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The Bat in the West

August 8, 2010

Bruce Wayne’s latest trip through time takes him to the wild west in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4.  We start off with a flashback from before when those guys visited Jonah Hex.  They and one other guy are attacking this random family.  Or rather, it seems random, but in truth, they have that mysterious bat box.  They kill the father and the son and kidnap the daughter, leaving the mother to cry in the rain and pray for an angel of retribution.  And she gets that in the form of Cowboy Batman.  And this is why those guys, who since lost the third one, hired Jonah Hex.  They bring them into Gotham City to their boss, who is none other than Vandal Savage.  Who has cancer, but can’t die.  He has some Native American medicine man trying to pry information from the daughter, but the man is nervous about what she says about the Miagani and the end of the world.  In the outskirts of town, as it rains, Bruce comes in and starts taking out some of the bad guys.  Savage orders the Native American back into the room with the daughter, and we find out that he wants to use what’s in the box to make sure he really never dies.  You know, despite then having to live even longer with that painful cancer.

Inside, we see some crazy doctor calling himself Thomas force words out of the daughter.  She says something about a dark god, bells at the end of the world summoning someone from the shadows who brings the wicked to account.  And this Thomas guy says something about drinking the venom of Barbatos and mentions Darius and Mad Anthony Wayne, who sided with the revolutionary forces back during the American Revolutionary War, as well as Thomas Jefferson.  He shoots the medicine man, then brings the girl out.  Savage brings some gold out that he took when Napoleon Bonaparte betrayed him as payment for Hex. Bruce arrives and takes out the two goons, then chases after the fleeing Thomas and Vandal Savage, who have the girl and the box.  He knocks Jonah Hex off his horse, the daughter knocks Savage off the carriage, and Thomas and Bruce fight just as the carriage is about to kill another Wayne, Alan Wayne, who hates his life and wants to jump off a bridge.  But the carriage misses, the daughter opens the box with a whistle, and Bruce is surprised at the contents.  Savage knocks out Thomas, he hallucinates because he’s high on opium and passes out, and Jonah Hex, insistent on keeping up his reputation, tells Bruce to draw.  Of course, Hex wins, and Bruce falls into the water.  Alan and the daughter marry, tying the Miagani (since she is a descendant) to the Waynes.  Alan builds Wayne Manor and keeps the box safe, Jonah Hex makes off with the gold (though it keeps falling out of the bags because of moth holes), and Thomas flees to Liverpool.  Then, in the seediest era of Gotham City, Bruce Wayne stumbles out of an ally, gets hit by a car, and falls over, bleeding in the streets.

Well, for the first time with a Grant Morrison story, I decided to take a look at David Uzumeri’s annotations for this issue.  You can see them here:  It made me happy to find out that I did notice some stuff.  Like that this doctor is probably Dr. Simon Hurt himself, meaning he’s been around for quite a while.  Plus Mad Tony being Anthony Wayne, an actual historical figure and apparently established ancestor of Bruce Wayne.  And apparently Barbatos’ involvement in the Batman mythos already existed before Grant Morrison wrote the title.  There’s also evidence to suggest that Dr. Hurt went to Liverpool to become Jack the Ripper.  Don’t know if that’s true.  Then the biggest question is, based on the strange sun thing on the secret Batcave wall just above the old cape, and based on Orion’s helmet having that same sun thing, is Batman really a reborn Orion?  As an extension of that, is Hurt a reborn Darkseid?  And are they being forced to fight each other throughout eternity in these new lives?  There are lots of little bits of info that tease these possibilities, which you can find out more on in Uzumeri’s annotations.  That’s a very interesting concept, even if I’m not sure I’d like Bruce Wayne’s character being so… retconned.  Nonetheless, Morrison’s stories are far more intricate than I ever even realized.  It’s no wonder he’s considered the second greatest comic book writer ever.  This issue is really good, what with all of the references (Vandal Savage, Hurt, the Wayne family tree).  Sure, the basic idea is really silly.  But this issue is so plot dense and well-constructed, as well as just fun, that it’s the best of the series thus far.  The only problem is that Georges Jeanty’s work doesn’t measure up to his usual.  It’s far sketchier than usual, and part of that is because Walden Wong’s inks are too light.  Stronger inks would have made Jeanty’s lines seem more substantial.  And there are multiple shirt coloring mistakes in this issue too.  Still, I greatly enjoyed this issue, and I’ve come to appreciate Morrison’s writing skills a lot better.  That doesn’t quite get me over the silliness of Batman traveling through time, but it does make this story a lot more fun to read.

Plot: 8.7      Art: 8.2      Dialogue: 8.8      Overall: 8.7

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