Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Return of Bruce Wayne 2

It was easy to see from Return of Bruce Wayne #1 and the covers of the rest of the issues, that Bruce Wayne would be taking a trip through time -- basically one era visited per issue -- and that the series would comprise a series of adventures in the larger structure of an odyssey bringing him back to the present. One brief comment from Superman told us (as a comment in a Grant Morrison interview already had) that the story also involved the highest of stakes: the possible annihilation of the universe. In providing more details, issue #2 leaves much unexplained but tells us that Morrison will use this story to illuminate more clearly a Morrisonian cosmology that has only been hinted at before. The issue also drops hints regarding the larger, history-wide contest between Bruce and Doctor Hurt, AKA The Devil. It pits hero against hero as Bruce's plan to save the day conflicts with that of the Time Masters / JLA who are trying to save him. It speaks specifically to the story involving Dick Grayson and Doctor Hurt currently in Batman and Robin. And it portrays a single great adventure and love story set in the past.

The issue is ambiguous in several ways, and the rest of the series may or may not clear up the ambiguity in full. For now, we can wonder about (and likely, debate) some of the facts behind this complex story.

Bruce is simultaneously fighting at least three battles. Most vividly, there is a tentacled maw, a "Lovecraftian horror", that threatens the existence of Gotham City during its earliest days. The strange words Bruce hears after his first battle are Morrison's creation, but use the orthography -- specifically, unusual consonant sequences -- of terms (e.g., Nyarlathotep) that H. P. Lovecraft used in his stories about the Cthulhu Mythos. Bruce's repeated swordplay holds the creature back and eventually smites it.

He also fights against the times, resisting the unreasoned persecution of a Salem-like witch hunt. As the world's greatest detective -- his detective skills are on better display here than we have seen in some time -- he adroitly identifies conventional crime where his foil, Malleus, wants to identify witchcraft and the Devil -- which happen to be present in the story, but not where the witch hunters see them.

Finally, in saving Gotham, Bruce may place his foot into Darkseid's universal death trap; it's possible that he has already by the end of issue #2 escaped it.

The issue opens many possible mysteries, and resolves just a couple of them. Malleus, the overzealous witch hunter, turns out to be Nathaniel Wayne, who is absent from the portraits we have seen in Batman and Robin. Despite Bruce's failure to match the speech patterns of the times, Nathaniel seems not to recognize that Bruce is not the real Mordecai Wayne, so the relation between those two past Waynes is possibly not too close. Nathaniel seems to be earnest in fighting evil, but his ignorance and lack of circumspection does irreparable harm. He kills Bruce's lover, Annie, a real witch but not an evil one. In so doing, he may create the trigger of Darkseid's curse: When Annie curses all Waynes until the end of time, she is unwittingly cursing Bruce, her love. We don't know the consequences, but it may lead to the downfall of both Thomas Waynes. It may even be the thing that weaponizes Bruce and makes him a hazard to the 21st century. This curse echoes the one that Doctor Hurt casts at the end of Batman, R.I.P., and we know that somehow Bruce will beat both curses. Annie, for her part, resembles in some ways the backstory of the fictional Blair Witch, Elly Kedward, as a real witch from the British Isles who lands on the American continent and is soon unjustly exiled to the woods. She also calls to mind both Selina Kyle (the bat-villains suggested on the cover make no overt appearance in the issue) and Zatanna: Her wish for a man brought Bruce to her time, a plot point that Morrison also wrote for Zatanna in Seven Soldiers, when she wished for man who would bring excitement and received an evil destroyer.

The Archivist, who in the issue's biggest surprise turns out to be Bruce himself, reveals a great deal of science fiction that has apparently been part of Morrison's worldview for a long time. Space B was the mechanism by which the aliens who created Animal Man traveled through time, space, and reality, referenced in a Morrison passage in 52 #30. This was also mentioned by Bat-Mite in Batman #673. With remarkable brevity, the Archivist's comments also reinforce the cosmology in Superman Beyond (which Superman recognizes when he hears it; his blue eyes in his last panel may indicate the 4-D vision from that series). He identifies the universe as Universe-Zero, consistent with the Monitors' comments in Final Crisis and possibly relevant to Morrison's upcoming Multiversity miniseries. The notion of the whole universe being written in a single record suggests both the Worlogog from "Rock of Ages" and the book in Superman Beyond. The idea of freezing the whole record and storing it recalls how Superman (in two senses) saved the universe as the end of Final Crisis. The "hyperfauna", which perhaps comprise the real threat in Darkseid's trap, call to mind the higher dimensions of the Chronovore in All Star Superman and the Wonderworld in "Rock of Ages". It is possible that Annie's devils, the "wheel of time" and "neverending world" are the Sheeda from Seven Soldiers. All told, there is a single worldview evident here, and the connections across several Morrison stories surface here more clearly than ever.

Two larger battles stretch across the whole story. While the story of Thomas Wayne's devil worship in 1765 suggested that the Waynes' association with deviltry and demons began then, Return of Bruce Wayne #2 is set significantly earlier, with the portrait artist Brother Martin having studied under Rembrandt van Rijn, who died in 1669. This may downplay the possible importance of old Thomas Wayne in the backstory. Indeed, the story carries back, we now know, to the Miagani "bat people" having been changed from the "deer people" by their contact with Bruce in issue #1. But the first bat in the story is still the giant one killed by Vandal Savage before #1's events. We don't know how far back the bat / devil associations go, but we know from the words of someone who lived after Bruce's adventure in #2 that "the Devil" is not yet done with Gotham. This could refer to 1765's Thomas Wayne or still more plots involving Doctor Hurt. (Nathaniel describes the dragon in #2 with seven heads and ten crowns, terms from the Book of Revelation, chapters 12 and 13.) Meanwhile, the book seen in Mordecai's painting is given an origin here: It was written by Bruce, and thus describes what he knows as of #2, when he is still unclear about the full story. Is the book the artifact that is in the casket in Batman and Robin? Probably not, because, based on the fiends' comments in Batman and Robin #12, it has some apparent power over Barbatos, and there's no reason yet to suspect that a book that Bruce authors at this time would control a demon. More likely, it contains facts that Dick Grayson will soon need to know.

And the other overarching plot: Darkseid's use of Bruce as a weapon to destroy the 21st century? We don't know exactly how that works or how it might be stopped nor how Superman knows that such a trap exists. Annie's curse is one possible explanation. In fact, her curse must have some consequence, and if it is not merely the woes that follow several generations of Wayne, it could be a magical blight on Bruce that will cause the destruction of the universe upon his return. Why do I think so? Deals with the Devil often hang on the fine print. Annie said that the curse would last "until the end of time". So what has Bruce done? We don't know how Bruce became the Archivist. We don't know whether that event comes, in his personal timeline, between issue #2 and #3 or perhaps between #5 and #6. Bruce washes up on a beach to begin his adventure in #3, once again with an eclipse of the Sun at the time of his time jump, clinging to memories from his first two adventures. I think his role as the Archivist comes later in his personal timeline. He will somehow parlay the resources from pirate or cowboy days to travel to Vanishing Point. It looks to me like Bruce Wayne, given a curse that will affect him "until the end of time" went to the end of time in order to escape the curse. The series has four more issues, but we have seen Bruce Wayne already escape one of the problems plaguing him; he has perhaps already checkmated Darkseid.


  1. Great summary of the "Morrisonian cosmology" connections.

    I really enjoyed this issue.

    "Nathaniel seems not to recognize that Bruce is not the real Mordecai Wayne, so the relation between those two past Waynes is possibly not too close."

    I think that's because the real Mordecai (dead before Bruce arrived on the scene) probably wasn't a Wayne. I think the last name Wayne will be given to this personage many years later, after the Wayne family (under Bruce's direction?) obtains the portrait that Bruce posed for in this issue.

  2. I think you're probably right DAL, no one in the story calls him Mordecai Wayne, and if there were a real Mordecai Wayne in their family tree, it wouldn't have been left off the official genealogy, as Alfred said Mordecai was.

  3. Dal - I figured maybe that Nathaniel Wayne "claimed" Mordecai as a Wayne to make himself look good.


  4. By that, I mean he was "outted" as Nathaniel Wayne....and because Mordecai was a known hero, he claimed that Mordecai was a Wayne too.

  5. bravo - you made an already great issue come to life even more. I hadn't really connected just how deep this exploded the morrisonian-dc cosmology. I'm anxious to re-read the issue now to examine that.

    also, just to put it out there - the art in this issue was jaw-droppingly stunning. fantastic. moody follow-up.

  6. One other little thing I caught: Bruce says "They say Satan is HAIRY", and the Bruce-as-archivist at the end of time certainly seems to have a very hairy body (though maybe the hairs are fiber-optic tendrils or something). The "biorgantic archivist" also, of course, has horns.

    The more I think about this issue, the more I like it. The art was fantastic.

  7. Annie is Dale Cooper's girlfriend in Twin Peaks who he failed to save. Probably not important, but better than ZantANNA.

  8. The backstory of the original Mordecai is definitely murky. The more interesting thing, as DAL, Jared, and JMD point out, is how the portrait ends up being identified as a Wayne. The facial resemblance should help, but there may be things that Bruce does in upcoming issues to tie things together. He seemed to have no overt memory of the portraits when he posed, but he may have had a subconscious memory and even a subconscious drive or plan. The contents of the book seem certain to come up when Dick finds it.

  9. To whom Annie corresponds in our time may be indefinitely vague or answerless. Clearly, she has some Zatanna in her characterization -- wishing for a man who shows up from another time and place is a Morrison invention for Zatanna and Annie alike; that's a connection. But she's probably not literally Zatanna, who had Zatara play a role in her life more than Annie's father did in hers (although she may have lied). Maybe Morrison will make the same damsel reappear in Bruce's other lives, but he likely will not work off of such a pattern; there was no lover in ROBW #1.

    Note that Nathaniel called her "Jezebel". And note that Jezebel Jet has been proven wrong: She told Bruce in RIP that he'd never love anyone again.

  10. Excellent issue. Loved it how end time Batman continues to outwit Superman.

  11. I thought this issue was fantastic! Tho i do feel that Archivist thing was a huge fanwank by Morrison for Bruce, it was a cool (well abit silly for me too) twist on the story. Nathaniel Wayne didn't receive a portrayed but wasn't the next portrayed suppose to be Old Thomas Wayne? So maybe Nathaniel is the father of OTW? Ah well i guess we get to the bottom of this in "Batman MUST DIE!" arc. :)

    Still this is a very intriquing event story, but at the same time i wish there would be 5-issue minies dedicated to each time-zone... Because at the end of the day, these are just tributes more or less like Morrison promised us, but the inner fanboy of me begs for more! Like witchhunter Batman + Etrigan for example, but hey whats done is done. This is already really great stuff. :)

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  13. Hey Rikdad, nice wright up.
    I don't think Mordecai was a Wayne until later in time.
    HE didn't know that Malleus was Nathanial. No one knew Nathanial's real name. I have a theory that somehow the painters family became part of the Wayne family, maybe a daughter or granddaughter married into the Waynes and kept the legend alive and incorporated it into the family history.

    Also did you catch that Morrison may have got the name Malleus from "Malleus Maleficarum" The witches Hammer, A book about finding and catching witches.

  14. Also I think Annie was not a Zatanna character but more of a Poison Ivy character.
    Her references to Nature and how she doesn't like man.

  15. This is off-topic, but I'm just going to post it here. I recently rewatched (most) of Batman Begins and noticed a lot of parallels with things that Morrison has done in his run. (I don't know if Morrison was a consultant on the movie, if he noticed these things consciously and then put them in his run, or what.)

    In one of the earliest scenes a criminal tries to intimidate Bruce by saying "I'm the Devil!" Bruce responds, "No, you're PRACTICE." (And Morrison's mythology suggests that Batman's ultimate foe is the Devil.)

    Ra's tells Bruce to pick a blue flower. This reminds me of the blue flower that Bruce gives Jezebel in an early issue. (Rikdad also linked this to a blue flower in the Twin Peaks movie.)

    Bruce gets rid of his coat and takes that of a homeless guy. He kind of befriends the homeless guy and walks around like he's homeless for a little while. This is a bit like the episode with Honor Jackson in RIP.

    While under the mansion grounds, Alfred tells Bruce that his great-great[...]grandfather was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a factoid that's also mentioned in B&R.

    Anyway, sorry for going off-topic. Hope some of you find these points slightly interesting.

  16. @Dal Morrison wasn't a consultant on the movies but he has mentioned in past interviews how they have influenced his run on Batman/B&R.

  17. The underground railroad ancestor was from Shadow of the Bat issues in the 90's, and wasn' first mentioned by the movies or Morrison. Other than that, those connections seem pretty likely for the reasons Rikdad mentioned.

  18. A) I should figure out a way to make this blog more forum-like (or start a forum?) so that comments like the movie one have a home.

    B) There's an interesting issue of how much plots can resemble one another without being influenced by one another. The first post-IC Superman story, "Up, Up, and Away" had some overWHELMing similarities to "Superman Returns", but Kurt Busiek said that it was entirely coincidental. (Beyond the obvious fact that both stories drawing on the same legacy of Superman stories.)

    Morrison has said that he sees commonalities between RIP and TDK, but they were plotted separately (same caveat). But he alludes to past work so readily that he could hardly keep from having the movies enter some of his current stories.

  19. Another thing that occurred to me on the Batgod angle, besides Bruce inevitably humiliating Darkseid...

    Superman, Green Lantern, Booster, and Rip Hunter are on a mission to save Bruce. This bothered some fans from the get-go, that he would need the help. But now they are in a death trap (in fairness, one that Bruce has stuck them in). Obviously, he's going to save *them*. It's going to turn out that, if anything, by coming back to save Bruce, the heroes only made him work a little harder to save them as well as the Universe.

  20. Jared: Right, yes. I was pretty sure that the idea of Bruce's ancestor helping on the Underground Railroad wasn't originated by Batman Begins, but I just mentioned it because it's a relatively obscure Wayne factoid that Morrison mentioned as well. Good to know it came from Shadow of the Bat, though.

    Rikdad: I also rewatched The Dark Knight a few days ago and was indeed struck by certain elements that resonate or inform Morrison's run. One particular idea about the subversive tendencies of the Joker really struck me. This idea kind of interacts with Morrison's comment that, on one level, Batman is really the story of a rich guy going around beating up poor people. That's not to demonize (no pun intended) Bruce Wayne or to call for a Marxist reading of Batman, but on one level...what Batman does is prevent relatively low-level threats from upsetting a social order that is--in many ways, at this point--corrupt. On one level, you could say that Batman serves as an enforcer protecting the interests of the politicians, the high-ranking bankers, and the multinational corporations. Batman is far less able (or likely) to go after corruption if it's crimes of politicians, bankers, underhanded Wall Street traders, or deceitful UN officials. Of course, DC couldn't publish many stories about that stuff anyway. (Sidenote: Not that I'm an anarchist or want the US out of the UN or anything! I'm just saying, crime and injustice occurs on those super-high levels.) In The Dark Knight, despite Bruce and Gordon's rationalizations at the end, they really become like patronizing elites: They conspire to lie about Harvey Dent "for the good of the people". The people, in their view, are evidently too stupid to hear the truth, so they must be treated like children and given phony hero-models to follow, and false paradigms to believe in (Batman and Gordon are henceforth to be "enemies" as far as the public is concerned). This is not to say that Bruce and Gordon turn into "villains" by the end of the film, but their rationale is strikingly elitist and duplicitous.

    The Black Glove organization represents Morrison's take on all those pseudo-conspiracy theories about real corruption amongst the real elites of the world. Like Jezebel says, their (combined?) level of wealth and power dwarfs that of one man (Bruce Wayne) trying to do good. Bruce survives the Club of Villains and embarrasses Dr. Hurt, but he doesn't really damage the Black Glove. Batman doesn't (can't?) damage THAT level of organized corruption. But what happens when Bruce is out of the picture? The Joker is able to do what Batman can't do: he apparently succeeds in eliminating a lot of the "fingers" of the elite evil organization.

  21. Rikdad, really glad you caught the Lovecraft link: Bruce's "RRN'G'H'LYHEH" reminded me a lot of Lovecraft's fictional city "R'lyeh."

  22. DAL-
    The 'marxist' reading of Batman - the troubling realization that he is this rich guy beating up poor people, is a wrinkle that I think makes Batman get more interesting as I get older; there's a degree of depth to the concept that isn't necessarily there with Spiderman or Superman.

    Its interesting to see, as you start to point out, the movies and the comics attempt to deal with this. IE, Batman: Year One (and the second act of Batman Begins) - he takes on systemic corruption. Or, The Dark Knight - violating extradition laws to get a highly placed corporate executive who has deep ties to the mob.

    I think the elitist element to Batman, i.e. the end of The Dark Knight, is an essential element of the character that can rub against you more or less depending on your social or political persuasions. The concept of a masked vigilante is simultaneously anti-democratic but also bizarrely empowering for individuals (which is, supposedly, one of the enterprises of democracy). To me, one of the more interesting scenes in TDK was when he confronts the fake-Batman, who asks "what gives you the right?" and Batman responds, "I'm not wearing hockey pads." In other words, might makes right; and you can read it as either Nietzschean or... Paris Hilton-ian.

    Finally, I think you can read the end of TDK as Batman and Gordon thinking the populace was too dumb - or you can read it as them realizing the Joker (anarchy) had won, to some extent, and they needed to cover it up not because the people were stupid, but because they were smart enough to see that. I think that seems more fitting with the scene about the ferries, which suggested Batman/Gordon had great faith in the people. Ultimately, Batman kind of comes down to - can one man make a difference, or not? And if so, should he? We're politically conditioned to be distrustful of too much faith in one man, and I think Batman really pushes at that distrust.

    Sorry for the long post - its a topic I enjoy talking about it.

  23. Rikdad, do you have a CBR forum account? I could really use your help trying to explain the Hurt as the Devil evidence and imagery if you don't mind swinging by and helping out.

  24. Jared, how about a link to this:

    I wouldn't have much to add to that. Besides the ongoing story, such as the cover to B&R #14 and #15.

  25. Yeah, the guy is already getting it from me and jgianntoni, he acknowledges all the satanic and diabolical elements, he just dismisses it as allusions and metaphors. He is even willing to accept the supernatural, but tries to jump all over anyone who refers to Hurt as "the Devil," as wrong, uninformed, shallow, etc., and given how well you've illustrated some of the points I was trying to respond with, and have given so much thought to the subject, that you may be able to help. I doubt the link would help, but all the discussion in the world probably can't change the guy's mind if it is made up.

    Thanks for considering it though. He has even mentioned the upside down cross, and insists anyone who sees the "the Devil," isn't as smart as he is... It'd be maddening if it weren't funny, he even uses Morrison's quotes about people being unwilling to accept the answer and needing everything spelled out for them to try to support his view that Hurt is definitely not the Devil, which is just the right kind of ironic that it makes me laugh. Thanks again.

  26. Jared, that may or may not be the same guy who posted a big "HAHAHA" on the DC boards when Didio said that RIP would continue into FC #6, on the assumption that when that issue came out, Hurt would be revealed to be Darkseid. When that didn't happen, the laughter stopped.

    After B&R #11, someone (quite likely the same individual) argued that we'd gotten evidence that the spookiness in the story came from Barbatos, not the Devil. When I pointed out that Hurt was in Mexico while "Barbatos wakes" in Gotham, that voice went quiet.

    So it goes with that type.

  27. Yet another hint, from a Grant Morrison interview

    "Finally, a couple of people have mentioned that Peter Milligan "Dark Knight, Dark City" storyline as a possible source for Barbatos--is that where it came from?
    That's exactly where it came from, but to be honest I didn't know it was Pete originally. I've been working of The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes: Batman by Michael Fleischer, and also the book by Bob Greenberger, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, plus a bunch of collections--I read the story about Barbatos, and I kind of evolved the whole thing in my head, along with stuff from "The Cult" that Jim Starlin did. Hopefully they all tie up, but it came mostly from the reference material.

    Read more:"

  28. All references are probably tangential at best to Dark Knight, Dark City (though it is a good story and the second tacheometry I've seen Batman preform). Morrison sometimes only vaguely references old stories (like he never read the Rainbow Monster one ... just looked at the cover). He just saw the name in some Batman Encyolopedia here.

    On some side notes...

    I think its obvious at this point that half the DC Message Board Batman forum is trolls nowadays. lulz.

    Rikdad - for a pretty low cost you can embed a Invisionfree forum on the bottom of your blog.

  29. I'd probably throw in a dollar or two a month to pay for such a forum.

  30. Hey, rikdad. I'm not sure if you read it, but Joker's Asylum II - the Riddler #1 has a bit of a mystery. I have a theory, but I wanted to see your take if you read it.

  31. darkside, thanks for asking. I actually haven't read it, so I have not a clue! I tend to parcel out my time in ways that excludes some things (comics and otherwise) that sound pretty good so I can concentrate more on a few things that I really go into intensively. Maybe I'll catch up to J.A. II, but I haven't gotten there yet.

  32. Off topic yet on topic, I stumbled across this blog and, after reading through some of your ideas and thoughts, I realized I've been approaching this all wrong. I love Batman and really all eras of the character but Morrison's stuff has been leaving me cold. I'm enjoying B&R, but everything else...

    Now it occurs to me that I'm expecting old school Batman adventures and the metaphysical sci fi/ horror that Morrison is putting out is way outside of the norm and maybe I need to look at it as something else besides a Batman story, for now, until I can wrap my head around it. You've surely expanded my perception as I don't really dig that deep, I just read the stories and honestly most of his stuff is over my head.

    That doesn't mean that I don't think Morrison isn't full of poo or himself, I just think I might appreciate it more by reading your breakdowns as well as the stories. Thanks for being here.