August 07, 2010


Batman has been tripping through time in THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE mini-series. I was wondering if he'd encounter any Indians. Answer: Yes, in issue #4.

Batman: The Return of Bruce WayneBatman: The Return of Bruce Wayne is a 6-issue American comic book limited series published by DC Comics beginning in May 2010, written by Grant Morrison and featuring a team of rotating artists starting with Chris Sprouse and Frazer Irving.

The series picks up from Batman and Robin #12. The series will detail the journey Bruce Wayne takes through the timestream of the DC Universe after being deposited in the distant past by Darkseid in Final Crisis. Wayne will have to overcome amnesia and "history itself" in order to make his way back to present-day Gotham City and retake his rightful place as Batman. The series will run for six issues, each covering a different time period. The time periods will be that of prehistory, the witch hunts, pirates at sea, the wild west, the noir era, and present day Gotham.
The premise of #4:By the late 19th century, a group of Gotham criminals had incurred the ire of caped mystery horseman. So they hired the deadliest gunman in the Americas to defend them: the man known as Jonah Hex.Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4--ReviewThe Story:  As he bounces through time, Bruce Wayne ends up in the Old West where he tangles with a familiar face.

What’s Good:  It was kinda cool to see a Batman-Lone Ranger mash-up.

What’s Not So Good:  What is the deal with the Native American guy? I found myself scratching my head a LOT while reading this issue and really didn’t enjoy the experience at all.

I also don’t understand why Jonah Hex needed to be in this issue. The movie already tanked! Since Morrison was completely neglecting the main story, why not do something cool and have Bruce and Jonah play a bit of cat-n-mouse in some old canyon? That would have been a lot more fun. And I thought Gotham was an east coast town? This whole thing is written as if it took place in 1870s Arizona.
Blogger Greg Burgas adds:The Indian's switch from "bad" guy to "good" guy makes no sense, but he's a minor character so I don't worry about it too much.

I'm also not sure why Jonah Hex needs to be in this issue. He doesn't seem terribly necessary. I guess if a DC comic takes place in the Old West, even in an eastern city like Gotham, Hex needs to make an appearance!
Comment:  Does RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #4 really take place in the Old West? Jonah Hex is a post-Civil War figure. If the story was set in, say, 1870, would Gotham City look like a Western town with a lot of single-story wooden buildings? Wouldn't it look more like the Chicago or New York of 1870, with a lot of brick and mortar buildings and nascent skyscrapers?

I think of the Old West as being pre-Civil War. I guess you could call the post-Civil War era the Wild West, though it grew progressively less wild. More to the point, A Wild West story has to take place in the West. Gotham City is an Atlantic seaport located in New Jersey or thereabouts. There's no such thing as the Wild East.

Since I'm not spending $4.00 for a single comic book, I glanced at this issue in the comic-book shop. The young Indian man appears on 4-5 pages. He has his long hair tied behind his head and is dressed like a respectable citizen in silk shirt and pants. Kudos for not making him look stereotypical, at least.

White man's history

In this series, we see how the myth-making process works. What historical representatives does writer Grant Morrison have Bruce Wayne meet and become? Cavemen, Pilgrims, pirates, cowboys and Indians, and gangsters and G-Men. If you were to look at comic strips or Halloween costumes of America's past, these would be five of the leading subjects. (Never mind that America didn't have any cavemen.)

To many people, this is a fair approximation of what American history is about. Morrison could've had Bruce Wayne interact with farmers, abolitionists, labor unions, suffragettes, or civil rights leaders. He could've had Bruce Wayne fight in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, or the Spanish-American War.

But that wouldn't have sent the right message about America. Instead, Morrison focused on some of our mythical heroes. These people embody our romantic vision of America, Morrison is saying, and Batman belongs among them.

In this context, it's unsurprising that an Indian appeared as a minor figure. It's even unsurprising that his role was morally ambiguous. This is kind of how we view Indians: as minor players in the white man's American history.

For more on the subject, see How America Became Cowboy Country and Movies Convey "America's Master Narrative." For more on Natives and comics books, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.


John Lees said...

If you want to continue the "Indian in American history" analogy a little further, the white villains depend on the Indian for his expertise and knowledge, then promptly kill him when he begins to question the morality of the whole affair and can no longer be exploited.

I think it's worth noting that, amidst a collection of grotesque, amoral antagonists (not including Jonah Hex, who isn't really part of the group), the Indian seems to be the sole voice of morality, warning the others to turn back before they open pandora's box ("there's something crazy wrong with all of you people.")

Rob said...

Morrison explains why he used unoriginal takes on US history:

GM: I thought we had to put him up against something that he would be very uncomfortable with, and time travel seemed like it would be fun. It was also to show what he grew out of, those antecedents in the heroes of the past, the pulp fiction heroes. Cavemen and cowboys and pirates--it was a lit bit of a literary joke as well in the sense that he was kind of reeling in the entire history of pulp.