While "Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne" tells an essential story in Grant Morrison's extensive, multi-series run on the character, it's begun more as an art showcase than anything else with Chris Sprouse and Frazier Irving on the first two issues and, now, Yanick Paquette on the third issue, delivering the best art of his career. Some may remember Paquette as a cheesecake artist whose work was a little sloppy and lacking in fluidity, but he's definitely grown over the years. For Morrison fans, he's barely recognizable as the artist who did "Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer," using thicker, heavier, more angular lines. Frankly, his work on this issue blew me away.
Beginning with a representation of the 'death' of Batman in "Final Crisis" and, then, moving to Bruce Wayne's encounter with Blackbeard as he moves forward through time, Paquette's visuals have a mix of soft blacks and angular, sharp corners that alternate between highly detailed and minimal, suggestive lines. With much of the story taking place in a cave, Paquette's heavy use of blacks makes a lot of sense, but he never goes too far, obscuring what's happening in the art. His primary concern seems to be clarity of storytelling, another area in which he's improved a lot over the years.
In past work, his panel-to-panel storytelling has been lacking, but, here, one of Paquette's strengths is how well the story flows. You could take away the words and understand the story without any problems. A fight between Bruce Wayne in a cowl and Blackbeard near the end of the issue is told primarily through the art, a quickly-paced, energetic action scene. As well, his facial expressions for Blackbeard are very expressive, while Wayne is much more stoic throughout as he makes sure that the characters demonstrate who they are visually.
The story here is the strongest of the series to date as Morrison has Wayne continue to remember who and what he is as he gets closer to his own time and more distanced from the Omega Effect. Here, he encounters the Miagani in the catacombs below an area of Gotham, coming into contact with this Bat-worshipping group, and finding his old cowl and utility belt in a shrine. It's a slow progression with each issue contrasted with the efforts of the heroes in own time trying to figure out when he is and prevent Darkseid's plan to destroy the Earth from happening.
Morrison's focus on each issue having its own story and conflict works well with the efforts of the heroes and Wayne's memory returning seemingly more like subplots in each issue with Blackbeard and his quest for treasure taking center stage in this issue. It's not the expected structure for a series like this, but it's effective in giving each issue its own focus that works to highlight the strengths of each issue's artist.
Ultimately, it's hard to go wrong with 'Pirate Batman,' and the team of Morrison and Paquette manage to deliver a better comic than you'd expect. So far, "The Return of Bruce Wayne" has been entertaining and surprising. With this issue completing the first half, there's still a long way to go before Bruce Wayne is back being Batman and I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens next.