Man, thank God for the internet.
When I was a kid, there was no internet.
And so, if I didn't understand a comic book, which honestly never happened back then, I would be relegated to asking my like-minded friends to explain what I was missing. I always felt that I was smarter than my friends, so they probably would have been of little help.
These days, when I don't "Get" a comic, which is happening with alarming frequency now, I can simply Google something like "What the fuck happens in BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE????", and a helpful know-it-all's explanation will appear, as if by magic.
Good God, even the Wikipedia synopsis made my head hurt.
I have faithfully read all of Grant Morrison's BATMAN run up to this point, and while some of it has been very good, much of it reminds me of the breathless kitchen-sink comics that I used to create as a child. Non-stop action that was filled with big ideas that I never slowed down enough to explain. Shit just happened. And that's how I feel about Morrison as a storyteller: Shit just happens, and if you're not on the same wavelength as Morrison, you're either going to be left in the dust or mowed down. I recently reread all of Morrison's NEW X MEN run, and while it read MUCH better in the Omnibus format, where you could see the ideas and concepts reach full flower, it had that same breathless quality that made me feel like there were huge chunks of stuff that Morrison wanted to convey but just couldn't be bothered actually writing. So things just....happened.
So anyway, Batman seemed like he was dead at the end of the amazingly head-scratching FINAL CRISIS, but he wasn't. He was sent back in time by Darkseid, and in THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE, Morrison alternates between 50's style "Throwback Batman fantasies", like "Caveman Batman", "Puritan Batman", "Pirate Batman", etc., and his usual head-scratching, LSD-inspired gobbledegook. (Say what you will, but I have always felt that Morrison was high off his ass when he wrote. I still feel that way.) There's some kind of mind-snapping business about Darkseid making Batman a weapon that will destroy the 21st century, and weird stuff about Bush Robots at Vanishing Point (???) , and time travel and tons of exposition....Bottom line, I closed this book and said "What the fuck was THAT....?" I just don't get Morrison. At all...
I did enjoy seeing Vandal Savage in his caveman days, since he was always a favorite villain of mine. Otherwise, seeing Batman dressed as a Caveman and a Pirate and a Gangster didn't do much for me. If this was 1955, all six of these issues would have been told in one single eight page story. This is just dragged out endlessly, joylessly....and at the end, I felt like I had been given a barked-out lecture on Quantum Physics by a stoned crackpot who fancied himself a mad genius.
The art is a mixed bag, as well, and I wondered just when people like Frazer Irving, whose art I find hideous, became worthy of illustrating what DC seemed to feel was an A-list comic book. On the plus side, Chris Sprouse contributes a chapter, so that was nice.
Overall, I felt that this was the weakest Morrison Batman story to date. The "Deluxe edition" is just a regular DC hardcover, perhaps slightly oversized, but it still has the same dull, depressing cover boards, and seems cheaply produced. (The hardcover seems to be out of print at this time.)
I'm starting to feel like I've grown away from DC's characters. Win me back, DC!!!! Try, at least!!