At first, the first issue of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne doesn’t look like your typical Batman comic. But as you turn the pages of the first book of six in this new Batman series by Grant Morrison, you might find that it has more in common with traditional tales of the urban avenger than first meets the eye.
The story opens on a group of, for lack of a better term, cavemen. The scene looks like the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the majority of Marky Mark Planet of the Apes that flopped in the year 2001. It’s not clever, but it’s obviously a good place to start.
What’s most interesting about these guys is their malleability. With names like Surly, Giant, Old Man, Boy and Joker, the group of male figures is a nice loose parallel to the often-unsteady identities and roles present in some of the more familiar Gotham-scapes. Sure, the simple names risk heavy-handedness, but I attribute that to the form’s irrepressible kitsch-factor.
The whole series, which will release one issue a month for the next five months, provides a really cool look at the negotiable nature of the Batman/Bruce Wayne character and his relationship to pre-existing conflicts. Of course, Batman is sort of an ever-present game-changer when it comes to the exchanges of Gotham City’s mafia-based underworld, but his ability to muddle the dichotomy between good and evil proves totally transposable in this new series.
He starts in pre-history (caveman days) and before the series is through, Morrison will also put the amnesia-plagued Bruce Wayne in the midst of a pilgrim-era witch hunt, aboard a pirate ship, in the wild west and in the two-button suit of noir-style private eye.
The promising first edition already gives the reader a revised Robin figure. His name: Boy. It’s the kind of cheesecake connection that is sure to make any fan of the Caped Crusader squeal (so long as you opt towards a gentler view of the DC universe rather than the gritty realism that seems to dominate contemporary comic culture).
There is grit in this issue, but the blood, dirt and fire of the pre-historic battle sequence are joined by the tiny five-pointed stars of traditional comic book art. The artwork isn’t particularly thrilling, but it definitely has its high points. The use of the elements to provide certain frames with an ethereal light really effectively projects the dream-state that the first three-quarters of the narrative seem to aim for. Jewel-tones back or supplement earthy images and characters really driving home the collision-of-two-worlds theme.
All in all, a good read and surely a good series to follow through the summer months. I am a bit concerned that the series will get wrapped up in the domestic disputes of the DC universe, but judging by this issue, Morrison will keep that messy business minimal.