DC Comics; 224 pp., $29.99; Color; Hardcover; ISBN: 9781401229689
I am sure that eventually, somebody within DC Marketing will envision a Grant Morrison Batman omnibus that collects his now historic runs of âBatman and Sonâ and âR.I.P.â (and its various preludes) along with his 16-issue Batman and Robin, the Arkham Asylum graphic novel, and even the tales collected as Batman Gothic. Until then, however, these deluxe hardcover editions are a welcome and beautiful format, the pages only slightly larger than those of the comics themselves, and the additional features (artistic sketches and Morrison script notes) give audiences even greater insight into the creative process.Â The often-cited dilemma of following a monthly series versus waiting to read the collection, though, still persists.Â Morrison, unlike many of todayâs other mainstream writers, exists quite well within both camps; his Batman and Robin story-arcs or All-Star Superman maxi-series succeed as stand-alone, monthlies working towards a singular, end goal, while his Final Crisis, Joe the Barbarian and now, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (BROBW) are better served story-wise by the compilations.
The changing nature of the comic market into the hardcover and trade formats has required writers to shift and alter their own writing styles to produce more collected-friendly stories that will sell in the non-comic shop environments such as chain, brick and mortar retailers, or online vendors.Â Even Morrison is not immune to this commercial transformation.Â While the days of the stand-alone, single contained adventure may be waning, this is not to say that BROBW is not a masterfully rendered exploration of Bruce Wayneâs plight to return after his âdeathâ in Final Crisis.
BROBW is also an experiment in genres and time periods as Morrison tackles prehistory, colonial America, eighteenth-century piracy, the Wild West, detective noir, and contemporary Gotham City.Â Unfortunately, if there is one slight deficit in this approach, it is that Morrison is only provided a short window or stage by which to explore and develop these sequences beyond visual tropes or dialogue cues signifying each era or literary convention.Â As such, some are definitely stronger than others.Â While they are obviously interconnected, they can, in essence, stand by themselves.
Collaborating with Morrison are six artists, including Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, George Jeanty, Ryan Sook and Lee Garbet, with original character designs and regular cover illustrations by Andy Kubert.Â In this way, BROBW resembles Morrisonâs artistic approach in Seven Soldiers, although here, each artist is providing his own interpretation of Bruce Wayne battling through time.Â Sprouse provides a fine homage to the Kirby-esque caveman era while still making it distinctively his own.Â Irvingâs work, however, is the most visually stunning not only in its use of colors (which Irving also does), lighting, and cool and warm tones to reinforce emotion and create atmosphere, but also in the panel layouts and story pacing.Â Paquetteâs contributions are perhaps the most sincere to any genre in the book, in that his illustrations correspond so perfectly to Morrisonâs pirate voices.
It is only in the last three stories and art where the pieces and transitions are not so smooth or complete.Â For the narrative structure, the final three installments are too closely tied to events unfolding in Morrisonâs sister series, Batman and Robin.Â While the majority of BROBW readers will have likely also followed that title, newcomers unfamiliar with it may experience some dislocation in the absence of the crossover material.Â Artistically, the genres and time frames in these later issues also seem awkward and forced in parts.Â Apart from covered wagons and cowboy hats, there is nothing decidedly Western about âDark Night, Dark Riderâ save the few appearances by Jonah Hex.Â Secondly, as every story ends with a transition into the next setting, there appears to be a temporal disconnect between the ending previewed in âDark Night, Dark Riderâ and the implicitly 1940s or 1950s design that opens âMasqueradeâ in the next chapter.Â While âMasqueradeâ is the most detective-oriented story in scope and content, it is definitely not noir in look or feel save a few panels in the opening pages.
As with most of Morrisonâs work, a second or even fourth read-through is essential not only to catch various clues and hints about the story and Batmanâs larger, historical continuity, but also to unravel and appreciate the gems that Morrison often includes in each of his writings.