After a long delay and some help from Pere Pérez on art, “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” #5 finally arrives this week and it’s one of the strongest issues of the series yet. As the series approaches its conclusion, Grant Morrison begins to draw connections not only with previous issues of this mini-series, but with his work on the character in “Batman” and “Batman and Robin” by exploring the days after the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. An amnesiac Bruce Wayne acting as a detective ostensibly hired to find the killer of his parents is a clever hook for the issue and finally places him in a role that’s as close to being Batman without actually being Batman.
Waking in a Gotham hospital after being shot, Bruce is roped into a scheme to prove that Thomas Wayne is still alive and plotted the assassination of his wife by actress and friend of Martha, Marsha Lamarr. Lamarr has been mentioned previously in connection to John Mayhew, the director of “The Black Glove” and as part of the ‘secret lives’ of the Waynes that came to light during “Batman R.I.P.” Through her, the connections to Simon Hurt, Martha Wayne’s parents, Professor Carter Nichols, and others appear, playing off Bruce’s lack of memory so none of this information means anything to him while also delivering lots of clues and hints for attentive readers. From there, you can see how Morrison draws upon everything in his run for this story, creating a larger tapestry.
But, the comic isn’t just a collection of clues and allusions, the story by itself is engaging as Morrison uses the detective story as a filter through which Bruce sees the world, narrating in a mixture of a hard-boiled style and his usual voice. Lamarr is cast as the femme fatale, both alluring and dangerous, wanting Bruce to play the role of the detective on the surface, while obviously having a secret agenda. That part of the story has a fun, playful mood to it that’s contrasted with the larger, more serious nature of the ‘Bruce Wayne in time’ plot. The tone shifts as the issue progresses and the plot moves from detective noir to another piece of the larger Morrison Batman narrative.
Ryan Sook is a great choice for this issue with the way he draws Lamarr. Morrison writes her as the femme fatale, but what really sells the idea is Sook’s pencils and Jose Villarrubia’s colors. Sook imbues her with a vibrant energy in the way she walks or wears her hat. She looks classy in a smart green outfit, but that’s contrasted with her near-constant smoking and cold, icy gaze. Bruce, in his suit, looks the part of the detective, moving with confidence and a stoic face that reveals nothing much of the time. His best character interpretation, though, is a single page showing Simon Hurt in a dark room with a single light source. The shadows give him a supernatural, creepy look.
Sook’s clean, bold cartooning sets the standard for the issue and Pere Pérez carries it through, drawing the final third of the comic. Pérez has shown himself a competent artist previously, but shows radical improvement here as he tries to match Sook. He uses the same slightly off kilter angles and minimalist line work. The transition between the two is smooth.
“The Return of Bruce Wayne” #5 uses the detective genre to position Bruce Wayne closer to his true identity than ever before and draws upon everything that’s come before in Morrison’s Batman work. Morrison balances between Bruce as detective and the larger picture very well, making sure each part is given adequate space and focus. Though Ryan Sook doesn’t draw the entire issue, Pere Pérez manages to replicate his style remarkably well. This issue was definitely worth the wait.