I suppose sooner or later it was bound to happen. I’ve been enjoying “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” a great deal, and with each issue getting a little more excited. And while I was sad to hear that Cameron Stewart had to drop out of drawing issue #4, I still had my hopes up high for this latest installment. After all, I liked Georges Jeanty’s art on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight,” so surely it would be good here too, right?
Unfortunately, if there was one issue for Jeanty to not draw, I think this one was it. Jeanty’s skill with drawing the cast of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” didn’t help him out here, with numerous characters that all look vaguely similar to one another. So naturally, this is the script from Grant Morrison with multiple family members and characters all interacting with one another, and a real need to try and keep everyone distinct in your head. And if you can’t figure out who’s whom, well, it turns slightly disastrous.
I wanted to like this issue, but the art really made it hard. There are a lot of storytelling choices that just don’t work well; characters seem to almost teleport from one panel to the next, with sudden flips of perspective and a lack of transition. Oh look, we’re in a smoke-filled room. Now we’re in a casino that was underneath, except with the perspective it feels like the balcony above is only two feet high. Even some of the individual pages are laid out in a less than stellar manner. Look at page 17 (not counting ads) and the middle three panels. When you’re done with the first panel, are you supposed to read across (as the diagonal slant on the panels seems to imply) to the large panel to the right? Or read down to the panel below, and then shift across? It turns out it’s the latter, but your eyes are guided into thinking it’s the former. Even the panel at the bottom of the page is slightly a mess; the face there and in the one above are drawn near-identical, despite they’re two different characters, and at a glance it looks like someone’s suddenly landed on the floor for no reason.
The sad thing is that Grant Morrison’s script looks like it was strong. We’ve got a mysterious box begging to be opened, an increasingly dangerous Batman that seems more force of nature than man, and more ripples of cause and effect heading into the future. I love the idea of the myth of Batman being a protector for the family, coming in times of need. In some ways this feels like it was supposed to be the pivotal issue in the story, but instead we’re stuck with bad portraits of Jonah Hex and carbon copy characters. I’m glad Ryan Sook is on board next month to help pull things back together, because this issue took the wind out of my sails.
At the end of the day, “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” #4 is an important lesson for future editors. Matching an artist to a script takes a little more care than one might think. Morrison and Jeanty each have proven themselves time and time again, but this is a bad final combination.