Batman has probably been rethought and retooled more than any other superhero, and The Return of Bruce Wayne, a six issue mini-series here collected in a hardback edition, gives us an extended reconstruction as Wayne works his way through history to rediscover who he is.
What precipitates this journey is a confrontation with Darkseid in which Batman is struck by Darkseid’s Omega Beam and thrown back to the beginning of time — that is, the beginning of DC Universe time. He goes through a series if confrontations beginning in the Stone Age (which particular Stone Age, Paleo-, Meso-, or Neo-, isn’t specified) that all have the potential of ending in his death, and each one catapults him farther forward in time. Although he’s lost his memory, he repeatedly gravitates to certain images and devices — happily, his tool belt has made the journey with him.
However, there’s a catch. It seems that the Omega energy is accumulating in Batman’s body, and when he arrives back at his own time, it will release, destroying the universe. Hence, a group of his allies — Superman, Green Lantern, Rip Hunter and Booster Gold — are trying to locate him, always arriving just a little too late to intercept him before his next time jump. Ultimately, Wayne winds up at the end of time, when heat death is about an hour short of ending the universe anyway (and one has to wonder, given those scenes, what all the fuss is about). The climax, as might be expected, is dramatic and finally a win/win.
Somehow, the story was a little flat. There’s little sense of Wayne gradually regaining himself, although he eventually claims to remember everything. The lack of continuity is pretty much built in to a story like this, which would have worked much better as a series of single issues than as a collection. Yes, there’s an overriding story line, and every episode fits into it neatly, but somehow it doesn’t really have a sense of unity.
This is borne out by the graphics. A number of artists worked on the series, and there’s little in the way of stylistic consistency, although individually each episode’s art reflects the tone of the immediate story very well. The drawing is gorgeous, but that pretty much is to be expected. Frazer Irving’s pencils for the second episode, “Until the End of Time,” stand out in terms of establishing a mood — these are Puritans that Wayne has found himself among, and Frazer’s style is just as rough-hewn and merciless as the characters.
The Return of Bruce Wayne is certainly an entertaining read, and although it doesn’t quite reach the heights to which it seems to aspire, it’s a welcome addition to the literature of the re-invented Batman.
(DC Comics, 2012)