“The Return of Bruce Wayne” (TROBW #1 – 6)

Y’know, when I read Final Crisis, I thought that was as confusing as a comic could get, and it’s kind of why I read it with annotations. But I was not expecting to need annotations for this series too. Though I knew it was about Bruce Wayne making his way back to the present from the distant past in order to save the day at the end of Batman and Robin, I perhaps unfairly assumed that the whole concept of having Bruce present in different time eras would just be used as an excuse for Morrison to throw out crazy character designs and the like. Those are there, certainly – if you ever wondered what Batman might look like in the stone age, during the Wild West era or in a noir-like setting, then you’re in for a treat – but there’s a lot of depth to the book that I honestly wasn’t prepared for and, if I’m completely truthful, I’m still not sure I’ve wrapped my head around everything that happened.

Indeed, just as with Final Crisis, which this feels like a successor to, I highly recommend using annotations to help you through this. It actually starts off deceptively straightforward. In the first chapter we pick up with Bruce immediately following Final Crisis’ conclusion, which is to say in cave men time, where he’s given the name, Man-Of-Bats, by a local tribe and fights off Vandal Savage’s clan using the equipment that Lois Lane sent into the past during Final Crisis’ last chapter, and with a totally sick costume too. But then he’s sent through time to an era I have no name for (I’m not that good with American history), but we’ll call Crazy Witch Hunter time, where he assumes the role of Mordecai Wayne, tying into Batman and Robin, in an amnesiac state of mind. In the background of these first two chapters we find Superman and co. at a library at the end of the universe, as in the day when the universe ends, where they try to work out where Bruce is from a list of all the world’s history.

It’s when an accused witch called Annie, who has been Bruce’s friend in the second chapter, says her last words at the end of that part of this epic story that I had a feeling shit was about to get real complicated. The man who burns her at a stake, you see, is another of Bruce’s ancestors called Nathaniel Wayne and, little realising that the man she has let assume the identity of Mordecai (he was killed, and Bruce took his place when he woke up from an attack she apparently rescued him from) is also a Wayne, she curses the Wayne lineage, using the words “until the end of time” which she had previously used to describe her love for Bruce. And, yeah, my head started getting sore from there on in.

It’s a good book, don’t get me wrong, but I wish I’d realised sooner how complicated it would be and had read annotations as I powered my way through it. Reading them after you’ve finished just doesn’t cut it unfortunately, so I’ll probably be reading it again in my own time with annotations by my side. That said, you should get the gist of what’s going on without needing help – it’s only the small details that may confuse you. It would probably help if you’ve tried to work out some of the finer details of the run as a whole as you’ve been reading, however. For instance, one of my theories about the Hyper Adapter’s connection to Barbatos is correct, as we already know from the end of Batman and Robin, but so is another I made, that being my suggestion that Bruce created a myth around himself and thus Barbatos. Indeed, the cave men in the first chapter grew in size after Bruce’s disappearance from that era, creating the Miagani tribe whom we find out worship a bat god in the third chapter. So that’s cool.

But there’s some stuff I could never have guessed, such as Bruce technically having started his own lineage in Gotham. Yep, he saves a young couple during his Wild West adventure and, to close that chapter, we find that the couple are married and start building Wayne Manor. Incidentally, it’s in the same time era that we find Doctor Hurt already alive, possibly having lived longer even before. We’re never specifically told when he first encounters the Hyper Adapter, which we’re bluntly told “infects” his mind and apparently his physical body too, but he’s certainly been round for a long time. The irony, of course, as he tries to sacrifice Bruce in the noir story – in which we find his Black Glove organisation is already set up – is that he’s trying to give him as offering to a mythical beast that Bruce himself created in his own image. Sadly, we’re given little else concrete when it comes to Hurt and, with him out of the picture, I guess that we’re just to use our imagination. We know everything we need to by now anyway, at least, though a few little revelations about Darkseid’s purpose in all this was a little surprising.

Like I said, it’s specifically stated that Hurt is infected by Darkseid’s Hyper Adapter, that box we saw him hold in Time and Batman. Hell, we even see what those tentacles belonged to from that story. It is basically an alien but, unlike as I suggested, it wasn’t Darkseid trying to live on through Hurt, but this mysterious thing. Indeed, it possesses Bruce at the end of the story, though he manages to send it backwards through time with the help of the Justice League, which apparently defeats it,  one of those small details that I’m not sure I understand. But that wasn’t Darkseid’s real plan. No, his real plan – and this is so obvious that I can’t believe it never occurred to me – was to have Bruce go through all of these different time eras, places he shouldn’t be, and build up enough destructive force in his body – Omega Energy, as we find out – to tear reality apart when he returns to the present. And this does almost happen, with the comic itself – all of its panels – falling apart just like we saw in Superman Beyond. But, of course, our heroes all save the day by sending the Hyper Adapter backwards through time and sort of killing Bruce for a few minutes to let the last of the Omega Energy leave his body. Don’t ask me – the ending is the probably the big thing that I can’t wrap my head around.

But there is one part of the ending, whether I understand it or not, that is rather bloody amazing, and I suppose I’ll finish this review here. As reality goes tipsy turvy and Bruce dies briefly, he experiences a two page splash of memories – beautifully illustrated by Lee Garbett – with Darkseid taking centre stage, taunting him to give in and die. Or perhaps these two pages are supposed to represent all of these events happening at once as reality goes haywire. But Metron is here too and tells Bruce to “take control of Darkseid’s design” by telling him “the first truth of Batman”. Then the lettering changes and we see a familiar line from Frank Miller’s Year One: “It frightened me as a boy”. Something amazing is about to happen. Turning the page, we of course find that scene, the one where a beaten Bruce witnesses a bat crash through a window of his manor, inspiring him to become Batman. It’s a famous scene and when most of us think of the moment Batman is born, we look at this image of the bat making its perfectly timed entrance.

But Morrison doesn’t hone in on that as the moment Batman was born. Taking up most of this page is the other thing Bruce did in this scene from Year One – picking up a little bell with which he’ll call for Alfred’s medical aid, without whom’s help he’ll probably die. It’s this call for help that Morrison believes to really be the moment that the Dark Knight was born. What surprises me, other than it being amazing, is that no one else has ever seemed to draw attention to this little detail in Miller’s origin story for the character when it’s right fucking there. Like Darkseid’s real plan, it seems so bloody obvious that I’m simply amazed that it’s never been pointed out before. But it’s this page that perfectly ends Bruce’s realisation of what the truth of him is. I won’t bother quoting it and discussing it further, but you really should take a look at it. Like every other time that Morrison’s had a  theme that he’d like to attach to our hero – and this is one that leads perfectly into the union of Batman Incorporated – it’s startling how beautiful it is. Let us hope that the last three books of this run are as incredible as everything that’s lead up to them.

We’ll be starting the first of those three books tomorrow probably. Later today I hope to have my thoughts on the one shot story included in the last Batman and Robin trade paperback uploaded, at which point we’ll be ready to start the home run. Until then.

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