Not to mention that when Grant Morrison’s involved, a “weird read” is sort of what’s expected. When announced by Morrison back in late 2009, the series sounded like a Batman fan’s wet dream, with each issue featuring Bruce in a different time period, from the late-Paleolithic Era and puritan times to the seas of the 17th century and the Wild West. In keeping with those themes, each of the issues here sees a similarly-styled Bruce/Batman, first as a caveman, then witchhunter, pirate, cowboy, and classic noir detective.

The six issues collected in this volume, which were released individually between May and November of last year, chronicle Bruce’s return to present day Gotham. For those unfamiliar with what had been happening in the DC universe at the time, Bruce Wayne had been absent from the comics following the events of two other Morrison stories (Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis). At the end of Final Crisis, specifically, Batman had been presumed dead by his fellow superheroes. The corpse they buried, though, turned out to be that of a clone (naturally), but regardless, Gotham City was still left without its Batman – or any Batman. So, in his mentor’s absence (and following the events of another story called Battle For the Cowl), Dick Grayson, the first Robin, became the city’s new Caped Crusader.

It was around this time that DC launched a slew of new titles, such as Gotham City Sirens, Red Robin and Streets of Gotham. Morrison also transitioned from writing the Batman title itself to DC’s new Batman and Robin series, which features Grayson as Batman and Bruce’s son Damian as the new Robin. Thus, despite Bruce Wayne being absent for much of 2009 and 2010, there was no lack of Bat-centric comics put out by DC (only some of which proved worth their price). But it’s for that reason that loyal readers shouldn’t be faulted for feeling let down by Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. The comic could have been a victory lap for fans, a more straightforward story celebrating Batman throughout the ages.

In Morrison’s hands, however, the series is instead a Rosetta Stone of sorts – a key to aid in deciphering his preceding work on Batman and concurrent work on Batman and Robin. Such tie-ins always make for more complicated reads, though, and with Morrison it’s definitely more than a little odd to boot. However, it’s how a person feels about the series that is likely going to be linked to how much effort they’re willing to put in.

Personally, I still haven’t read every issue of Morrison’s run on Batman, but every time I finish an arc, my understanding of this graphic novel is only going to grow. That’s the real success of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. As either individual issues or a collected series, it warrants returning to again and again. It’s not inconsequential. It’s not a simple “one-and-done” straightforward story. It’s a capstone. It’s that final domino, that final stroke in a Batman epic from one of the industry’s most popular and most contentious writers. It’s Morrison at play with decades worth of Batman’s history. And while an ending, it’s also a lead-in to the new Batman status quo, another new series called Batman Incorporated, which has Morrison taking Bruce as Batman around the globe deputizing new recruits.

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