Okay, so Bruce Wayne has already returned in "Batman and Robin" and the "Road Home" one-shots, but everyone knew it would happen. That it happened isn't nearly as important as how, and the finale to "The Return of Bruce Wayne" is one hell of a how. Concluding both the mini-series and the story of Batman's encounter with Darkseid in "Final Crisis," this issue shows the character at his best as he matches wits with a god in an effort to save the world from himself while also returning to his life. Things happen quickly and Morrison doesn't explain too much as he goes, but the attentive and active reader will be rewarded with a smart, engaging comic.
With the Omega Sanction designed as a trap that counts upon Batman solving it, Darkseid uses the brains and ingenuity of the character as a means to destroying the world. Not only does Batman need to outsmart Darkseid, but he needs to do while also contending with his fellow heroes in the Justice League. This issue does an entertaining riff on the idea of Batman taking down the JLA with the help of some future technology. He cuts through them with little effort until he encounters Red Robin who poses no threat, simply wanting to help his mentor. From there, it's Batman versus Darkseid in a battle of brains and strategy.
Like many great Grant Morrison comics, the learning curve is a little steep at first, but a second read through makes it much easier to digest. Morrison builds not just on the previous five issues but his entire Bat-run and beyond it. Questions from one comic are answered here in a single line, while allusions to previous scenes and what they meant fit into a panel here, relying on the reader to fill in the gaps. It's a challenge but one that rewards. The manner in which Batman outsmarts Darkseid is a clever one that not only makes a larger point about the character, it leads into the shift in his thinking that will result in "Batman, Inc."
After doing some of the pages of last issue, Pere Perez returns to help Lee Garbett and both artists do a great job. Garbett's initial pages resemble the work he's done to date, which is stilted at times, but he improves in both his line work and the way he constructs pages as he goes. Morrison's script is a demanding one that requires formal experimentation to show the effects on time as a result of Batman returning to the present. He mimics the fluid line work of Paquette and Perez from issue five in showing the Batman wearing the end-of-the-universe Archivist costume. Perez showed a new side of his art last issue and continues that here. Both he and Garbett step up their game with dynamic and slick art.
Despite the challenges of the issue, it's a very simple story at its core, one that goes back to the beginning of Batman and shows, again, how skilled the character is. This issue is pivotal to Morrison's work on the character and outlines the next step. Intellectually provoking, so much of the issue is also driven by passion and emotion. It's not just Batman trying to outthink a god, it's his friends doing everything they can to help him save the world and his own life. The issue may be late, but it was worth the wait.