Where in the world is Bruce Wayne? Or, to be more accurate, when in the world is Bruce Wayne?
It has been nearly a year since comic book readers last saw Wayne, better known to most as the original Batman. While battling a god-like villain named Darkseid during DC Comics‘ Final Crisis series, Batman was hit by an energy beam that sent him hurling out of control to an unknown place in time. Bruce Wayne hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Until now.
In 2010, DC Comics will launch a new series created and written by legendary comic book scribe Grant Morrison. The Return of Bruce Wayne finds the original Batman trying to reclaim his memory, his identity and his proper place in time and space. The series marks the return of one of comic book’s most iconic characters and, Morrison says, begins an important new chapter in a complex series of Batman stories that the author has been developing and intertwining over the past five years.
Morrison recently took time with USA TODAY’s John Geddes to answer questions about the upcoming series and provide some insight and hints about where the story will lead.
Q: In Final Crisis, the original Batman, Bruce Wayne, is hit by the Omega Beam during a battle with the villain Darkseid. This beam sends Wayne spinning into the unknown, cast off into the time stream. He is thought to be dead by both friends and enemies. In the aftermath, the role of Batman is assumed by the original Robin, Dick Grayson, and the role of Robin is assumed by Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian. What else should readers know as a lead-in to The Return of Bruce Wayne?
A: Could there possibly be anything else to know after that masterful summing-up?
To be honest, I don’t think readers need to know even that much in order to enjoy Return. Although it’s also the latest chapter in the long-running, “definitive” Batman epic I’ve been trying to pull off since 2005, Return has been structured and written to read as a complete story on its own — everything a new reader needs to know will be in the pages of the book itself. Read all the graphic novel collections together, however, and a much bigger, more complex and involving story will emerge.
Return is a fairly intricate time-travel story in which the world’s greatest hero, the optimum man, is up against the supreme challenge to his ingenuity and skill. How does Batman get out of the ultimate trap? It has a mystery and an apocalyptic countdown going on, there are some major twists and reveals, and it sets up big changes to the Batman universe status quo.
Q: It’s my understanding that Return will follow Bruce Wayne through different eras as he makes his way — presumably — back to the modern day. Any hints on which eras we might see Bruce exploring in his quest to find his proper place in time?
A: The first episode is set in the Late-Paleolithic Era, the second is in Pilgrim-era Gotham Village, and we also get to see Gotham in Western or noir style.
Each of the stories is a twist on a different “pulp hero” genre — so there’s the caveman story, the witchhunter/Puritan adventurer thing, the pirate Batman, the cowboy, the P.I. — as a nod toward those mad old 1950s comics with Caveman Batman and Viking Batman adventures. It’s Bruce Wayne’s ultimate challenge — Batman vs. history itself!
I’ve tried to thoroughly research each time period so that the stories work not only as at least fairly plausible reconstructions of life in the real 17th or 19th centuries but also as romanticized “pulp” versions too, while at the same time referencing the more extravagant history of the fictional DC Comics Universe in the background.
Q: How many issues are planned for The Return of Bruce Wayne series?
A: There are six issues of Return. The first one’s 38 pages long, the rest are 30.
Q: Without giving away any spoilers, how will/would the return of Bruce Wayne to the present day affect the dynamic of the current Batman & Robin duo? Might we see Damian Wayne develop into a new character?
A: As I mentioned above, the status quo of the Batman universe will be changed completely after this book. This is the beginning of a new and different take on the idea of Batman as we approach the 010s — the latest of these ever more fleeting and flimsy modern decades!
Q: There are certain readers out there who will undoubtedly complain about yet another rebirth or reincarnation of a famous comic book character. What about Return is going to be different from these past stories in which iconic characters have been brought back to life?
A: As we saw at the end of the Final Crisis book, Bruce Wayne was never dead, only AWOL, so this was never a literal “back to life” story. And I like to think the series will have a wider general appeal than some of the continuity driven “death and rebirth”-type stories we’ve seen before.
This is more for me about putting Batman/Bruce Wayne through my own, and my collaborators’ version, of the ultimate test of who and what he is. So far I’ve had him overcome the Devil, Madness and Death; now we see him, truly lost, amnesiac, and stripped down to basic human survival mode in some extremely hostile environments and unfamiliar situations. He’s the best fighter in his world, he’s one of the smartest and most driven men who ever lived, but we’ve seen him outwit the Joker 10,000 times. This was a way of taking the character off the grid, as they say, and reminding readers what kind of man he is and what he’s capable of. If you wonder why Batman is so cool — here’s why Batman is so cool.
This is an attempt to look at a very familiar character from some unusual angles. And it’s about Bruce and who he is — I want to remind people how the man and the mask are inseparable parts of a terrifying whole.
Q: You’re a writer who has never been afraid to experiment with storylines involving major characters. What are some of the challenges you face when developing stories specific to such a high-profile character as Batman/Bruce Wayne?
A. The challenge is to keep everything familiar while making what appear to be far-reaching changes and having characters react as if those changes are permanent!
Batman needs to be eternally young, renewed like some pagan Fertility King to suit the changing tastes of his audience in each fresh generation. Batman can never grow old or die — and stories, no matter how good, which depict these events cannot be considered “canon.” Batman was born in 1939 and would now be a sprightly 70-year-old if he aged like the rest of us. The “real” Batman, however, enjoys godlike immortality and must always be 30-ish moneyed orphan, Bruce Wayne, who dresses as a bat to fight crime. The trick is to tell stories which expand the limits of how far you can go and still maintain the integrity of the basic idea. And everything has to be done with the knowledge and understanding that I — as the current writer — am only a tiny link in a long chain of all the people who already have or will one day tell stories about Batman.
Q: Your writing for Batman over the years has seen you interpret the character through a variety of lenses (a Zen-warrior, a darkly philosophical detective, the traditional hero, etc.) With Return, what type of Bruce Wayne are we going to see?
A: All the elements that make up this great pop icon will be upfront — his intellect, his detective skills, his martial arts abilities, his heroism and compassion and grit. His chiseled cheekbones! In this series, in particular, he represents us, humanity, at our very best and most resourceful. And, in the first issue, we get to see the many advantages ninja training has over the traditional caveman grunt-and-lunge technique.
Batman’s story begins with Bruce Wayne, kneeling by the bodies of his murdered mom and dad. To me, at the most basic root of Batman is the story of the ultimate survivor. The Return of Bruce Wayne— a title that becomes increasingly ominous as the story progresses — puts that aspect of Batman under the microscope.
Q: Themes play such a huge role in most, if not all, of your writing. Is there an overarching theme running throughout the story of Return?
A: Survival. Not only the physical survival of our hero but the survival through time of memories, grudges, artifacts, ideas. What persists? What endures?
Q: Over the years, you’ve been involved with some of the most well-known and beloved characters out there — Batman, Superman, JLA, X-Men and Fantastic Four, just to name a few. Are there other iconic comic characters you’d like to reinterpret or for whom you’d like to develop storylines?
A. I’m very happy with the take on the Captain Marvel/Shazam universe that appears as part of the upcoming Multiversity series of books, but that’s it for the moment. Along with Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman, I’m part of the consulting team at DC Entertainment involved in rethinking some of DC’s big characters for the screen. So between that and the comics, I think I’ve had my say on just about every comic book character I’ve ever had any interest in.
Q: Who else comprises the creative team attached to Return? Can you speak about how it’s been to work with this team?
A: I haven’t seen any of the art yet. The book launches in the summer and each issue is drawn by a different artist, so that side of it has barely got underway. I know Chris Sprouse is penciling the first one, so I’m fairly confident it’ll be the best comic set in the Late Paleolithic Era that you’ll have seen for a very long time. I’m a huge fan of Chris’ work, so I’m keen to see what he’s done. I think Frazer Irving might do the second one, cementing his reputation as the comic world’s most prominent Puritan Goth Adventure artist.
Q: Aside from Return, what new work can readers look forward to from Grant Morrison in 2010?
A: Mostly Batman work — I’m doing at least another year of stories with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne in the Batman and Robin book before that book starts to dovetail with Return and we rush headlong and screaming into the next big, earth-shattering, game-changing twist in the life of Batman.
I’m slowly working my way through the Multiversity sequence of books and loving it. I’ve set myself the task of making each issue the best superhero story I’ve ever written, so I’m growing them patiently and all together before I hand the scripts out to artists.
There’s also the Joe the Barbarian book with Sean Murphy, which starts in January at Vertigo and is my first new, creator-owned comic for a while.