I’m a Grant Morrison apologist; I enjoy his work, even when it confuses me or seems to be missing story pages. This time it’s mostly my own fault, as I feel like I should have been taking notes all along in order to correctly piece together the clues and figure out what is happening. I like that Morrison writes stories where the answers sometimes seem just out of reach; this plot seems to hang together based on the excellent annotations by David Uzumeri and others, but even when they don’t, I will always appreciate ambition over all else in my superhero comics. I like the smoky noir tropes trotted out and given a Bruce Wayne spin; I love Ryan Sook’s note-perfect pencils, with panels that could have been posters for a Robert Mitchum flick in the forties. I love the sense of increasing dread here and cannot wait to see the payoff next issue.
Grant Morrison continues to prove that you can do anything with Bruce Wayne. In the span of 5 issues, he’s been a caveman, a Puritan, a pirate, a cowboy and now a gumshoe with his own femme fatale. Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 continues Morrison’s dual-track story (the other track being Batman and Robin) as this issue pulls all of the pieces together. The book and small coffin, Dr. Hurt, Marsha Lamarr and Carter Nichols have all been seemingly disparate elements in Morrison’s story but this issue shows how the past few years of Batman has been built by Morrison to take Batman into the future. Ryan Sook and Pere Perez perfectly convey the controlled chaos in Morrison’s story as Bruce Wayne can’t even begin to understand how much his world has fallen apart.
Grant Morrison’s work on Batman always seems on the verge of turning into Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. Here Bruce Wayne finds himself thrust into a noir detective setting, though the timeline on that seems a little off, where he quickly is enlisted as a private detective, has a cliche Private Dick inner monologue, and ends up being screwed over by a dame. That this all wraps itself up into the convoluted “Black Glove” story that Morrison used to “kill” Batman in the first place made my head hurt. Remember when Peter Parker’s parents turned out to be Super Secret SHIELD Agents? This works about as well as that. At some point I’m okay just knowing that Bruce’s parents were rich, then were shot. I don’t need some weird plot involving bat costumes and rituals, because let’s face it, life isn’t as post-modern as Grant Morrison seems to think.
The only real disappointment in this issue for me is going to be the interminable wait until the sixth and final issue hits the stands. Bruce Wayne, shot forward in time once again and now in the timeline just after his parents’ death, is drafted into a plan by a mysterious woman to track their murderer. Tying into to and informing the on-going Dr. Hurt thread in Batman & Robin, I can’t wait to read the entire story that is being told here. I was initially disappointed (though not very surprised) to see that Ryan Sook did not draw the entire issue, but Pere Perez steps up well and though you can tell the difference between their styles, you have to look hard to notice when the change is made.
For four out of the last five issues I have loved this book and this is one of the four that I love. I’d love it more if Ryan Sook could finish penciling the issue. This thing rewards multiple reads, close reading and a good memory for both Morrison’s previous Batman work and other oddities in the Batman canon in a way that feels at home in GMozz’s “it all happened” view of Batman’s history. And seriously, Darkseid’s revenge for Batman shooting him with a god-killing time bullet is to turn Batman into a time bullet that will destroy the universe and that is why comics are beautiful.
I’ve been enjoying this series, even while being confused by it. I’ve read commentary on this issue and the earlier ones, written by people with far better memories than me, pointing out all of the little moments that tie into other aspects of Morrison’s past Bat books, as well as obscure nuggets from Bat books of old. I’m not sure that this is a series that any kind of a casual reader — even one who loves Batman — could really get a lot out of, without working very hard to connect the dots. I know I need to read annotations and other commentary just to get the most out of it. It’s brilliant and fascinating, but probably not friendly or easy to read, fairly obsessive about the past, and possibly just a bit insane. Wait– hang on… is… is Morrison making the Batman comics themselves JUST LIKE BATMAN? Aha, it’s all clear to me now.
[let’s say 7]