Monday, 25 April 2011

The Return of Bruce Wayne

The Return of Bruce Wayne- By Grant Morrison

Grant Morrison is a controversial figure in the comic industry. There are figures who are more unanimously hated like Joe Quesada, former Marvel Editor in Chief and the mind behind Spiderman’s marriage destroying deal with the devil in One More Day, but no one brings in equal amounts of praise and criticism quite like Morrison. Except maybe Mark ‘look at how controversial I am Millar, but that’s a whole other topic.

I’m generally a Morrison fan, All Star Superman showed that Morrison can take a popular character with decades of growth and mythology and strip him down to a purer, more perfect form. As good as ASS (guess why nobody else every abbreviates that name) is my favourite Morrison work has to be WE3, a series of such astonishing emotional power that I can still be reduced to a weeping mess by the mere thought of the words “NO DEE-COMM-ISH WE3”.

In fact, most of Morrison’s body of work is generally liked by the majority of comic fans who’ve actually read it. The controversy regarding Morrison kicked off in late 2006 when he took over duties writing Batman. Morrison’s Batman can be summed up with the two words ‘ideas everywhere’ and while some say this gives his Bat-epic and level of depth not often seen in monthly ongoings others say that the results in the series feeling unfocussed and occasionally nonsensical. I sit somewhere between the two camps, while I’m glad that Morrison is at least trying to do something different with his run instead of the usual “Two Face does something naughty so Batman punches him in the faces” trap that a lot of lazier writers fall into his ideas don’t always work and some of them are never as well explored as I would like.

Anyway, spoilers for Morrison’s big event story Final Crisis are ahead and if you care about them it might be best to skip this review altogether until you’ve read that book or at the very least a plot summary.

Towards the end of Final Crisis Batman ‘died’ which I’m sure would have been shocking were it not for two things. The first being that no one except Spiderman’s Uncle Ben stays dead in comics and even he’s only still in the grave so he can continue to guilt Peter into spending his life wearing flamboyant pyjamas and getting beaten up by other men in equally flamboyant pyjamas . The second thing is that we found out that Batman wasn’t really dead one whole issue later. Oh Morrison you master of suspense.

It turns out that Batman wasn’t actually killed during the event but was instead sent back through time for reasons we wouldn’t get to find out for quite some time, so former original Robin Dick Grayson took up the cowl because what all Batman fans were crying out for was for Batman to fuck off. I kid, from this switch we not only got a chance to see Dick shine in general but we also got sixteen wonderful of a new Morrison penned series called Batman and Robin, the definite highpoint of Morrison’s Bat-Epic. And Bruce Wayne? We’d find out what happened to him in this book, the imaginatively titled The Return of Bruce Wayne.

Fuck me that was a long intro, this is why I avoid talking about Morrison, regardless of whether someone loves or hates him they will give their opinion and it will be unnecessarily long-winded.

Anyway, Raisins on Belgian Waffles sees Batman travelling through time in an attempt to return home so he can get his weekly dose of Joker punching done before he starts having withdrawal symptoms. 

Starting with the Stone Age and continuing through the ages of witch hunts, piracy, and the wild west before bringing Batman back to a more familiar time period it’s clear that Morrison decided to get as many different time travel stories out of his system as he could while writing Revenge of Baron Wilhelm.

The changes of setting between issue are accompanied by changes in artist which unfortunately gives the book an inconsistent feel. This worked fine when the book was coming out an issue at a time but doesn’t in the collected format we’re discussing here. This is something that I actually praised Morrison for when the issues were first coming out, the shift to four to six issue story arcs to better suit trade paperback release means that while this works out perfectly for paperback buyers anyone who is reading the story as it comes out often has to spend up to half a year reading through the same relatively short story before they get any resolution. On the other hand without time to appreciate each individual issue the radically different issues in this series come across as inconsistent instead of individual.

The first issue is a good start with solid art by Chris Sprouse, essentially it’s just Batman in the Stone Age getting into a scrap with cavemen, and it’s a fun little story with some nice nods the regular DC universe. The second and third issues, respectively the witch hunt and pirate issues, are largely of the same vein. Batman gets into time period relevant shenanigans and we get to come along for the ride, the pirate issue even has Blackbeard and if you ask me an appearance from Blackbeard can improve anything.

The art for the second issue is by Frazer Irving (who also worked on Morrison’s final issues of Batman and Robin) and Irving’s art is something I’ve wanted to discuss for a while now. The thing about Irving’s art is that ultimately I don’t think it’s suited to comics, he flourishes when given something suitably dramatic to draw but when he’s writing a quiet or subdued scene it doesn’t work, his dark and striking style isn’t effective if there isn’t something dark or striking happening. Yanick Paquette’s art for the third issue is nicely detailed and overall issue three is probably my favourite of the whole series mostly due to Bat-Pirate.

To quickly finish discussing the art, issue four by Georges Jeanty is a touch lifeless, issue five (mostly) by Ryan Sook (mostly) has a nice noir vibe, Pere Perez contributes to issues five and six and does solid work with Lee Garbett also doing a good job on the rest of issue six. In short the art for the series is mixed but good overall. Now back to the writing.

It’s at the halfway point of Rinse off Bath Water that the main problems of the series start to occur. The main problem is that the time travel shenanigans couldn’t keep going on without really building up to anything and Morrison decided to tie it deeper into the character of Doctor Hurt and the Black Glove. Hurt had been cropping up in Morrison’s Batman almost since the beginning and it was high time we found out exactly what his deal was. The answer we got was every bit as convoluted as we feared and to this day I still see the occasional forum post from someone who has just finished reading through Morrison’s Batman and has no idea what was going on towards the end.

Issue four features a cowboy Batman, although he’s around for surprisingly little of the issue, and lays foundations for the remaining issues. Issue five takes Batman back to the days shortly after his parents’ deaths and ties very heavily into the Black Glove with issue six finally returning Bruce Wayne. I can’t really talk about the final two issues, particularly the last one, even in a vague way without giving away spoilers. I’ll simply say that if you didn’t like Final Crisis you’ll hate the final issue of this series and if you didn’t like the Black Glove/RIP era of Morrison’s Batman you’ll hate the entire second half of this series.

That’s ultimately what this all comes down to, how much you’ll enjoy Recipe of Beef Wellington  is dependant entirely on how much you’ve enjoyed Morrison’s recent work and in particular his Batman work leading into Final Crisis. The problem with that is that if you have read Morrison’s other Bat-books you’ve already read this and probably discussed it on the internet yourself, and if you’re a new reader then this, the final arc in a four year epic, is the worst starting point you could possibly choose. So who is the review for? I have no idea. How do I justify it even existing? I don’t have to, ANTI-LIFE JUSTIFIES MY REVIEW.

Terrible and predictable jokes aside Return of Bruce Wayne is an inconsistent series in this collected form, the switch in artists and settings between issues make this a jarring read in a single sitting. Towards the end the series becomes too mired in the Hurt/Black Glove story that has long since outstayed its welcome by this point. Even as someone who liked quite a lot of Morrison’s Batman I can’t give it much of a pass, it’s an okay but fairly unspectacular end to the ‘first season’ of Morrison’s take on the world of Batman. In short, if you like Morrison Batman buy it and if not find an online synopsis, as for me I’m going to go and cry in the corner for a bit because I’m still thinking about WE3.


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