Now, the Return of Bruce Wayne series really did suffer. Its release schedule ended up all over the place, and it felt like every issue was a hodge podge of art. I don’t really know what went on behind the scenes, but its a shame that this aspect of Grant Morrison’s run seemed to fall apart a bit.
But then we neared the final issue. Bruce was returning back to the present, while over in Batman and Robin, Doctor Hurt (from the Batman RIP storyline) had resurfaced and was causing major problems for Dick and Damian, attempting to complete his satanic ritual, shooting Dick and attempting to open the box Bruce encountered during his time jumping.
The reveal though of the mysterious box’s contents were a fantastic punch-the-air moment. At the height of Doctor Hurt’s success, the box is opened to reveal a simple note: “Gotcha”. And then the scene shifts to show Bruce, back in his Batman costume, behind them ready to face Hurt. Despite the delays that seemed to blight Bruce’s return, the brilliance of this moment shifted them into insignificance.
The conclusion to Return of Bruce Wayne was then a real treat, especially for those that had enjoyed Final Crisis, as everything is revealed that neatly pulls together Batman RIP, Final Crisis, the Return of Bruce Wayne and the entire Doctor Hurt saga. Its a masterpiece of a comics run as far as I’m concerned, and one of the few that I’d love to own in its entirety in trade form just so I could read it all through properly and fully appreciate the detail.
Even the satellite tie-ins that turned up prior to the final issues, The Road Back, I found to be great reads. Granted, I never picked up all of them (the Outsiders for instance held little interest to me), but I did buy the majority, and while they had the slight whiff of an editorial mandate to boost the interest and profit in Bruce’s return, they were all really enjoyable books.
Featuring Bruce taking on a new identity, operating from the shadows while silently catching up with everything he’d missed while he was gone, evaluating Dick and Damian’s partnership, checking in on the new Batgirl (a character Bruce never had a brilliant relationship with, so his acceptance of her made for a nice scene) all while an underlying storyline of Vicki Vale’s attempts to expose the Bat-family’s identities ties everything together, these issues provided a great accompaniment to the main books.
The continuity with Grant Morrison’s books might’ve be a little shaky, but none-the-less it was a really enjoyable part of Bruce’s return and very well written, and these titles all showed off an aspect that’s a big part of Grant’s newly-returned Bruce Wayne. He’s realised just how big a family he now has surrounding him. How he’s not alone. There’s a clear move away from the overly-brooding, anti-social Batman of the past, and while its been tried before (Bruce Wayne: Fugitive) there’s a real feeling that this time its going to stick.
And just when you think Grant Morrison would be saying “ok, I’ve told my giant Bat-epic, time to move on”, instead he’s thrown himself headlong into the next chapter of the Bat-family, launching Batman Incorporated, which features Bruce travelling the globe, training other heroes in his skills to take his war on crime global. Its a really nice play on the usual part of Bruce’s backstory of him making a similar journey in the past to learn those skills. Plus, much like with the return of Steve Rogers over at Marvel, it serves to make the status quo upon his return less predictable. In the case of Captain America, Steve happily surrendered the role to Bucky who he’d seen as having earned it (Steve now heading the latest equivalent to S.H.I.E.L.D.). In the case of Batman, this new direction has allowed DC to leave Dick and Damian as the Batman and Robin of Gotham, with Bruce pleased that his city is under their care. Plus Grant is laying some elements for the future of the storyline, as its being hinted that during his time travel, Bruce has seen a specific threat that he’s quietly preparing for (so perhaps still that hint of the old secret-keeping Bruce is left after all).
All in all, I can’t praise this epic run more, and I really encourage people to check it out. There’s various trades of the run available, starting with Batman and Son, that saw Talia Al Ghul reveal Damian’s existance to Bruce.