Monday, November 22, 2010

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6

As it turns out, Bruce Wayne was never really dead. Though his body appeared limp, drained and devoid of life after taking a point-blank blast from Darkseid’s Omega Beams in Final Crisis, in actuality Bruce’s spirit had been blasted out of more than just his skin. Awakening at the dawn of humanity with no memory of the battle, Wayne had also been blown through time and space in some sort of ridiculously convoluted master plan to gather cosmic energy and destroy every modicum of life as we know it.

I’m sure Darkseid imagined it as a sort of insult-to-injury kind of situation: the JLA rescues one of their founding members who had been lost in various states of prehistory, they all enjoy a good laugh and a series of pats on the back, and then Wayne goes kablooey at the after-party and destroys all consciousness on the planet. At any rate, Bruce (being the galactic-level detective that he is) figured out the big plan and this issue represents his final efforts to thwart it and make the bad guy feel all pouty and defeated off in the corner somewhere.

It’s been my experience that Grant Morrison is an exceptionally hit-and-miss writer. When he’s in “hit” mode, he not only knocks the ball out of the park, he sends the sucker off into another arena altogether. We3, New X-Men and All-Star Superman are all fine examples of the very best the medium can deliver, all-world material through and through. When he steers his train of thought off the path of the conventional, though, it can be a bona fide disaster. The man has a knack for getting caught up in high concepts, jagged dialog and lengthy, elaborate explanations that only serve to confuse. Some consider this style of work to be among his very best, ripe with hidden meanings, thoughtful undercurrents and weighty theories. Personally, I see them as an infuriatingly inefficient means to conveying his ideas. Either way, The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 has dashes of both. The primary narrative of the Justice League, arriving at the restaurant at the end of the universe to rescue their lost comrade, is married at the hip to a series of wacky, verbose statements and observations about the whole of recorded history, the role of a set of simple minded robotic record-keepers and the futility of changing one’s fate from the precipice of time itself. In short, it’s both literally and figuratively all over the place.

That means the issue’s artists, Lee Garbett and Pere Perez, had their work cut out for them. Dodging word balloons at every corner, working with increasingly abstract concepts and visual demands as the issue wears on, the duo still manages a mostly competent contribution. Their take on a cold-faced hybrid Wayne-cyborg at the story’s peak is appropriately chilling and disturbing, and the two deal with an obscenely large cast of characters without losing sight of who each and every one of them are. Illustrating this issue could not have been an easy task, and while their artwork isn’t on the same level as, say, Frank Quitely, they manage to tell Morrison’s story admirably without sacrificing their own identities to the sea of ideas.

While The Return of Bruce Wayne won’t be going down on my list of favorites, I have to admit I appreciate Morrison’s effort and ingenuity. Tackling the root of what makes Batman who he is, then emerging from the other side with not just a clear-cut ending in sight but a genuine revelation, well, that’s one hell of a tall order. My complaint lies more with the author’s means of arriving at that natural, appropriate finale than the conclusion itself. Working through this issue was like walking through a thick patch of swampland weeds: difficult, maddening and painfully slow-moving. It’s a relief to come out the other side, but I’m still not really sure it needed to be such a struggle to get there. It's worthy of a flip through, at any rate.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.5

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