This is certainly an improvement over the first issue.
“Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” #1 was a fine comic, with nice art by Chris Sprouse and a few moments of great drama, but while it was merely good, this second issue is astonishingly great. Frazer Irving deserves much of the credit, with his digitally painted pages evoking fear and splendor and the oppression of the Puritan age along with the madness at the end of the universe. The issue opens with a splash page of a sword-wielding Bruce Wayne confronting a grotesque tentacle monster as he shouts, “Run Girl! Save yourself!” And it gets better from there.
A few of the panels, later in the issue, are perhaps too dark, but it’s a dark story of murder and menace and witchcraft and “the unstoppable conclusion of the thermodynamic process.” If the colors get a bit murky at a crime scene, well that’s because it’s a murky crime scene. It’s not Metropolis on a sunny day.
Irving has weirdly, but appropriately, become a master of the Puritan action genre. From “Seven Soldiers: Klarion” to the not-yet-finished “Gutsville” to this very issue, Irving has returned again and again to stories about dudes with old-timey buckle hats and stern grimaces of judgment. One wonders what his Solomon Kane might look like, but the Savage Tales of Bruce Wayne in this issue give us more than a glimpse.
Grant Morrison does more with the Puritan setting here than he did with the caveman setting of issue #1. Or, at least, he includes more story and more dialogue. Those cavemen tend not to be the loquacious sort. In issue #2, Bruce Wayne, temporarily amnesiac, becomes Mordecai, a would-be witch hunter turned detective, solving murders the old-fashioned way, through deduction and evidence, not by dunking the would-be suspect in the water until she confesses her witchcrafty ways. No, Brother Malleus is the one who does that sort of thing, and he looks like a gaunt cousin of our hero Bruce, and for good reason.
And at the end of the universe, Superman and his pals learn more about the mysteries of the immense “cosmic loom” and “cube time.” In other words, it’s Morrison using his metafictional approach to the metaphysics of the DC Universe, explaining why their world might seem two-dimensional from our perspective. “It certainly fits with what I’ve experienced,” says Superman, who reached out to us in “Final Crisis: Superman Beyond.” And as much as “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” is a continuation of the epic Batman saga that Morrison has been telling since he launched Damian Wayne and the ninja Man-Bats into the world, it’s also a continuation of “Final Crisis,” as Superman so elegantly reminds us when he shouts, “Darkseid turned you into a doomsday weapon and aimed you directly at the 21st century!”
That doesn’t sound good, does it? But it’s Bruce Wayne. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. Morrison and Irving certainly do.