Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Many have wondered, including me, how it all was going to connect. How Bruce Wayne's travels though time would coincide with one another, and eventually with the future. Well today, we get The Return of Bruce Wayne #3, which takes place almost one hundred after the second issue. This issue is filled with pirates, secret treasure, and bat mythology, and this is where we will begin to see the barely visible threads that linger across time itself.
Bruce exhaustedly stumbles out of the ocean, right at the feet of Blackbeard and his fellow pirates. The exhaustion is physical, and mental, as he begins to get flashes of his life, finally remembering the who he was, and how he got in this position. Blackbeard believes Bruce to be The Black Pirate, a legendary captain, and pilot of The Black Rose. Blackbeard is also convinced that The Black Pirate is the only person who can locate the hidden treasure that is buried deep within the caves in Gotham. Bruce makes it clear that they have the wrong man, but Blackbeard is not one to be negotiated with, so he grabs a young boy on the shore, and threatens to kill the boy if The Black Pirate does not help. Not wanting anyone to get hurt, Bruce agrees to use his skills to find the treasure, as long as the boy is safe, and no one else gets hurt. The boy now begins to stand up for himself, sweet talking Blackbeard, who he calls Commodore Thatch, a legendary sailor that inspired the boy himself to set to sea. The boy also reveals his own name, Jack Loggins, but take note that the boy is narrating the story in the form of a diary, where he calls himself Jack Valor.
So Bruce leads the pirates to the caves, all while Jack does a little more explaining. In narration, Jack reveals that Bruce couldn't possibly be The Black Pirate, but out loud, Jack talks about the local lore of the deer-people joining the bat-people in the caves. Clearly Jack is knowledgeable, and once the pirates notice that, he goes back to the charade of being a clueless boy.
As Bruce leads the pirates though the Miagani cave, Jack marvels at his ability to avoid the traps set by the bat-people. The bat people are true to the name, hanging from the ceiling, and fashioning their hair like bat ears, and never letting themselves be seen. Their traps have unique triggers, but are predictable, especially the bat-arrows.
After Bruce leads the pirates through the first wave of traps, they approach a room that is filled with rotting bodies. Here, Jack begins to talk of another folk-tale, that of the ghost of Jon Valor, the original Black Pirate, but Blackbeard immediately dismisses the idea.
Bruce pauses in front of the room, and realizes that it was the methane gas that killed the men, and not a rumored ghost. He orders that all torches be extinguished before they move one, and also adds to not step on any raised stones. Of course, some of the men fail to pay attention and step on the rigged stones, causing a blue energy to attack them. They men that were not effected rush out the room, and come out behind a waterfall into a different area.
In the present, Batman and Robin are in Blüdhaven, namely Command-D where Darkseid was stationed in Final Crisis, and where Batman's body was found. They're in contact with Wonder Woman, who is at the Justice League headquarters as they discuss how to stop a rogue Batman. That's an interesting thought, as we know Batman was somehow tainted by Darkseid, but the mention of corruption is somewhat new. Back with the Justice League, Wonder Woman puts the League on Black Alert, due to the fact that Superman and the others that left with him have not reported since their trip to the end of time. With that, she turns the mic to Red Robin, as they lay out a strategy for stopping Batman. Tim doesn't really have a strategy though, instead he talks about the relic Batman and Robin found in the secret Batcave under Wayne Manor, the cowl that was draped over the elk antlers. The cowl has highly advanced technology in it, yet it is part of a relic 11,000 years old. Dick chimes in from Command-D, saying that the holes in the cowl match the spikes stemming from the machine that Bruce was connected to in Final Crisis. A new theory is agreed upon: Bruce escaped the machine, shot Darkseid, and was struck with the Omega Effect sending him back in time.
Back to the caves, the pirates are breathing in the sweat, fresh air of this area, as opposed to the methane from the previous room. While Blackbeard's crew is catching their breath, Jack slips away to have a private word with Bruce. Jack says that his real surname is Valor, revealing himself to be the real Black Pirate and captain of The Black Rose. He pulls a cowl from his vest, which looks just like Batman's cowl, except that it has no ears, similar to Red Robin's cowl. Jack says that the cowl belonged to his grandfather, Jon Valor, and the original Black Pirate. Blackbeard, who has attached wicks to his hat and lighting them, giving his head the appearance of being on fire, now notices Bruce and Jack conversing amongst themselves, and demands to know the details of the secret meeting. The pirates corner Bruce off the rock cliff and into the water below with only the cowl in hand. Blackbeard realizes that Bruce is the only man who knew how to maneuver around the traps, so he sets off to follow the trail of the river to find Bruce.
Blackbeard and his men now come to the Bridge of Bones, which confirms to them that there is treasure inside the cave. As the approach the bridge, a batarang hits one of the pirates in the chest, and another receives an arrow in the throat. The pirates are on edge now, and are even further spooked when they look across the bridge and see what they believe to be a ghost, but is actually Bruce wearing the cowl. Bruce/Batman, now pulls his usual awesomeness, and engages the pirates before finally taking them down with the help of a few bat-people.
Bruce and Jack throw Blackbeard and crew into the River of Night, and Jack then takes Bruce to meet the Miagani people. Jack is quite familiar with the bat-people, as he has been allowed to hide in their caves for years. He shows Bruce the carving that the bat-people worship, which is the same statue that Dick discovered in Batman and Robin, Barbatos. Bruce is allowed to see the sacred part of the cave, part of a great mystery that the bat-people claim to hold a great power.
Bruce is led to another cave, where he sees the cowl held to the stone by antlers, as well as his boots and utility belt. He knows these were his items, and he begins to make a connection to the man-of-bat, the Miagani, and Annie...
Bruce exits the cave, right as an eclipse is starting. He realizes that the eclipse triggers his transportation, so he hands Jack the cowl, and tells him to never stop fighting.
Jack tells us some of the events that transpired after Bruce left: Blackbeard/Thatch, was taken to the gallows shortly after the events in the cave, ending most of the piracy in the area. For the pirates that didn't stop, Jack took to using the cowl and stopping them, meeting a girl along the way that he would eventually marry. Jack also wrote down the story of Bruce, including the past places, and people of Bruce's former life. Note that this was at the instruction of Bruce himself, who told Jack all about his former life, maybe in order to leave clues for the future. After the story was completed, Jack met a wealthy brother and sister who instructed him to lock the papers inside a small casket baring a Bat-symbol. Jack never forgot the words that Bruce had spoken, and even as an old man, he still feels a presence when he holds the old cowl.
The last pages take place in a different time: The old west. Two men ride to an abandoned building where they meet a man playing cards to propose a business offer. They offer gold, if only their problem can be taken care of. The man holds up a Joker card, as he reveals himself to be Jonah Hex. The men need the greatest bounty hunter in the west, to take down a new stranger: The Batman of the old west.
Only half way through, and this series is already captivating every bit of my imagination. I can't stop thinking about what will happen once Bruce returns to the present, or what Darkseid has done to make that event disastrous. That casket that holds secrets to Bruce's past lives is the same one that was stolen from the mansion in Batman and Robin. So hopefully we'll find out why El Penitente's men wanted it. Two weeks from the next issue of Batman and Robin, and five weeks until the next issue of Return of Bruce Wayne. That sucks, but it will give plenty of time for us dorks to theorize how all of this connects. Please feel free to leave any theories in the comments.