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BATMAN: THE RETURN
Author: Chris Clow
November 20, 2010

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OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: What happens to Dick Grayson now that the "real" Batman is back? How will Bruce Wayne handle a reunion with his son, Damian? This special one-shot bridges two exciting eras of The Dark Knight and sets up a surprising new status quo that's just on the horizon.

I understand why some people have been frustrated with the last cycle of Bruce Wayne stories by Grant Morrison. I’ll be the first to admit, they were surreal, out there, and very into the spirit of Jack Kirby -- which is uncommon for Batman stories. I personally enjoyed them greatly, because I’d never seen Batman utilized in such a fashion in the Modern Age, and it’ll probably be a very long time (if ever) before such stories like Batman’s part in FINAL CRISIS and THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE are ever used for this character again.

But, approaching it from the context of people that just want to see Bruce Wayne doing what he does best after a long, long time, this issue makes it abundantly clear that those days, and those stories, are over. Let me break it down as easily as I can from the first time we see Batman back on duty in BATMAN: THE RETURN

A rooftop. An exploded helicopter. A man with a gun, holding a hostage. The one, true Dark Knight standing apart from him.

A struggle. A dive. A child saved. A stare down with the hostage’s father, conceivably a criminal. A smoke bomb, with The Batman delivering an ominous message as he disappears into the vapor…

“You’re next.”

Batman truly has returned. The only thing that was possibly out of the ordinary in these opening pages was that this didn’t take place in Gotham City. If there’s any true sign of The Dark Knight being back to what he does best, you really have to look no further than THE RETURN. The opening of this issue may be some of the best five pages I’ve seen or read in a book in the last couple of years, by actually giving a back-story to the “old bastard” of a bat that finds his way into Wayne Manor and inspires Bruce Wayne into becoming the Batman.

The weight of that moment in YEAR ONE is only enhanced by knowing the plight of that singular bat entering Thomas Wayne’s study, and really sets the tone for the type of story you’re about to encounter. Then, as you turn the page, you’re greeted with the first full shot of David Finch’s Batman, and that page is a poster that any Batman fan should have. Even in the new costume, that image is definitive Batman, standing in the darkness of shadow, calmly ready for a fight.

Expanding on the ending presented in BATMAN AND ROBIN #16, where Bruce Wayne publicly announced his intentions to fund “Batman Incorporated,” Batman gathers with all of his partners in The Batcave to discuss exactly what’s happening in this new era he’s created, stressing that unlike the last time he was in Gotham in R.I.P., where it felt as if he was at the end of his rope, Bruce stresses that this is the beginning of something new. In a moment that struck me as well in-character, Batman describes his main mission with Batman, Inc. in a single, succinct sentence: “From today on, Batman will be everywhere it’s dark, no place to hide.”

In the moment where every Batman-only fan will be sure to critique, Bruce and Dick talk about Bruce’s desire to keep Dick on as the Batman of Gotham City. It seems that other than Bruce, Dick will be the only real Batman, sharing that particular identity. Every other “Deputy Batman” of Batman, Inc. will solely be their own man, merely carrying a “Bat-Badge” of sorts. Bruce wants Dick to be his main Lieutenant, and Gotham City will be his “precinct” of sorts.

In regards to Damian, Bruce tries out a mission with his son to see if he wants to travel with the new Robin, or keep him as the partner of Grayson. This was an entertaining scene, and definitely one of the best written parts of this issue. The moment where Bruce and Alfred reconnect is also well written, and further drives the point home that the whole Bat-Family is starting with a new beginning.

David Finch’s artwork in this issue fits Batman and his world like a glove. The darkness, the shadow, the faces, the action, the majesty of the cape, and the harsh “evil” in the eyes of both bats and the Batman really make Finch a no-brainer combination with the Dark Knight. Finch has the potential to be one of the best Batman artists of the last 20 years at least, as long as his involvement continues to share the quality of his work here. I’m very interested in what his new title, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT, will hold, and I would definitely encourage anyone wondering what Finch’s Batman looks like to pick this issue up immediately, and to be here at BOF to check out the great John Bierly’s reviews when the title kicks into full gear.

Ending on a cliffhanger teasing the impending maniacal machinations of a new international terrorism organization, the one, true, returned Dark Knight ends this issue with a promise of his involvement, and a taste of things to come, by simply uttering one sentence…

“Game on.”

GRADE: A

Longtime Batman/DCU fan and BOF'er Chris Clow is a student at Western Washington University
He reviews comics, covers conventions, and is a BOF podcast "Roundtabler."
He's also an employee at Bellingham, Washington's oldest and best comic book store, The Comics Place.

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