Updates From The Bat-Cave, 10/13

Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #5

Most mainstream comics fans will tell you: when Grant Morrison is on his A-game, there is no better working superhero writer in the business today (there may be some on par, arguably, but no one better). However, after the generally tepid response to Morrison’s epic (but somewhat confusing) Final Crisis and his unfinished-feeling Batman R.I.P., one could forgive comics fandom for being somewhat cautious in regards to Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne. And let’s not forget that there’s always the possibility that any Morrison story can degenerate into semi-psychotic (but still interesting) weirdness.

However, this book has been pretty amazing.

What began as a simple “Batman lost in time” story has swelled to incorporate not only the Justice League of the present day, but also heroes and villains from the DC Universe’s past (such as Jonah Hex and Vandal Savage) and a team of heroes (Superman, Booster Gold, Green Lantern, and Rip Hunter) sailing through time to save Bruce.

The first four issues have built in pace and intensity, from an amnesiac Bruce Wayne combating a feral, prehistoric Vandal Savage to a slightly more coherent Wayne playing the role of a Puritan witch hunter (and fighting an American Cthulhu, in a fantastic moment that highlighted Morrison’s ability to take diverse elements of geek culture and synthesize them in ways that shouldn’t work…but totally do) in the first two issues. The middle two installments saw Wayne progressing quickly back to his natural state, first donning a cape-and-cowl and masquerading as a pirate hero and eventually, in a turn that was reminiscent of some of the ‘90s Elseworlds stories, taking the form of an Old West avenging gunslinger (albeit with Bat-a-rangs in place of guns; this is Batman we’re talking about here).

As the story reaches its belated conclusion, #5 finds Batman thrown further forward in time and landing in the most appropriate locale yet: a semi-modern Gotham City, seemingly the Gotham of the 1920s. At the same time, he arrives in the worst shape since #1: this time he’s got most of his memories back, but he also has a gunshot wound to the torso, courtesy of Jonah Hex.

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Batgirl #1

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Batman & Robin #1

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Outsiders #1

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Red Robin #1

A series of one-shots that fill in for the regular series (where applicable), The Road Home specials deal with the direct logistical and emotional effects of the now-foregone-conclusion return of Bruce Wayne (that shouldn’t be a spoiler for anyone, given the title of this week’s first highlighted title).

These sorts of events are generally met with skepticism at best from comics fans (scorn, derision, and nerd rage generally being your worst case scenarios), but one must admit that the nice thing here is that your Batman comics budget is not actually increasing dramatically for this month (particularly this week, where literally every one of these books is priced identically to the monthly book that they directly replace). Additionally, while there are some of these issues that seem somewhat extraneous (the Outsiders one stands out, as does Ra’s Al Ghul), there are some legitimate issues to be explored that should have fans of the Bat-family excited. Two books that fall into that category ship this week: Batman & Robin and Red Robin. In both cases, it’ll be cool to see how all of Bruce Wayne sons, whether they’re adopted or biological, react to the return of their father/father-figure.

Knight and Squire #1

In an issue that could have easily been delayed two months and launched with the tagline “Spinning Out of Batman Inc.” (and probably would have, were this a Marvel franchise), Knight and Squire take center stage for a six-issue mini-series.

Despite actually preceding Batman Inc. (a new ongoing which centers on Bruce Wayne establishing Batman “franchises” around the world), the idea is still the same: Knight and Squire are effectively the Batman and Robin of London. Grant Morrison used them to great effect during his tenure on Batman and this mini sees the duo handed off to rising star writer Paul Cornell.

While the series’ premise seems a touch on the thin side for a six issue arc (in a nutshell, Knight and Squire must keep the peace between hero and villain when a magically-enforced neutral ground loses its magic), Cornell has sparkled in his recent outings (currently on Action Comics, but previously on the criminally-underappreciated and short-lived Captain Britain and MI:13), so there’s reason to have hope.

Outsiders #33

Outsiders is typically only tangentially a Batman universe title, considered part of the line because it historically has an on-again, off-again connection with the Bat-family (the title began its life in the ‘80s as “Batman & the Outsiders,” but has frequently gone sans Batman). However, with the team getting a spot on the roster of “The Road Home” specials, one might infer at least a moderately stronger connection to the franchise that birthed it is in the works.

Overall, Outsiders is an oddly old school kind of book, which may not come as any great surprise when one considers that it’s being written primarily by Dan Didio, a DC executive with only a passing association with the actual writing of comics. The book typically has plot exposition masquerading as dialogue, that old-timey trope of heroes and villains narrating aloud their every action. How you choose to react to that is up to you, but let’s acknowledge that for some folks, that sort of thing has a certain nostalgic charm. Additionally, Didio’s run has been somewhat referential to other books, with the “See # blah blah blah of Book X” books at the bottom of panels that you used to see in comics all the time.

At the same time, references to books that you wouldn’t expect to see tie in to Outsiders (#32 referenced the “Reign in Hell” mini as well as the Blackest Night issue of Weird Western Tales) is something that thankfully disappeared as comics moved into the modern era. Additionally, one would expect this style of comics to carry a more all-ages tone…but one would be very wrong.

This month, the big plot of Didio’s run moves forward, as the secret of Geo-Force’s vault is scheduled to be revealed. Geo-Force’s recent isolation of his country (and kingdom) from the rest of global society is pushing Markovia closer and closer to an inevitable armed conflict, all while threats from within and the machinations of “allies” are also issued with which he must contend. Last month’s issue tied the fate of Jack “The Creeper” Ryder’s investigative career to that of Markovia, so it’ll be interesting to see if that develops as well (solicitation text seems to imply it does not, but #32’s ending made it feel imminent).

Next week doesn’t quite match this week for sheer quantity of books, but it does surpass it in variety: we’ve got Azrael (which is rapidly reaching its conclusion), Batman Beyond, two installments of “The Road Home” (Catwoman and Commissioner Gordon, respectively), and Superman/Batman. See you then.

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