It’s been a little over a year now since Bruce Wayne was temporarily removed from books at DC Comics during “Final Crisis.” Blasted by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction and hurtled back in time to the stone age, the final image of “Final Crisis” was of Batman carving bat symbols on a cave wall. If that isn’t a big “to be continued” moment, I’m not sure what is. The wait is finally over, with “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” kicking off this month by picking up where “Final Crisis” left off. That’s right, it’s over 30 pages of Batman and cavemen, and it’s spectacular.
It’s hard to not think of Alan Moore’s novel “Voice of the Fire” when reading the first issue of “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.” Both span different eras, and both begin in pre-history. Like Moore, Grant Morrison takes an aural approach to language, although Morrison reverses “Voice of the Fire” by having the cavemen speaking in normal dialogue (since the issue is being told primarily from their perspective), with all of Bruce’s dialogue written as a single, smashed-together word. It’s incomprehensible to the cavemen (although modern day readers will be able to understand what Bruce is saying) but gives us the sounds that they’re hearing.
From there, though, “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” definitely forges ahead into its own territory. As Bruce gets tangled up in the affairs of the tribes, we start seeing echoes from the future, rippling backwards to intersect with Bruce. The bats, the cape, even a domino mask of sorts make an appearance as Bruce goes through a violent and deadly ordeal. Because each issue of “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” is in a separate time period, each chapter needs to hit the ground running to tell the story, and that’s exactly what we get here. It moves at a brisk pace, and at the end of the issue we’ve got a better idea of what we’ve still got in store for the rest of the six issues. Morrison also adds in a ticking time bomb towards the end of the first issue, which is smart. It keeps “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” from being as simple as, “Wait for Bruce to get to the 21st century and call it a day.” There’s now a barrier of sorts ahead, even as Morrison teasingly keeps the details from us for now.
I think this is the first major project that Chris Sprouse has drawn for Morrison, and it makes me itch for a longer book from the pair of them down the line. New art from Sprouse is always welcome, doubly so when coupled with a strong script. Sprouse’s sharp, angular art (aided by long time collaborator Karl Story) is almost sculpted onto the page, with Batman’s broad shoulders and thick arms coming out of the shadows as Bruce strides out of the cave. He may be without his uniform, but he still instantly commands attention thanks to Sprouse’s art. From there Sprouse continues to knock it out of the park, drawing everything from stone cairns to another tribe attack, and Sprouse just rolls with everything Morrison comes up with. The splash of Bruce’s nightmare is particularly exceptional, with the images of bats, skeletons, and reality all colliding around his sleeping form. I’d forgotten how nice it is to see new Sprouse art, and this is no exception.
DC is smart to ship a second issue of “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” this month, because I’m already itching for the next installment. If the remaining issues hold up — and with art from Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Cameron Stewart, Ryan Sook, and Lee Garbett, we don’t have to worry about the art — this is going to be a Batman story for the ages. (No pun intended, honest.) Bring on the time-traveling Batman!