“I know how to bring him back. Tell him that Gotham’s in trouble. And tell him he’ll need this.”

I know.

When you consider the entirety of Grant Morrison‘s work on Batman, this title might seem strange as the first one highlighted. Other, more acclaimed and heralded, comics could come to mind first. From Arkham Asylum through to the labours of Leviathan in Batman Incorporated, there are just incredible stories one after another. Which is precisely why I want to spotlight this story. It gets overshadowed by other bits of the Bat. It’s the next stage after Final Crisis.

It’s Batman’s sometimes hallucinatory trip through time, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne by Morrison, Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Pere Pérez, Lee Garbett, Andy Kubert, Karl Story, Michel Lacombe, Walden Wong, Mick Gray, Alejandro Sicat, Guy Major, Nathan Fairbairn, Tony Aviña, José Villarrubia, Jared K. Fletcher, and Travis Lanham.

At the end of Final Crisis, Batman was dead, or at least it appeared that way to anyone in the present as he was struck by Darkseid’s Omega Beams. It was the dramatic ode to Crisis on Infinite Earths with Superman carrying Batman’s corpse rather than Supergirl. Only then we’re later shown him quite alive in a prehistoric setting. The Return of Bruce Wayne picks up from there with an amnesiac Bruce, fighting to survive an attack from the Blood Clan, and falling forward for more wacky time travel adventures.

I feel like the series easily could have been expanded. Each time period could have followed a similar format of a series of series as something like Seven Soldiers. What we get instead is a series of six mostly one and done tales in each period, with threads continuing across the series as Bruce Wayne shifts from time to time. It gives Morrison a chance to write a few different genres, subtly changing narration style with each chapter. The brevity also reinforces the idea that Bruce Wayne is a ticking time bomb hurtling towards the future.

The story treats us to a bevy of artists well-suited to each genre. Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Guy Major start things off with the prehistoric tale. Frazer Irving brings a beautiful spooky vibe to the Puritanical witch trial era. Yanick Paquette, Michel Lacombe, and Nathan Fairbairn introduce Blackbeard for a pirate treasure hunt. There’s a nice grit to the western tale with Georges Jeanty, Walden Wong, and Tony Aviña that adds some Jonah Hex to the mix. Ryan Sook, Mick Gray, and José Villarrubia deliver an engrossing noir tale, mixing in an investigation of the Wayne Family murders and Dr. Hurt. And the mix of superhero and sci-fi of the final chapter falls to Lee Garbett, Alejandro Sicat, Walden Wong, and Guy Major. With Pere Pérez helping for the last two chapters.

Jared K. Fletcher and Travis Lanham’s letters give nice touches throughout the series. They both provide an approach to narration boxes that feels like the mixed-case diary format introduced by Todd Klein in Batman: Year One and refined further by John Costanza in his work on Legends of the Dark Knight. The computerized voices for the Archivists at the end of time also remind me of Barbelith from The Invisibles. Which might be intentional.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne by Morrison and a host of luminary collaborators acts as a bridge from Final Crisis into Batman Incorporated and beyond. It incorporates pieces of the Batman mythos, like Barbatos, explored by Morrison during their Batman run. It helps plant the seeds for the international league of Batmen with the various iterations of Batman across time. All of this while being a fascinating exploration of various pulp genre tropes with some glorious art.

Return of Bruce Wayne

Classic Comic Compendium: Return of Bruce Wayne

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe, Georges Jeanty & Walden Wong, Ryan Sook & Mick Gray, Pere Pérez, Lee Garbett & Alejandro Sicat, Andy Kubert
Colourists: Guy Major, Nathan Fairbairn, Tony Aviña, José Villarrubia
Letterers: Jared K. Fletcher, Travis Lanham
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: January 4, 2012

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