Annotations: ‘Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne’ #4 [Spoilers]
And we're back again, this time with yet another issue of "Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne." This one eschews the search plot to focus purely on the story from Bruce's perspective -- or, more precisely, from the perspective of the people around Bruce, who is completely silent for this entire issue in a nod to the silent, nameless lone gunslinger (or Batarang-slinger) archetype.
For additional reference, I've prepared a Wayne/Van Derm family tree with all the information so far; I imagine it'll largely be a living document, so expect updates to it in the future.Page 1: We begin at the Van Derm ranch, seemingly after they've already inherited the skills and heirlooms of the Miagani as well as Bruce's Box o' Bat-Crap. I have a feeling there's supposed to be some sort of falling apples/falling pearls linkup going on here, but the art kind of obscures it. The two sketchy-ass western rapelords are Chuck and Lucky -- this sequence takes place BEFORE the end of last issue, where after getting messed up by Batman they hire Jonah Hex to shoot the hell out of him.
Page 2: Not sure who the third dude who finds the box is, and at least Chuck isn't as down with casual raping as Lucky, only the carefree murder. The Van Derms have clearly fallen on hard times if they're living in some crappy little shack out in the middle of nowhere.
Page 3: Slaughter of family, mark four.
Page 4: I don't know why, but I can't hear the Van Derm matriarch's promise here without thinking of it in the overly-stilted, southern accent that Bill Compton and Lorena have on "True Blood." Either way, I can't help but feel the lack of White Fawn's necklace here is an art error, since Bruce pulls it basically out of his ass later on in the issue and everyone seems to think he got it from this lady. This also marks the second time someone praying for an angel of vengeance has actually gotten it, after Annie back in #2.
Pages 6-7: Our invisible narrator here is Alan Wayne, Bruce's great-grandpappy, who, again, it would have been nice to get a visual cue for. I have to wonder why Bruce showed up when Chuck and Lucky were "out west", considering Bruce was supposed to be stuck in or near Gotham for this entire adventure. So, it couldn't have been THAT far "out west."
The "Monsieur Savage" is, of course, Vandal Savage (from #1!), who's apparently recovering about 60-70 years later from getting stiffed by Bonaparte. The Napoleon references really threw off my estimation of this issue's setting in time by a bunch; I figured it was fairly recently after, 1820 or 1830 or so, but Hex's entire origin is the Civil War, so this has to be more like 1870-1880, especially to line up with the dates Greenberger gives in the Batman Encyclopedia regarding the building of Wayne Manor.
Page 8: Laudanum's also known as opium tincture, and it is basically liquid dope.
Page 9: "They ALL betray me in--" is a reference to the repetition of the cycle that started back in #1, when the Blood Mob tribe ran him out for getting his ass kicked by Batman.
This chieftain is Midnight Horse, and judging by how freaked out he seems by the Bat-People stuff, I'm going to guess he isn't actually one of them, and they're just combining his tribal magics with ... well, we'll see what else is beyond the door soon enough.
Page 13: It's funny, because Midnight Horse is wrong -- he DIDN'T come for the box, not really. Certainly the Van Derm matriarch must have told him about it, but as always, I'm fairly certain Bruce's primary motivation here is vengeance.
Lucky's "Why won't he leave us BE? Bucky never should have shot that kid!" is very reminiscent of Joe Chill's statements back in #673, where he asked "what did I do that was so bad" and then states the inverse of Lucky's statement: he "shoulda shot the KID right there - [he] shoulda done him FIRST." (The kid in this quote being, of course, Bruce Wayne).
Page 15: And here we have it: our introduction to Simon Hurt before, well, before he was Simon Hurt. Catherine Van Derm is clearly in a kind of trance at this point, and we still don't why she's able to hear the bells of "the All-Over" (or what those bells are) whenever she looks at, or in, the box.
Page 16: The event with summoning Barbatos occurred in Peter Milligan's "Dark Knight, Dark City" arc, and the "Jefferson" referred to is American founding father Thomas Jefferson. The revolutionary war hero Darius Wayne -- presumably Thomas's brother -- is Bruce's direct ancestor, and Mad Tony is an actual historical figure revealed to be Bruce's ancestor as well in a completely insane "World's Finest" two-parter by Bob Kanigher written up by Chris Sims here and here.
"Gran'pa Jerome" is Jerome Van Derm, the original architect of Wayne Manor. The dark god referred to is Darkseid -- what's HIS box he's opening? -- and of course the "another" is Bruce Wayne himself. More evidence for the Thomas Wayne = Simon Hurt theory is provided by Midnight Horse calling him an "old gambler," since his Black Glove incarnation was entirely defined by high-stakes gambling.
Page 17: The fact that Savage mentions the saddlebags are "moth-eaten" seems to be a sort of foreshadowing for the gold falling out later when Jonah Hex is leaving Gotham, but the art, again, doesn't help very much in making this clear. Savage's mention of starting again with an empire of crime down in Mexico - just as Thomas enters the room - is yet ANOTHER clue, since establishing a vast empire of crime in Mexico is exactly what Simon Hurt did. I'm fairly certain we never see Thomas's crate of dynamite, either.
Page 18: Again, he's described by everyone as a ghost, much like the last issue. And, well, like people refer to Batman himself, I guess.
Page 21: Savage is remembering his previous experience fighting Bruce back around 9,000 B.C., when he was leading the Blood Mob, back in #1.
Page 23: So as soon as Bruce breaks Thomas's hold on Catherine, she straight up brains Savage with the Bat-Casket. Here, as well, we finally actually see our narrator Alan Wayne, apparently about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, the last Wayne whose life sucks. Solomon commissioning Pinkney to build the gothic structures in Gotham dates back to the "Destroyer" crossover in the early '90s, which largely existed to explain why Gotham would be modified to look more like the movie version.
Page 24: And, of course, in a grand coincidence, the wagon falls PRECISELY so that Alan can meet Catherine, hook up with her and continue the Wayne line.
Page 25: This is where we find out that White Fawn's necklace must have come from the Van Derm matriarch, since Catherine claims Bruce got it from her -- another thing the art could have made clearer. It's also curious to note that the Van Derms now have the necklace, which should have belonged to the Miagani; if the Van Derms have that now, they must have married into the clan, but also where the hell are the actual Miagani at this point? Could they have been corrupted by Thomas and turned into the 99 Fiends?
"All the days of the world is one day" is a reference to the solidity of the fourth-dimensional time object, a theme that Morrison's been mining ever since at least "The Invisibles." Catherine uses some of the Miagani whistles (last seen last issue) to disarm the mechanisms in the box, and the necklace is supposed to be passed down hereditarily, so she has to be a descendent of them.
Page 26: Savage, who's probably about a .5 on the Roy Harper High On Opiates Scale, now hallucinates that Bruce is the big bat from his caveman days and freaks the hell out.
Page 28: There's no eclipse this time, which is weird, but that could be yet another art error. As far as I can tell, this is the first reference to this being where the Van Derm and Wayne lines merged, and also the first reference to Kenneth killing his mother at birth.
Page 29: Here we see the gold being left behind. It's possible to interpret this as Hex feeling bad for shooting Batman and refusing to take the gold, but more likely it's just because of holes in the sandbags that Savage gave him.
Page 30: Of course, Thomas leaves on the S.S. Orion, just to continue that little motif, although I'm not sure what his transport on something called that means.
EDIT: A few people pointed out on the Something Awful comics board that this is almost definitely a clue that Hurt goes off to become Jack the Ripper, which is A) another great Moore reference maybe and B) a nod to the classic "Gotham By Gaslight" Elseworlds by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola.
This is likely him traveling to Europe to establish the Black Glove, although there's no proof of this. Here, we also see Alan Wayne founding his Garden of Death, where Barbatos's casket was kept; this was all explored in "Batman and Robin" #10-12, where Dick Grayson retrieved the casket and it was quickly stolen by the 99 Demons.
Page 31: And here we get more of the apocalyptic foreshadowing about the casket and what's inside.
Page 32: I can only guess that Bruce is now waking up in roughly the time period of his childhood, around when his parents were murdered. Despite the P.I. motif, it's definitely later than the '40s judging by the cars and liberal attitude towards pornography -- this is definitely Gotham at its seediest.