Bruce Wayne: Fugitive #1
by various writers & artists
(DC Comics, 2002)

Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, which continues the story begun in Bruce Wayne: Murderer?, begins on uncertain footing.

Bruce Wayne, incarcerated in Blackgate Prison while awaiting trial for the murder of his former girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild, manages to escape off-panel, tinting the credibility of an already questionable plot development. How did he get out? Why did he leave his bodyguard Sasha Bordeaux behind to face the consequences alone? He returns to the Batcave and, as Batman, refuses all aid from his partners in crimefighting.

Of course, his warnings are ignored, and the Batfamily hunkers down to investigate the clues while waiting for Batman to return to his senses. Meanwhile, Batman involves himself in an investigation centering on a shipment of bad heroin and the possible involvement of covert government ops. Inexplicably, he refuses to involve himself in the investigation of the Fairchild murder. Even more puzzling is the Batfamily's complete lack of interest as to Bordeaux's part in the murder. Apart from a cursory background check, Oracle & Co. seem to care very little what happens to the woman, who is beaten nearly senseless by fellow inmates and has no protection in the deadly environment of Blackgate.

That no one seems to know or care much what happens to Bordeaux is a thoroughly uncharacteristic twist even for a Batman who is so far afield mentally that he has lost his own identity. Turning his back on a person whose life is in danger because of him is an inexcusable warping of the legend to suit the plot -- and it isn't worth such a high cost. There are no reasons given; it's assumed the reader will understand why Bordeaux must remain in prison while Batman deals with a tainted heroin shipment.

The shadowy government operation disrupting the heroin ring is Checkmate, an organization Batman has been tangling with for months. Although important to the story's outcome, it all begins to seem very silly and James Bondish, and the murder-mystery story suffers greatly from a plot now divided into two concurrent stories. Coherence is lost, confusing readers.

The heroin plot feels like it's been crowbarred in to make the murder-mystery denser, and it works. The story meanders, becoming so dense that it sucks the plot down instead of sucking the reader in. Writers can't seem to decide if they're writing a straight action story or an Agatha Christie suspense. Batman is hardly recognizable, treading familiar waters with his loving but weary family members, tired of waiting for the day he'll let them in. This particular psychological territory has been visited several times in the last five years, starting with No Man's Land and continuing through Officer Down. But Fugitive seems to ignore all that, turning over more dirt on a well-visited path.

Although the beginning of this overly long story arc promised to be engaging if not original, the story has by this point become dull. The strange behavior of Batman and his operatives seriously compromises both the characters and the mission for which Batman has surrendered so much.

The artists do well enough, bringing a sense of reality to the action. The art is largely solid throughout, visually stunning in places connected to the heroin-related bits of plot, conforming well to the unfolding action and providing an animated film feel to a lumbering behemoth of a story. The pacing and placing is realistic and gritty.

The first volume of Fugitive is a muddled bridge between Murderer? and the final chapter of the saga. The best cure is to get the final installments, in which many things are cleared up and some truly great writing is churned out, just in time to save a story that was becoming weighed down with its own self-indulgences.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 22 February 2003

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