…and hoping the next leap will be his leap home.
This week, the Return of Bruce Wayne, through time and space, devils and demons and the end of the universe!
At the end of Final Crisis we saw Bruce back in caveman times, so we knew all this time he wasn’t dead. This volume opens then, with a small group from the deer tribe out in the holy land — they are looking for old man, the shaman, and ushering a boy into manhood. They discover Bruce in a cave along with the corpse of the shaman. They assume Bruce is a god or devil, appearing in holy ground along with a capsule sent back by Superman and the rest of the Justice League. Bruce sent a message back with the recorder, even though he couldn’t remember who he was. The nearby tribe attacks the small group and take Bruce hostage. The young boy, transformed by war paint into a new Robin, rescues him (proving, once again, that Robin’s job is saving Batman’s ass). This boy becomes the first of the bat-people, the Miagani, who survive nearly into the modern day in the caves around and under Gotham and then a family with traditions carrying a box full of artifacts forward. The box matches Bruce’s travel through time, and he adds to it, through items or stories, in each era he visits.
So if I summarized each issue this post would be too long. Suffice it to say each is fantastic. Bruce visits the Puritanical pre-Gotham village, the coast when Blackbeard visits, the 1800s when Jonah Hex rides — and is hired to kill Bruce — and some strange time between the 1920s and the 1960s, shortly after Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed. Bruce is suckered into playing detective by a woman who is one of the first members of the Black Glove. Hurt, who was also in the 1800s, having been granted immortality by his deal with Barbatos, has created a ritual that needs a human sacrifice — it is also the source of the photos defaming Martha and Thomas’s character that he used in RIP.
Bruce wanders through a world of science and magic in this story, from witches and demons to robots and time machines — he uses a time machine made by one of the participants in the ritual to jump forward to the end of time, where a waystation collects all data in the universe to fire it into a black hole like a message in a bottle as the world ends.
Recapitulated themes are all over this volume. Batman trails magic behind him. He changes himself in each era, enough to survive. And his character is reflected in his friends: Superman and Tim Drake both point out that what Batman does is survive and succeed.
This is a danger because Darkseid’s Omega Sanction filled Bruce with Omega energy. As he hops through time he gains more and more. If he returns to the space-time point he left — the present day — he will “blow a hole” in space and time. Bruce knows there’s a problem, but not what it is. He figures out though that he is being pursued by a hunter-adapter, an Apokolips device meant to pursue through time, space, anything, everything, changing as it goes. It is the dark shadow of Batman himself, doing whatever it takes. It is the thing that infected Hurt. It is the devil, passing through the entirety of history seeking Batman and infecting people with evil as it goes.
The frightening revelation captured in this mirroring is that Batman’s method is not the method of Good — it is not the method of Evil, either. It is neutral, an in-between point between the horrifying manipulation and decay of Darkseid and the beatific standing up and immobility of Superman. The hunter-adapter is a meme, an infectious idea traveling through time in the trail of another infectious idea: Batman. Without really intending to Batman creates his own history, the Bat-People who act a lot like him — stealthy, dangerous, secretive, protective, exclusive. I am shocked that no one else has tried to do any stories using the Miagani, as it would be simple to have survivors still holed up in the caves (I know Morrison basically wrote them into a corner, but please, comics are made of ret-cons, and it could make for a good story, the only guideline for whether or not to go for it). Just like the “Bat-Family” surrounding Bruce in the present era, all the people Bruce meets through his travels become part of his mission, even if they don’t do much of anything. It was necessary for him to be shot, even, by Hex, so he could be the unsuspecting victim of the actress’s and Hurt’s plan. This narrative, like the last time travel story, is about the story of Batman closing around Bruce like the jaws of a trap. Remember <i>Arkham Asylum</i>? A spirit, possibly the spirit of Batman as created by Bruce, haunts Arkham and Gotham backwards as well as forwards — Arkham’s mother feared a bat spirit coming for her in the night. The obsessive doctor who tries to relive Arkham’s life screeches at Batman that it’s all his fault, while he (the doctor) wears Arkham’s mother’s wedding dress. That’s because Batman is an idea as well as a person in a costume — this isn’t a startling idea, even the Nolan movies talked about that. But Nolan handles the idea as one that is perpetuated by the people in the suit, Bruce or Robin. But these Morrison comics portray the idea as almost standing alone — created, at first, by Bruce Wayne, but standing alone now. It works similarly to the way people like Foucault and Althusser described it: like the police, Batman exists even when he is not there. There could be a police car (and a radar gun) around every corner on the interstate, and Batman could be in every shadow of Gotham. But Bruce has done his job so well that he now exists in the kind of world he said the Justice League lives in: everything he touches turns to myth, just like Superman. Batman is the avenging angel.