Batman is dead…long live Batman!

I like Batman as much as the next guy. He’s a character with a simple, relatively believable back story and far and away the most impressive roster of villains of any superhero out there. The character’s continuous appearance for over 70 years in just about every media there is, from comics to movies to video games, is a clear testament to the versatility and longevity of the character.

But, perhaps as a result of that continuous, never ending flow of Batman material, I have never followed any of the monthly Batman titles for more than a handful of issues, usually when they get a writer or artist I particularly like or do a single story I find interesting. My favorite version of the character is the one presented in Batman: the Animated Series and its assorted spin-offs in the 1990s. I liked its more simple approach to Batman and his supporting cast, free of the complicated continuity of the DC comics universe.

It was this connection to continuity that kept me from reading much of Grant Morrison’s run on the regular Batman title, but when DC launched Morrison’s new series Batman and Robin, I decided to jump in, hoping that it would stand alone like his excellent All-Star Superman. It turned out that Batman and Robin would in fact be firmly entrenched in the DC universe, picking up soon after the largely unintelligible Final Crisis, but its premise was relatively simple. All the reader needed to know was that Bruce Wayne had died and former Robin Dick Grayson had taken over as Batman, with Damian, Bruce’s son and grandson of classic Batman villain Ras al Ghul, stepping in as the new Robin.

The thing I love most about the series is the juxtaposition of these two characters and the sharp contrast with their predecessors. Where Bruce Wayne was driven and overly intense, Dick Grayson is a bit more relaxed, yet unsure of himself. Damian’s Robin is no wisecracking sidekick, but an imperious little snot with an overblown sense of entitlement who nevertheless backs up Grayson as Batman. The interplay between the two characters is a refreshing change from the usual hero-sidekick stuff.

So I greeted the ads for the release of Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne with more than a little disappointment. Dick Grayson’s Batman was just getting interesting, and now that wet blanket Bruce Wayne is going to come back and ruin everything. On the other hand, Grant Morrison is writing it, with an impressive lineup of artists including Chris Sprouse (Tom Strong) for the first issue and Frazer Irving (Seven Soldiers: Klarion) for the second.

The first two issues tell the story of a mysteriously resurrected Bruce Wayne who is lost in time with no memory of who he is. But amnesia can’t repress his need to see justice done, first for a tribe of cave men wiped out by their aggressive neighbors, and later in 16th century Gotham as he tries to put a stop to a trumped up witch trial. All the while, Superman and some of the Justice League chase him through time making cryptic comments about how something bad will happen if he makes it back to the 21st century.

It’s an intriguing story, covering a lot of the cosmic weirdness that fans of Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Invisibles should be familiar with. Even though the time travel story seems at odds with the usual Batman fare, the idea that Bruce Wayne is first and foremost a survivor is a strong one, especially when that very survival is the story’s underlying threat.

I’m sure the story will end with some kind of return to the basic Batman status quo, which is unfortunate but ultimately necessary. Staying simple and basically the same is what has ensured the character’s survival for this long, after all.

— Jefferson Powers