Review: Batman: Bruce Wayne -- The Road Home hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Despite all the run-up, DC Comics can't quite get the return of Bruce Wayne right. Their difficulties are similar though not quite as pronounced as with Superman: New Krypton, a DC mega-plotline that began about the same time; Batman: Bruce Wayne -- The Road Home is more thematically on track than War of the Supermen was, though both arrived at their conclusions ... rather unremarkably.

For Road Home, I suspect the difficulty is that, as with many parts of the "Batman Reborn" saga, the real action is going on in head writer Grant Morrison's Batman Inc. title, and Road Home is something of an also-ran. Road Home touts the new Batman status quo well enough -- almost to ridiculousness -- but disappoints in a number of key reunions that fans had anticipated Bruce Wayne's resurrection in order to see.

[Contains spoilers]

With six writers and nearly double the number of artists, the eight one-shots collected in Batman: Bruce Wayne -- The Road Home read like elements of one of the "Fifth Week Events" DC used to publish. Each book focuses on a different character, with a loosely tied plot that comes to a forced conclusion in the final issue (see Green Lantern: Circle of Fire, which has a pretty similar structure). Road Home is at its best when a writer treats the issue as part of their own ongoing series; it's at its worst in the handful of floppy stories hamstrung by the silly connecting device and prevented from making any real change in the "main" Batman story, which just sit there and accomplish essentially nothing.

The time-lost Bruce Wayne has returned in Road Home, but rather than sit down for a nice meal with his friends and family in stately Wayne manor, he dons the laughable persona of "the Insider" and stalks his team as enemy and ally. This is the kind of bonehead test to which Batman would subject his team back in the early 2000s "Murderer/Fugitive" era, and it seems markedly out of place alongside Batman's realization in Grant Morrison's Return of Bruce Wayne and elsewhere how much he needs and relies on his allies. Batman narrates these exploits in the pages of his new White Casebook, which is a cute idea, but the tone of the narration is soporific -- Road Home gets Morrison's new characterization of Batman (in his narration if not in his actions), but without the punch that makes Bruce introspective but still dynamic.

Writer Fabian Nicieza is by far the star of Road Home. First of all, it bears mentioning that Nicieza's brief Bruce Wayne/Red Robin Tim Drake reunion sequence in Red Robin: Hit List is head and shoulders better than anything in Road Home/ Nicieza's Road Home: Red Robin chapter, however, reads like another issue from that series, complete with supporting cast, and it's the most seamless (if not terribly remarkable) of the Road Home books; Nicieza's Ra's al Ghul chapter is also good, and Bruce's final conversation with reporter Vicki Vale brings Vale's story to a satisfying conclusion.

Also great, not surprisingly, is Bryan Q. Miller's Road Home: Batgirl story, with no doubt some moments that will satisfy long-time Stephanie Brown fans waiting to see Stephanie get Bruce Wayne's approval (that the Red Robin, Batgirl, and Catwoman issues also use series artists Ramon Bachs, Pere Perez, and Peter Nguyen helps considerably, too). Honorable mention goes to long-time Outsiders writer Mike W. Barr, who writes the Dan DiDio series's tie-in -- very little happens in that issue, and Batman gets remarkably little screen time, but it's another that forwards the plot of something, at least, if not Road Home itself.

Outsiders, however, also shares some of the poorer qualities of Road Home. Outsider Katana guesses Insider's identity, as does Oracle, Commissioner Gordon, Catwoman, Vicki Vale -- basically everyone with a brain and a pulse. The Outsiders don't much meet, interact with, or have a meaningful reunion with the resurrected Bruce Wayne, and neither does Commissioner Gordon or Catwoman; the Gordon book by Adam Beechen is more of a Gordon adventure than a Batman/Gordon one. And most distressingly, the Oracle issue (by a writer I respect, Marc Andreyko) uses the Birds of Prey far more than Oracle and also lacks any meaningful reunion with Batman -- it's another example of the increasing sidelining of Oracle that makes her return to the Batgirl cowl seem unfortunate but necessary.

All told, therefore, after readers have waited over a year to see Batman reunited with the friends who thought him dead, Road Home is shockingly light on the reunions. The Batman: The Return issue by Grant Morrison, collected in Batman & Robin Must Die, is better at least than Road Home because the Bat-family faces Batman and not Insider, but there's a distinct disconnect between those books -- there's never, neither in Road Home nor The Return, any sort of "Sorry about the Insider business; great to see you all!" Nor would I expect there to be -- The Return doesn't reference Road Home because Road Home is fluff, much like Batman: Battle for the Cowl was fluff. One could read straightaway from Grant Morrison's Batman RIP to Morrison's Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn without reading the non-Morrison Battle for the Cowl, just like one can (and does, in the deluxe collection) read straight from Morrison's Batman and Robin Must Die to Morrison's The Return without the non-Morrison Road Home.

Road Home is DC's attempt to sell some more books and make some more profit, filling in the gaps of Batman's return that Morrison leaves untold, possibly because Morrison inuits that these reunions are more than likely better off the page than presented straightaway. In the places that Batman: Bruce Wayne -- The Road Home works (haven't we all been waiting years for Stephanie Brown to slap Batman?), it works pretty well, and for dedicated fans that might be worth the price of admission. But if the highlight of "Batman Reborn" was going to be Catwoman declaring her love for the resurrected Bruce Wayne, or Commissioner Gordon wiping a tear at the sight of his friend, I daresay look elsewhere, because you won't find it here.

[Contains original covers, though not full spread of the connected interlocking covers, unfortunately]

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7 comments:

  1. While an unapologetic Bat-fan, this miniseries really just didn't do it for me. I'd have to bet most of this miniseries was written before anyone in the bat-office actually saw how Morrison was planning on ending ROBW/Batman and Robin Must Die!, so I give the authors some leeway on not matching up with The Return.

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  2. I hadn't considered the writers might not have been aware of what was happening in Morrison's titles; that explains a lot, though I'm not sure it necessarily mitigates anything. Still, the "Insider" plotline just seemed so very early-2000s "Fifth Week" to me -- the Bat-Family are all tested by the Insider; the Bat-Family all turn into apes; the Bat-Family all confront ghosts of their past, etc. As good as Morrison's Batman is, the team still can't get the Bat-Universe crossovers right -- a la Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul.

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  3. Yeah, for the most part this miniseries was a disappointment. It seemed very much like a moneymaking placeholder like Battle for the Cowl. I enjoyed the first 2 instalments (Batman & Robin, Red Robin) a lot, and the Batgirl and R'as Al Ghul instalments were really good too, but the other 4 parts really seemed like a waste. I did like how Bruce finally came clean with Vicki at the end, though. That seemed pretty big for a filler miniseries.

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  4. The Insider idea was all kinds of dumb, as if Bruce couldn't be a voyeur on his friends in his Batman costume without being spotted. That's insulting to his abilities!
    At best they could have put him in the Insider costume as he was reluctant to wear the cowl again after Dr. Hurt's curse and the Road Home could have been used to explain where the new costume came from.

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  5. Entirely, Glint. This is the kind of thing you encounter sometimes in comics that just doesn't pass the "sense test" -- why would Batman, spying on his allies, create an entirely new superhero persona for himself, instead of just spying on them in a new costume, period? And wouldn't any of the Bat-family think, "Huh, Bruce is back, but I haven't seen him lately. And now there's this new guy following me, and he calls himself Insider. 'Insider," hmm ..." It's the kind of simplistic, hurried thing I imagine was decided by committee.

    Wayne's right, though -- the Bruce Wayne/Vicki Vale scene was one of the high points. That's Fabian Nicieza again; I have not liked all of Nicieza's recent work with DC, but this and Red Robin: Hit List from him were quite good.

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  6. Nicieza absolutely hit it out of the park on Red Robin, in my opinion. I loved Yost's 12 issues and hoped that Nicieza could continue in that vein, and he totally did. He continued to make Tim Drake totally badass, and I loved reading every issue of it. I thought it was one of the best series DC put out in recent years; too bad it won't continue.

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  7. The whole Insider thing reminded me of KnightsEnd, where Bruce comes back to claim the mantle of the Bat from Jean Paul Valley, and instead of just putting his own Batman costume on, he feels the need to go through this intermediary identity. So I guess the character has a history of doing strange things when he comes back to become Batman again, but that doesn't really make it any more logical.

    And I'll second Wayne's praise for Nicieza's Red Robin. Definitely one of the better series of recent years.

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