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It's been a long road home for Bruce Wayne. Believed dead by many (Batman RIP) he was actually cast far into the past and had to battle his way back to the present (The Return of Bruce Wayne). Although back in Gotham, he is not yet ready to reveal himself to his friends and allies. Instead, he adopts a new guise - The Insider - and observes and tests them to see how (and if) they have changed and grown in his absence. Meanwhile, reporter Vicki Vale is threatening to reveal to the world not just the identity of the Batman but of all his allies - a secret Batman's enemies are willing to kill to find out... and one is willing to kill to ensure it remains secrets
The main issue I had with this story (and it's a crucial one) was that I never bought into this central storyline. The idea that Batman/Bruce Wayne would deliberately put his allies in danger, use innocent people as bait or even allow criminals to escape so that he could run the rule over potential allies just never rang true with me. It goes totally against the psyche of the Batman as far as I am concerned and takes Bruce Wayne as a character in a direction that I really don't think is appropriate. It's a pretty critical objection, because if you don't buy into this central conceit and accept this new version of Wayne then the whole story falls apart.
In fairness, it does get stronger as it moves along. The turning point is the episode which focuses on Batman's observations of Jim Gordon. This part is almost worth buying alone. It's clear that the writers of this segment have a clear understanding of both Batman and his relationship with the police (and Gordon, in particular). They also have the ability to express it in a way which is interesting and engaging. This section is easily the strongest part of the whole tale.
It's still never going rank up there with the best Batman tales, and there are still plenty of weak spots, but from this point on it at least shows a lot more promise. I suppose this is inevitable, since all the various plot strands start to come together as the book progresses and the latter parts are able to build on the foundations laid by the earlier ones. Even allowing for that, though, I found them far more interesting and much better written.
The story is quite confusing at times. Even though I am well-versed in Batman's world and have read all the various parts of the Batman RIP storyline, there were times when I was scratching my head. If you've not any one part of the whole RIP/Battle for the Cowl/Return storyline, then you've got no chance. The Road Home assumes a strong existing knowledge of Batman's world and the various characters in it and is not about to spoon-feed you information. The presence of the Insiders, for example, (a group Batman created and has fought alongside on several occasions) will confound casual readers and there are plenty of other potentially head-scratching moments. Despite the fact that it is closing a story that garnered wide-spread interest, The Road Home does not pander to the casual reader - you need to know your Batman to be able to follow this one!
There is some good writing in here, though. Whilst I might not necessarily agree with the interpretation of some of the characters, there are some surprisingly emotional moments that are well-handled. Batman's realisation that he has a strong group of allies that he has not always trusted fully or used well is a series turning point. Similarly, the relationship between Oracle/Barbara Gordon and Batman and Commissioner Gordon and Batman is well written. These are the moments which save the tale from being a major disappointment.
Sadly, the artwork was a disappointment. Over the past couple of years, DC seems to have moved away from the grim and gritty Batman comics of the 90s/2000s and moved towards a simpler, almost childlike approach to drawings. Whilst this might work for some superheroes, it absolutely does not work for Batman and his world (at least not for me). Batman was born in darkness and lives in the shadows. He works in the Shadows. He is, in his own words, "a creature of the night." The artwork needs to reflect this.
Drawing Batman and Gotham using bright colours simply doesn't work. The over-simplistic images (which have more in common with Manga art than Batman graphics of the past) don't serve the story or the characters well. Reducing everyone to round faces with big eyes and spiky hair removes that air of realism so crucial to Batman comics.
In fairness, the artwork is not universally poor and there are some episodes which are significantly better than others. It is deeply variable, however. Each part was drawn by a different artist (or even artists) and it shows. There is no consistent look and feel between parts and there are some wildly different interpretations of Batman and other characters. Despite some obvious connections, you always feel like you are reading six very separate comics, rather than one coherent story, and the variable, ever-changing artwork plays a significant part in fostering this feeling.
Once again, the saving grace is the episode which focuses on Jim Gordon. As with the writing, this has clearly been handled by someone who understands Batman and his world. Colours are washed out and dingy; everything is full of greys and blacks, with stark lines and harsh lighting casting a deep gloom over the whole part. Exactly as it should be, in other words. If only the writers and artists of this segment has been given responsibility for the whole tale, Bruce Wayne: The Return Home could have been so much stronger.
Priced (new) at £14.99, I couldn't really recommend this. Buy it a little cheaper and (providing you have read all the other parts) it's an acceptable read - but nothing more. If you've collected all the other books in the Batman RIP story arc, then you will definitely want to own this to complete the adventure. If you've only bought a couple of them, then you might want to give this one a miss.
Bruce Wayne: the Road Home
Cliff Richards, Fabien Nicieza et al
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Bruce Wayne finally returns to Gotham in this final chapter to the Batman RIP saga