Grant Morrison on Stripping Down Batman in ‘Return of Bruce Wayne’ [Interview]
Despite Batman's untimely "demise" last year in "Final Crisis" -- a loss that led former sidekick Dick Grayson to take up the mantle of the Bat with Bruce Wayne's son Damian as his Robin -- readers have known for some time that Batman isn't really gone, just missing in time, thanks to the machinations of Darkseid. DC superwriter Grant Morrison has started to slowly unravel what that means in the ongoing "Batman and Robin" series, and soon all will be revealed in an upcoming miniseries called "Return of Bruce Wayne," where the man behind Batman finds himself starting from scratch in time periods ranging from prehistoric times to the 1950s, and battling history itself to make his way back to the present.
ComicsAlliance spoke to Grant Morrison about how the series strips Bruce Wayne to his most essential core, what it means to take the myth of Batman back in time, and how "Return of Bruce Wayne" will redefine Batman's origin story as we understand it.
ComicsAlliance: In "Return of Bruce Wayne" we're going to see Batman starting his life over in a variety of different time periods. How does it affect the legend of Batman to move its origins back in time?
Grant Morrison: For me, the time thing is to take Bruce Wayne to the limit of what he is as a character, because he's thrown back into prehistory with no memory and no uniform and no tools apart from the fact that he's got his belt. I like of the idea of exploring Batman with this time travel story, but to do it quite convincingly and realistically so that he's really at the edges of what Batman can possibly be. I wanted to see him survive out there, and expose him to these challenges through history that would allow us to watch Batman being born from nothing, basically, from this amnesiac man. I kind of explored him psychologically in "[Batman] R.I.P."; I broke him down and deconstructed him, and this is really about putting Batman back together again, but in a sequence of what will hopefully be pretty cool one-off stories, with each set in a different time and with a different genre feeling to it.
CA: It's interesting that on one level you're dealing with the idea of the immortality of the Batman legend, but at the same time, a lot of this is designed to reveal more about Bruce Wayne as a man.
GM: Really, he's kind of stripped naked – though we don't actually get to see him naked. [laughs] He's down to the absolutely bare basics.
CA: We'll be seeing Bruce Wayne in prehistoric times, the Pilgrim era, on the high seas, in the Wild West, and in a 1950s noir story. Why did you choose these particular time periods and places?
GM: Firstly, I had to select something that could have happened conceivably around the area of Gotham City. When I first started I had the caveman one, and then I really wanted to do gladiator Batman; that was a story I was so excited about – Batman racing across the Forum in Ancient Rome. But then I realized that he can't really do that. He can only jump around [time] in his own area, and that allowed me to tie it into the history of Batman's family... It allowed me to deal with a very specific space that we know to be Batman's. So he starts off in the caveman era and you get to see the actual Batcave as it was then, this kind of place initiation for tribesmen. In the Puritan days, it was a hideout for a girl who was accused of being a witch, and so on through the different time periods... Each of them also has their own distinct atmosphere and genre.
CA: So you've got the Batcave appearing in different time periods; are we going to see any members of his rogue's gallery also appearing through time?
GM: These are people who lived in Gotham, so you might get to see families – Commissioner Gordon's family or Catwoman's family.
CA: You mention your development of the Wayne family history as well. There was Silas Wayne from the '50s, Patrick and Kenneth from a prose piece in an issue of "Batman Chronicles" -- how much research did you do, and how much of that did you draw from?
GM: I basically researched all of it, and then once I'd written it down I discovered a completely different and contradictory version, as usual with these things. So I had to combine the two into one. One version says that Wayne Manor was built in 1855, and the other version says that it was built in 1799, so I kind of fudged that. But I had to read through all of that stuff, and there's so much of it. So many little throwaway things in these stories that you've never heard that might relate to the history of the family.
CA: You've called "Return of Bruce Wayne" the latest chapter in your definitive Batman tale; do you know what the last chapter is going to be?
GM: Oh yeah. It's really good, yes. I'm so excited, but I can't say anything about it. The idea for that came to me a few months ago, and it was really quite exciting. I know exactly how it is going to end up.
CA: Just a few months ago? That recently?
GM: Well, I didn't really think I'd be back after "Return of Bruce Wayne." I was sure the whole thing would just go back to the kind of classic Batman status quo at that point. And I came up with an idea for how we could develop it in a completely different direction, that kind of did something new to the basic Batman concept. So I had to stay on.
CA: I know at one point you'd intended Damian to die – how much of what we're seeing now is what you originally envisioned for the overarching Batman story, and how much of it has evolved in the process of writing?
GM: Well, one of the first ideas I had was "Batman R.I.P." when I got the "Batman" job back in 2005... all that stuff was there to begin with, the whole Dr. Hurt plotline and Black Glove plotline were there. And as it progressed, as with most of these things, when you get into the work and you start to understand the things that you're doing, it takes on a life of its own and starts to expand. There are certain things that seem to make sense at the time like making Damian a little bastard and killing him off, but then everyone felt sorry for him. And suddenly [killing him] didn't seem like such a great idea, because he was potentially such a great character, and I'm glad I didn't.
CA: So with Batman coming back, what's that going to mean for Dick Grayson? After you've been Batman, what else can you do that isn't a demotion? Where do you go from there?
GM: This is the big launch after "The Return of Bruce Wayne," so I don't want to say too much, but it's a completely new take on the Batman status quo. It's like that scene where Damian asks, what happens when Bruce Wayne comes back? We don't get to be Batman and Robin? Because I felt, and I think readers felt that they were really cool as Batman and Robin, and you don't want to lose them straightaway. So you'll see what happens.
CA: A lot of your work revolves around high concept themes; is there a particular theme that you're working with in "Return of Bruce Wayne" specifically?
GM: Each strand of it takes a slightly different approach, and looking back on "Batman and Robin," I can see there's a very interesting progression where the first story that came out is about masks, and the second story is about faces, and the third story is about bones, and the fourth story is about family history. It's kind of delving into the meat of Batman. I wasn't aware that I was doing it, but now it's so clear that each story peels back another layer of what Batman is. It all ties into that – the idea of the man in the mask. And the fact that I want to bring Bruce Wayne and Batman together again as a person, rather than the idea that Bruce is a decoy and Batman is the real person. I wanted to bring back Bruce as a living, breathing person.
Someone who's as well trained as Batman, who has studied meditation and all these disciplines, really wouldn't just be a tough guy. There's a lot more to him. Batman is a person who has seen a lot of really dark stuff and dealt with it. He's not a one-note character. He's got a lot more context to understand the world, but he's driven by the mission – that's the child part of him that he can't quiet. So as smart as he is, I think he wouldn't know what to do if he didn't keep doing what he does.
CA: And that's true no matter what context you put him in.
GM: It just shows that deep inside, behind the costume, behind everything, there's this highly moral man who will not let bullies have their way. And that is constantly reinforced; each story [in "Return of Bruce Wayne"] is a different take on the idea of bad people and good people and villains and black and white. Actually now that you mention it, the stories are a bit – they kinda put him up against morally ambiguous situations rather than clear black and white ones.
CA: After you finish this overarching Batman story that you've been working on, is that it for you in the world of Batman, or do you hold out the possibility that you could come back again?
GM: I didn't ever think I would do Batman again after "Arkham Asylum." You never know when a good story idea will come up. But when this one comes to its conclusion I think I'll have covered so many of the basics of what Batman means to me, it'd be hard to imagine there'd be much left to say.
CA: Do you actually have a pithy statement about what Batman means to you?
GM: Well, it's taken me 6 years to work it out through the book. [laughs] By the end of the whole thing I'm sure I'll have a lovely one-liner, but right now I'm still discovering. I love the fact that you can delve into a fictional character like this and get so much depth and so much history. He's kind of alive. He's been around longer than me and he'll be around when I'm long gone, so he's kind of more real than me.
CA: That's a theme that we've seen a lot in your work, and it seems like we're seeing it acted out in a literal way in "Return of Bruce Wayne" – the idea that this character, this legend is immortal.
GM: The great thing about comics is that they can act out big psychological struggles or human dramas but on a kind of cosmic or epic stage. The best comics are the ones that ultimately talk about what it's like to be people, but they express it the way that dreams express it: as big symbols.
CA: Do you see "Return of Bruce Wayne" as the new Batman origin story?
GM: To a certain extent, it's almost replacing the death of his parents. That's never going to go away, but this is giving him something else where Batman grows naturally and spontaneously out of something else after the death of his parents... That's what I like about it – the idea that Bruce Wayne just becomes Batman. You can't stop him becoming it.