Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne”

Dear Frank,

I used to be a big comics fan, buying new issues of certain series monthly and borrowing the rest from friends, with whom I would debate the latest DC and Marvel developments. I did this not as a teenager, but throughout my mid-20s, because that’s how much of a late bloomer totally awesome I was.

I still like the medium, still like a good superhero story, still think Batman is totally boneable — alas, it’s been several years since I was reading regularly. However, a month or so ago, my friend Rudy recommended the graphic novel The Return of Bruce Wayne to listeners of our podcast, and as I love time travel and Batman, I requested and received a copy of the trade paperback for Christmas.

The reason for me wanting to read it was two-fold — one, FUCK YEAH BATMAN TRAVELLING THROUGH TIME. Two, I kinda wanted to see if it’d be at all possible for me, a casual reader, to hop into a modern day comic adventure and understand what the hell was going on.

Having finished reading the trade, I guess I had a pretty good idea of what was happening? (Which, given that Return is written by visionary/crazy person Grant Morrison, is something I feel I can take pride in.) Here’s basically the deal: Right before the comic starts, Batman got hit by omega rays, and instead of turning him into the anti-Hulk or something, they send him drifting through time! So then Batman has to fight a bunch of cavemen, and then he gets transported forward to the 1600s, where he becomes a Witchfinder and uses his detective powers to solve witch crime, and then he goes to pirate times and hangs out with pirates for a while, and then he ends up in the Wild West quick-drawing against Jonah Hex, and then he’s in some ill-defined period of the 20th century that should technically be the 1930s except that the parents of Bruce Wayne JUST got murdered, so unless Bruce Wayne is like 80 years old that’s clearly wrong, but what matters is that there’s a dame and he’s gotta play detective, and then Batman’s friends pull him back to the present and stop his heart to let the omega rays filter out of his body and then they revive him and Batman puts on his cape again and goes out to defend Gotham once more. THE END. Question mark?

Good ol' fashioned Batman fun, am I right? LITERALLY OLD FASHIONED GET IT?

I mean, I liked large portions of it. There were a few classic Batman-solving-mysteries bits, and some great art showing the classic Batman look adapted for different time periods (my favorite probably being Cowboy Batman, because that’s just too much manliness for one panel to really contain).

And Morrison went to a lot of effort to weave together the different time periods with continuous elements like the legacy of the Wayne family; while the time periods were a bit random (a tribute to “a nod toward those mad old 1950s comics with Caveman Batman and Viking Batman adventures,” according to Morrison).

But while there was something of a coherent emotional arc to the storyline (Batman realizing that he’s never really been alone, that he’s always had help), at no time did I ever feel that I was reading a self-contained narrative — there were way too many asides and references to other storylines that, as a reader just kind of parachuting into this arc, went completely over my head.

The biggest thing was that there were large chunks of the comic, revolving around Superman and other Justice League fellas trying to track Bruce down, that were clearly continuations of past issues — actually, not even that! Those sections, according to Wikipedia, were basically excerpts from an ENTIRE OTHER MINI-SERIES. When you need multiple series to tell one story, I think your story might be TOO COMPLICATED.

To be fair, Return was never billed as a stand-alone adventure. And I do admire the fact that this is just one chapter in Morrison’s epic take on the Dark Knight — I can barely manage to make a one-act play coherent, so I’m certainly in no place to judge. But Return proved to be a reminder of the reason I stopped reading comics regularly — for a not-so-short period of time in my 20s, I didn’t have a ton of money, and comics by necessity became my first budget cut. And things weren’t so crazy then! In order to have any semblance of understanding of the DC universe these days, you must have to spend A FORTUNE every week. Even with the new 52! Can’t a girl just read some goddamn Batman in peace?

I guess that’s what the movies are for. And those comics Frank Miller wrote before he went crazy. And those other movies. And the animated series. And that other animated series. And that OTHER animated series

I guess I’ll manage.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on January 24, 2012, in Books, Some Spoilers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: