I’ve been whining about Grant Morrison’s Batman stories since Arkham Asylum, often against the tide of popular opinion. There are other works of Morrison’s that I love, including his Superman stuff. But his Batman just doesn’t work for me.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne is a good example of everything I don’t like about Morrison’s vision for the character. It plunges Batman (or, more accurately, Bruce Wayne) into an amnesiac mix of sci-fi time travel and myth-building. It’s like Quantum Leap meets Homer’s Odyssey, but not in a good way.
Thanks to some intervention from Darkseid, a god-like alien from another dimension with powers beyond our comprehension, Wayne finds himself back in the stone age, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. However, the crux of the story is that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and will always behave like Batman, wherever he finds himself. As a result he’s soon helping a weak tribe of cavemen against a group of local savages, which essentially involves going round there and cracking a few skulls. He finds a cave to live in, shared with a bunch of bats, and so the whole thing starts.
At the end of each chapter, Wayne is plunged into deep water, only to resurface in a different era. So we see Batman the witch finder, Batman the pirate, Batman at the end of time etc etc.
Perhaps the main problem is that it isn’t as much fun as it sounds. Morrison paints a very dour picture of it all, as Wayne struggles to work out who he is, despite losing his memory between episodes. Luckily his location never changes, and through local myth and handily leaving notes and diaries for himself, Wayne eventually works out what’s going on. However, this doesn’t stop it from being contrived and ultimately dull.
You don’t really need to know what’s going on in Morrison’s continuing Batman series to appreciate this at a superficial level, but Morrison struggles to let go of his plot strands. As a result we keep flipping over to Batman’s Justice League colleagues, who are busy searching for him, but add little to the main story.
Those who are mad about Morrison and Batman will find something to get excited about, and there are merits to giving superheroes new treatments. But Morisson is arguably at his best when he’s smashing the status quo to smithereens. With this he’s trying something different but forcing it into the current DC Comics universe. As a result it’s not as dramatic or essential as I’d hoped, and a long way away from becoming any kind of classic.