Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (of 6)

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frazier Irving
Released: May 26, 2010

Writer Grant Morrison has, throughout his career, been saddled with the reputation as being a writer of dense and inscrutable comics. Lines of dialogue such as "... at that time our anti-entropy aegis will succumb to the unstoppable conclusion of the thermodynamic process.", probably does much to lend credence to this assessment. That this line is 'spoken' by a "biorganic archivist" that appears to be a horned rugby match-ball on top of a walking shag carpet doesn't help, either. Or, that it delivers this monologue whilst in a place called Vanishing Point, the terminus of a line known as Space A. Yes, a scene like this sure does give much fodder to those critics of his work who see him as self-indulgent and lost in his own mind. Pity them, really, because hating a scene such as this only shows their own lack of humor and imagination, and those are two things this book demands of its readers.

If one imagines the DC Universe as a living, breathing world, and that the characters who inhabit this world have experienced every single adventure that has been written for them, then one gets close to understanding this scene at Vanishing Point. Every single issue of every single book that has ever been written, saddle-stapled, and shipped to a spinner rack or bookstore near you, is not just a publishing history, but an actual history of a greater multiverse. Years ago, a planet exploded and a small rocket ship carrying an alien baby from that doomed world landed, not on Earth, but in the consciousness of a group of imaginative men who turned that lost child into a superhero, and that superhero into a franchise, and that franchise into a publishing house, a movie studio, and beyond. He wears an "S" on his chest, but there is a small "WB" on the back of his neck just under the hairline. This is a world that exists on paper, the kind that runs through printing presses, and the kind that's green and sits in our wallets. The DCU is a multi-faceted, multi-stringed instrument that builds on itself, twists in on itself, and collapses every which way it can, only to rise again in another new spot. This is what I see when I read a Grant Morrison DC comic.

The scenes in The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 that take place in Vanishing Point seem to encapsulate this idea well. When the Archivist describes Space B as, "an immense cosmic loom of converging and separating timelines. Each track a new vibration, a separate universe, a superstring on a mighty fretboard.", he is describing time as it exists within the confines of this story, time as it exists for the entirety of the DCU, as well as the shelves of your local comic shop. Every time you pick up a DC comic and open the pages, you are essentially plucking one of the superstrings on this cosmic guitar. See, it's not complicated. It's brilliant and actually quite fun.

It's also fun to watch our delusional and lost hero battle with a gigantic tentacled sea-beast that is actually a "hyperfauna" he has brought with him through the time-stream as he has landed in Gotham Village, the Puritanical forebear of modern Gotham. Yes, our Batman is actually a Pilgrim in this here comic, and, as Brother Mordecai, we witness him use those inherently astute detective skills to solve a murder the rest of the town was completely willing to lay at the feet of the devil. Whether in buckled hat and riding boots or in cape and cowl, Bruce is always the world's greatest detective, and Morrison does a wonderful job of allowing us to see that while "Batman" is a costume, a symbol that can be trademarked and put on breakfast cereal and trading cards, it is Bruce who is the soul and heart, as well as the brains of the operation, and he needs no copyrights to dole out truth and justice.

There is a beautiful romanticism to this issue, as well, as Bruce befriends a mysterious woman who lives on the outskirts of the forest, and may or may not have been responsible for summoning him from the dark gods. As a confused Bruce lay in her small cabin, weary from battling the sea-beast, babbling to himself, she calms him with the warm simple words, "...stay with me and I'll love you. Until the end of time." These words are both beautiful and stinging as throughout the course of the issue we see how immensely gargantuan the idea of time actually is, and we are faced with the knowledge that time will indeed some day come to end.

Detractors and critics will undoubtably claim that this is not Batman; that Batman lives in Gotham and fights Bat-villains while swinging on Bat-ropes and driving a Batmobile. Batman fighting "hyperfauna", time-traveling, stealing time-spheres, and scratching graffiti into cave-walls is really no Batman at all, but just the delusional fantasies of a writer who doesn't respect the traditions of the character. Those detractors are both right and wrong. Batman exists in Gotham, in the shadows, and swings in on a Bat-rope to punch out criminal scum in the nick of time, and he will exist as such for as long as we walk into comic shops and movie theaters to read and watch those adventures. Morrison is not disputing that nor overturning that tradition, he is simply plucking for us other strings on the fretboard, showing us the versatility and power of the character; and in doing so shows us the accessories and gimmicks of 70 years of stories are but mere window dressing, and that the man himself is what was truly the most interesting thing all this time. Bruce Wayne is truly indestructible. Throw him anywhere, at any point in time and space, and he will fight and claw his way towards survival, and he will change lives in the process. Bruce Wayne is a man and a character, a trademark and a copyright, an icon and an idea, that can not be destroyed. He will stay with us until the conclusion of the thermodynamic process. And we will love him.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely review, and one I happen to agree with! I also get tired of the "Morrison requires too much of me" chorus. It's much more interesting when a writer (cliche alert) swings for the fences, especially with a well-known character like Batman. His work never bores me, and if I don't understand everything he's doing Right This Instant, so what? Wonderful post, Ramon.