Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home

I read the seven issues of this crossover in a fairly short span of time. It's a fairly large chunk of reading material -- the same number of issues as Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, or Final Crisis -- and it came out in just two weeks.

I haven't read the titles of the various bat-characters besides Batman too much since -- no typo here -- the Seventies. That's not to say none -- I read a few of the Red Robins in Yost's run, and most of the last several of Nightwing, and I've read some others along the way, including back issues pertaining to big events. But mainly it's foreign to me, and it's been a while since I've read that which I've read.

I think crossovers are usually inherently weak because a larger plot is handed to writers who operate better when they are setting their own agenda. To make the parts fit together, there has to be some pretty specific instruction about how each issue begins and ends, and constraints on what happens in the middle. I don't expect much of a crossover no matter which characters are involved, and which writers are contributing.

That may explain the feeling I got at most times, that the writer was largely going through the motions, and following familiar patterns, not much different than, say, JLA comics of the Sixties. The heroes uniformly exceed expectations, the villains are slightly overconfident, and we find those things out mainly because someone is saying them.

Heat flows from a warm body to a cool body, and the comics about Batman's supporting characters usually derive much of their energy from Batman himself. It flatters a supporting character to have Batman guest in their titles; in this case, the crossover is about Bruce Wayne although the supporting cast appear as each issue's title character (Yes, Commissioner Gordon has a tough-looking logo; doesn't your city's police commissioner?). These interactions deviate fairly little from a standard template: Bruce questions his proteges' performance but has, overall, faith in them. Given that similarity, and the requirements to start and end in predetermined places, the stories don't allow a lot of room for creativity.

Fabian Nicieza, who wrote three of the seven issues, gets the most leeway. He also wrote the beginning and ending of the crossover so he didn't, unlike the other four writers, have to pass the baton with every issue's start and finish. He takes advantage of the leeway to create some interesting situations: Bruce working against Dick and Damian, and sparring, as part of a ruse, with Tim. Nicieza also gives R'as an interesting sideplot concerning his memory; the topic of immortals' memory has also come up in Return of Bruce Wayne and before that in the works of Borges; one wonders which inspirations led to Nicieza concocting that subplot for the seventh and final issue.

Two characters who are not the title character for any issue have larger parts that spans the seven issues. Vicki Vale has Bruce's secret and takes a long time to figure out what to do with it. Her hesitancy fills her life with danger and also makes her story overlong and tiresome; we knew that she wouldn't reveal the secret anyway.

The other character to appear in each issue is, naturally, Batman himself, wearing a capeless, Iron-Man-esque version of his usual costume. When not protecting Ms. Vale, he is checking up on his allies in the guise of "the Insider", making his evaluations and generally doling out passing grades.

The compressed release schedule allowed the whole set of issues to come back in two Wednesdays a week apart. The first fourteen issues of Batman and Robin add up to only twice the number of comics but took fifteen months to come out. So, the road home was not a long one. Nor did it provide many sights relative to its length. It leads, it seems, not home at all, because the final stinger tells us to look for Batman, Inc., which will leave Gotham by the second issue. Bruce's return to the modern day earns a lot less fanfare than one might expect from the company's flagship character taking a two-year absence.


  1. Agreed. Hopefully the fanfare will come in the next one-shot as well as Batman and Robin #16. Though the idea of a disguised Bruce sparring with his allies is a good one, it was indeed executed in a bit of a bland fashion, with too many pages taken up by Vale. It's often hard to appreciate non-Morrison bat-books since GM raised the bar to high. With that said, I hope Daniel does a better job on 'Batman' than he did with the saccharine 'Battle for the Cowl.'

  2. I was bored to tears with these one shots. And I found myself a little resentful that they "stole the thunder" from the series I (we) have invested so much time in, namely Morrison's Batman run. They may have worked after Bruce's return as throw-away cash-cows (after all, DC IS a business), but they failed in their timing.

    It read more like Red Robin (probably due to Nicieza) than recent Batman. That said, it was leaps and bounds over Battle For The Cowl.

    However, like Battle For The Cowl, it confused things. The Road Home basically told me that Dick and Damian somehow don't know Bruce is back. huh? Seriously? I thought it was just the first issue, but they confirmed it in yesterday's Oracle issue. Unless Batman and Robin throw us a curveball and the Batman at the end is not Bruce, I'm going to call "fail" on that one.

    Also, the Vicky Vale denouement was a detriment to women everywhere. "I was mad at you for breaking up with me so I wanted to reveal your secret". Wow. ok. I'm surprised Bruce didn't leave a cheque on the table for he "troubles".

    Sorry Rikdad...just a bit bitter about this one ;)

  3. So by 7 issues do you mean you did not read the Outsiders Road Home, or the Batgirl Road Home (or any one of the other issues not mentioned explicitly or implicitly in your post).

    I agree that this is somewhat weak. I don't read Outsiders, Birds of Prey, or Batgirl (save for the Red Robin Crossover, #8 I think),so I didn't care as much about those issues. I was particularly disappointed in the Commissioner Gordon Issue. I am really looking forward to, sometime in the near future a real face to face between Bruce/Bat and Jim (even if the mask stays on). They have known each other far too long as Wayne and Gordon, for "Jim" not to know that Batman is really Bruce.

    Way too many recent hints have been dropped starting with R.I.P. when Gordon said he ["knew that kid from somewhere"] in Batman and Robin #2, after seeing him with Talia in the Wayne mansion when she announced "Damian is the son of the Batman" (back in Batman #680)when Gordon was wondering if he was Robin. Damian as Bruce Wayne's son was at the party in B&R when Gordon introduced Grayson to Oberon Sexton. He's been face to face alone (no Bruce/Bat to pay attention to) with Nightwing in the Last Rites material not to mention now going to the Bat Bunker with Gray/Bat in B&R recently.

    For Bruce/Insider to say "Be seeing you Commissioner" is cold even for Bruce. It is also ridiculous unless of course something Big is going to happen soon in one of the upcoming issues of B&R or ROBW #6. If Tam Fox can know... then he could at least have called him Jim in an unscrambled Batman voice.

  4. I'm just having trouble determining where exactly this falls in the current timeline. Is it supposed to occur after B&R 16? That would make some sense, I guess, but only if the reveal at the end is Alfred, the Joker or anyone else but Bruce. Part of the problem appears to be the fact that the last few issues of B&R were delayed more frequently than commuter flights. That in itself has made it difficult for DC to put together a grand "return" for Bruce. They should have just delayed everything until B&R was finished, but that probably wasn't an option with the holiday schedule. Isn't there supposed to be some one-shot coming out called "Bruce Wayne - The Return"? I'm hoping that serves more as the focal point for his comeback. Otherwise, the entire process feels underwhelming and anti-climatic. Given that someone is returning from the dead, that's sad.

  5. Brian, at times I wonder if stories where the writer is required to start at A and end at B are doomed to be less-than-stellar. In a way I hope so, because that was true of Battle For The Cowl as well as Road Home. I think Daniel's has been a lot better than BFTC, just as most of Dini's work has been a lot better than Countdown.

  6. JMD and Wages, this series does indeed suggest heavily that it cannot be Bruce at the end of #16. If it is, it requires some zany changes to take place, or for the stories to openly contradict each other.

    If it's the second one, that has happened before. Outsiders #11 is really incompatible with Morrison's story in Batman #701 and #702, which imply that Bruce was in the cave and hung out there (besides an excursion back to the river) until FC. But Outsiders #11 showed Superman and GA in Wayne Manor unable to find Bruce. Unless Superman did a hell of a poor job of looking, there is a direct contradiction. And so maybe there is here, too.

  7. Brandon, you caught a big oversight on my part: I did not read the Batgirl issue. The tail end of my issues says that Outsiders leads to Catwoman, and Catwoman leads to Commissioner Gordon. Gordon to Oracle. And so on. Is there an issue that leads to Batgirl? Either I'm still missing something or no other issue told us that Batgirl comes next.

  8. No issue tells you to read Batgirl basically, since it's not in the 'bigger plot'. It's a standalone more then the rest.

    Which is ironic, most (as do I) consider it to be the best in the one-shot series.

  9. I think the sting was taken out of this because of the events of Batman & Robin 16 or ROBW 6 haven't been revealed. What should have been a bit of a "celebration lap" for Bruce after his return just seems convoluted, since the details of his ACTUAL return not only haven't come to light, but not even alluded to in this story arc.

  10. @Hasker

    Actually Outsiders lead to Batgirl, Batgirl lead to Catwoman and so forth...

  11. Both my Outsiders and Batgirl lead to Catwoman. Nothing pointed me to Batgirl. I wish they had just delayed the release of the Road Home until after ROBW and B&R finished up. Here's a link on suggested reading order of the whole mess.

  12. The Gordon issue was strong. The Batgirl issue solid. The whole thing was quite passable. It's funny to think of Vicki Vale now about in the same boat she was in "Batman '89", and the concept (Both of Bruce's "testing" and of Ra's memory and code of conduct) in-character and adequate.

    But there was certainly no grand ambitious spark to Road Home, and it does raise a few questions.

    Right now I'm speculating a timeline of B&R#16 > Road Home > Batman: The Return > Batman, Inc.

    The Morrison-penned parts are timelined properly, and Road Home is forced by default to have to accommodate Grant's story, not the other way around. Cursed delays. But luckily, we only have to wait five days.

    And it's absurd that they didn't number "Road Home" as its own mini-series - DC One Million, this is not.