Jul 3, 2016

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 495: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1, July 2010

http://www.comics.org/issue/755424/

When this series came out, I was beginning to put into words the ideas I'd been having about comics and their place as a site of serious academic study. For me, unlike many comics scholars, it's never really been about the medium itself, though if the message is the medium, the influence of the medium on any critical interrogation is inescapable. But for me, it was always the stories. Comics tell stories in a way that no other medium does. It's not only a matter of the hybridity of the format, or of the periodical/serialized nature of the publishing schedule. Somehow, in a way I've yet to really wrap my head around, it's the stories themselves. Now, this could, of course, be a matter of personal preference, of comics telling stories in a way that I find speaks to me but, most especially in the case of the stories of the superheroes, I think there's something more to it. I'm thinking that once I start getting a draft of my dissertation together, I'll post the bits dealing with my thinking through superhero stories here.

But back to the comic at hand. What I loved about this series is that it took the character of Batman and placed him in a fascinating array of literary types from throughout the history of American literature. Issue 2 sees us in a Scarlet Letter-esque situation. We have buccaneers, cowboys, noir-ish detectives. These are not only representative of various eras of the history of the American continent, but also of various genre fictions that come out of the settler culture on that continent. And it's important to recognize the adaptation of a modern myth into the other generic myths that have built the edifice of American literature.

That said, today's initial comic is a bit more difficult to fit into that lineage, mainly because there's no real evidence of Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon humans in North America (as far as I know), and, setting-wise, the whole series is supposed to be taking place in the environs around what will one day be Gotham. The story would have been more authentically-set had we had tribes that resembled either the people of Northern Asia who came across the land bridge into Alaska, or that resembled the Aboriginal peoples who came to populate the continent before the American settlers arrived. This, however, is me layering actual history onto DCU history, which is never a good idea. Who's to say that Vandal Savage didn't lead a tribe or two of Neanderthals to North America at some point?

A note on the art - I fucking love Chris Sprouse. His work on Alan Moore's Supreme is one of my favourite artistic runs on a comic ever, and he's one of those artists who I will always look at when he's got a new series or work out. There's an ad in the back of this comic for a new Tom Strong series that he works on. One day, I'll get to reading through Tom Strong and I'll gush about Sprouse and Story's art. I think what it is is that Sprouse and Story manage to convey many different moods with a remarkable simple and efficient art style. And the people all look different, instead of, as with some comics artists, everyone having the same face, just with different eye or lip colours. (This is a problem especially with some artists' women, who seem to all be the same woman, just with different hair styles.) Their style allows for shifts from the comedic (as we'll see in some Tom Strong) to the brutally (Vandal) savage, as in this comic, and the shifts are seamless. Both are great storytellers, and are definitely worth your attention.

A bit more of Bruce's adventures tomorrow, before we catch up with those in the present who are looking for him. Onward!

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