Annotations: ‘Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne’ #3 [Spoilers]
The next link in this summer's Bat-chain comes with this week's "Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne" #3 by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, Michel Lacombe and Nathan Fairbairn. It's a relatively straightforward issue this week, although fairly referential; it's also a great deal of fun. Blackbeard is the first bona fide historical figure that Morrison's featured, and he seems to be relatively accurate.
It's also interesting how this series is starting to stop being a bunch of historical adventures and more like an adventure through the history of historical genre tropes - the caveman story where the stranger advances his tribe to beat the Neanderthals which is total Jean Auel stuff; the pilgrim story that's practically a remake of the Crucible, and now the pirate treasure hunt. I expect we'll see someone defend a town in the next western-themed issue and a femme fatale in #5, the noir installment.
Usual links: This is part of a long series of annotations on Morrison's Batman I've done. Here are the annotations for "Return of Bruce Wayne" #1 and #2, as well as "Batman" #700 and my annotations on previous issues ("Batman" up to #682 and all of "Batman and Robin") of Morrison's run on Funnybook Babylon, and SPOILERS follow.Page 1: The "remember" is Bruce talking to himself probably, but the actual event is Bruce's "death" from "Final Crisis" #6.
Page 2: The Black Pirate was a high seas hero in the DC Universe around the 16th century, named Jon Valor. The Jack Valor here is a new character, and his grandson -- which is weird, since in James Robinson's "Starman" Jon was wrongly executed for the murder of his son. I guess he must have had another kid. While the journal was written in 1734, it's later stated by Bruce that the year is 1718 - placing this adventure right before Blackbeard's death.
Page 4: Black roses have shown up before in Morrison's run first as half of the Joker's deadly poison combination in #663 and R.I.P. and again recently as possibly part of the black wreath Bruce leaves in Crime Alley every year, as shown in #700.
Page 5: If it does symbolize the black wreath, then it could be the vengeance opposed to Blackbeard's revenge (although that might be a stretch).
Page 6: Israel Hands was historically Blackbeard's second-in-command as well.
Page 12: The fact that the Black Pirate lives on so long after Jon Valor's death is the first time we've seen the legacy theme that's so prevalent in Morrison's Batman work show up in "Return of Bruce Wayne" -- which makes sense, since it's supposed to rebuild the Batman mythology from the ground up. This isn't the first time Morrison has brought up the toxicity of bat droppings in this run -- back in #657, Damian asked Bruce how he dealt with the problem of the methane buildup from the bat droppings.
Page 13: I'm honestly not sure whose boots those are in the first panel - whether they're just supposed to be some random pirate idiot setting off the trap, or if Bruce set it off on purpose as soon as he was exiting to mess up the pirates.
Page 14: And we're ready for this issue's superhero interlude! Batman and Robin, in the ruins of Bludhaven. The relic that Dick's referring to is the cowl found at the end of "Batman and Robin" #12. I still don't think we've seen why everyone in the present is freaked out about Bruce returning -- I presume there was some sort of warning left somewhere that we haven't yet seen, something to indicate that there's a reason everyone thinks his return means the end of the world.
Page 15: The Justice League lineup in the first panel is odd - it seems to be the James Robinson League that was short-lived between "Blackest Night" and "Brightest Day", plus Huntress, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, the Flash and - completely inexplicably - Hal Jordan, who *should* be at the End of Time with Rip Hunter, Booster Gold and Superman.
Red Robin here, who's making his first appearance in this costume in a Morrison book, is former Robin Tim Drake. The lines about the Bat-People migrating to Europe were likely to explain why Tim found a bat-symbol in France in issue #4 of his own book; that was probably placed during the period when "Return of Bruce Wayne" was going to skip through space as well as time, as Morrison's stated was the original plan for the book (in fact, he wrote an entire dropped gladiator issue).
Robin's reference to the Joker places this as taking place somewhere before or in the middle of the upcoming "Batman and Robin" arc from #13-15. Additionally, this seems to say that issue #1 took place ~9000 BC, which seems really recent, especially considering the "Final Crisis" #1 script printed in the Director's Cut version of that title placed the opening Anthro scene at 38,000 BC. I guess Morrison just straight up changed his mind, which fits with the location change made for the Anthro sigil findings in the "Final Crisis" hardcover from New York to Gotham.
Page 16: I can't imagine a blacker or bloodier god than Darkseid. 1718 is the year of Blackbeard's death, for reference; this also dates the last issue at 1640, at the fever pitch of the witch trials. The Flying Dutchman is a famous ghost ship; indeed, it is mentioned many times here that Bruce is effectively a ghost.
Page 25: Thus it's confirmed that Bruce is Barbatos, or at least the Miagani's idealized version of him after 10,500 years or so. The "All-Over" that Valor references was first brought up in #1 as being what happens when the Shining Ones return; I'd interpreted it as referring to the Final Crisis, but it may be something yet to come.
Page 26: I have no idea where they found the cowl in the first place -- Bruce had already removed it by the time we first saw him in the past at the very end of "Final Crisis." It's also probably worth noting that by the time Dick finds the costume in "Batman and Robin" #12, the utility belt and boots are gone.
Page 27: The "hunter's belt" - which might just be the utility belt - ended up playing a role in the clues in Wayne Manor in "Batman and Robin" #10, when the stars on Orion (the hunter)'s belt were a code to open a passageway.
Page 28: Considering Batman's eclipse-driven transportation, "born under a black sun" indeed. The Mary that Blackbeard's referring to is probably his last wife, Mary Ormand, who he apparently gave to the crew of the Revenge at some point after their marriage.
Page 29: Here we also get the origin of the casket taken by Hurt's men at the end of "Batman and Robin" #12 -- it apparently contains Bruce's various writings during his time-jumping adventure. The casket is apparently part of Darkseid's trap as well as related to Hurt, since after giving his offerings to the Bat-casket Valor feels that ominous dread that he'd just led to the end of humanity.
Page 30: The mansion here is Wayne Manor -- Judge Solomon Wayne and his brother Joshua had purchased it unfinished from Van Derm, largely so they could use the caves as part of the Underground Railroad. Joshua died, as referenced here, playing a masked avenger role to save some escaping slaves. Note Hex's hand of cards - 8A8A, or "H.A.H.A." (with H as the 8th letter of the alphabet), the Joker's Dead Man's Hand from "Batman R.I.P." -- named such, by the way, for being the hand Wild Bill Hickok had in poker when he got offed.. It's worth noting, though, that here the cards are all black, rather than black and red as in the Joker's hand -- perhaps representing that instead of the punchline of life and death, we're dealing with the death that is life?
Page 31: Of course, the first panel here makes the Joker allusion utterly blatant.