“Tell the others it’s over, Alfred. Batman. All of it. This madness is over.” – Bruce Wayne, Batman Incorporated #1
The big news of the week is the death of Damian Wayne, latest Robin and son of the Dark Knight himself. Created in an Elseworlds story in the 80’s, the idea of “Bruce and Talia’s kid” showed up in a couple other alternate realities. My favorite of which is Kingdom Come where under the name Ibn al Xu’ffasch, he didn’t do anything of note. They don’t even outright spell it out that it’s Bruce’s kid until the sequel, but like with much of that comic, there’s miles of details to be found throughout. For instance, despite being a part of Lex Luthor’s little cabal against metahumans, it’s strongly suggested that Ibn is a mole working for his father all along.
His subtle storyline leads to one of my favorite little moments in that book. During the end, there’s a page that shows Batman walking through the Batcave, now transformed into a hospital for people affected by a nuclear bomb. All of Luthor’s league are forced to wear control collars as they tend to the sick, except for Ibn. Off to the side, there’s a sequence that tells its own story. Ibn drapes a sheet over a body. He appears broken up over this loss of life, but Bruce stops by to give him a reassuring look.
Ibn also had a mullet. That was a plus.
Anyway, the fully-realized Damian has become a focal point of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. He appeared as something of a villain in the very first story, gradually turning into something a little less evil. He faded into the background for much of the early run and remained a complete bastard, especially towards his “brother” Tim Drake. Also, there was that look to the future in Batman #666 that showed a reality where he would become Batman after supposedly selling his soul to the Devil.
Damian wouldn’t begin to show any real change until Bruce’s supposed death. Battle for the Cowl gets a lot of warranted criticism for being an unnecessary miniseries meant to cash-in on Batman being dead, but there is one sequence I kind of like. Damian steals the Batmobile and takes some unidentified teenage girl for a joyride. Shit goes down, they get split up and Damian finds out that she’s been killed by Killer Croc. It’s actually kind of shocking to see Damian have a horrified reaction to this. By this point, any moments of him working on the side of good has been self-serving, trying to get Bruce’s approval or simply just fighting for the sake of fighting. It’s the first reassuring moment in the character’s history as there’s something resembling humanity being shown.
We’re introduced to the new Dynamic Duo in the form of Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian as Robin and I can’t praise it enough. I loved Dick as Batman. It felt so right. I loved this more optimistic Batman, whose confidence came with outright swagger. I loved how this contrasted with Damian, the younger and yet more serious one. It keeps showing that no matter how many lives he saves and villains he defeats, Dick Grayon is such an important staple to the Bat mythos for simply existing. He’s such an awesome dude that others are better from just hanging out with him.
That couldn’t last forever and while there were two Batmen running around by the time Bruce came back from “the dead”, DC dropped the concept once the New 52 dropped. The Batman and Robin series would bring us the Bruce/Damian duo, an idea Bruce had already disagreed with in an earlier story. They stayed with it and it worked.
Now Damian’s dead. Maybe. Who knows with Grant Morrison and comics these days? There are still four more issues of Batman Incorporated, after all, and Morrison isn’t really known for ending his comic runs on downers. For the sake of argument, let’s act like Damian really is dead. I’m going to miss the little guy.
Thinking about it, most comic book deaths don’t affect me. At least, not the serialized superhero ones from Marvel and DC. Marvel has rarely made me care about a character dying. Human Torch meant little to me because his return was too obvious. I wasn’t reading Ultimate Spider-Man for years, so Ultimate Peter’s demise had no effect. The only Marvel character whose death got to me in a way lately was Eric O’Grady Ant-Man, who died selflessly and because of the story that followed, his death is swept under the rug and nobody seems to care that he’s gone. That’s really depressing.
Kid Loki’s death too, now that I think about it.
DC kills characters all over the place, but the last good one I can think of is Vic Sage in 52, slowly succumbing to lung cancer as his friend an eventual successor drags his dying body across sub-zero temperatures in a failed attempt to find him help. It works for the same reason Damian’s works. It’s not exactly a shocking reveal. It’s something that the writer openly builds to ahead of time, treating it as a natural cog in the storyline and not doing it for the sake of shocking publicity (DC’s going that route anyway, but that’s on them). Plus, these are characters I genuinely enjoy.
I’m bummed because Damian was so great as Robin, even if it meant Tim Drake got shoved into borderline obscurity. Each Robin has their own unique dynamic. Dick was the positive influence who kept Bruce from being too dark. Jason was the failed attempt to recreate that success, while also existing as the epitome of comic book pessimism. Tim was an outsider who recognized the importance of Dick as Robin and wanted to fill that void, only to suffer from Bruce’s behavior affecting him instead of the other way around. Stephanie… don’t care. She was a plot device gimmick and only worth a damn as Batgirl. Damian’s deal is that he was his father’s son.
I don’t mean to demean the idea of Dick being Bruce’s ward or Tim being the adopted son. It’s more that on his bad days, Bruce has the tendency to demean those ideas. Dick and Tim are his soldiers and this is a war. He has no family. He lost the concept of family when he was 8. He’s able to rationalize this because he’s weird like that. Damian changed that because asshole or not, he’s Bruce’s son. He’s blood. Bruce can’t ignore that no matter how bent he is on the war.
More than anything else, Damian is like him. None of the other Robins were ever truly like Bruce. They understood him and humored him, but they were never like him. Outside of his body count, Damian follows in his father’s behavior. That’s what made his run with Dick Grayson as Batman so much fun. After all these years, Batman was the joking optimist and Robin was the brooding, dark one.
The biggest example of this is the end of Morrison’s Batman and Robin run. Bruce has returned from his supposed death and teams up with the new Batman and Robin. The revelation that Damian is Robin comes as something of a surprise, as Damian hadn’t shown much promise in that regard when Bruce was still accounted among the living. Once things calm slightly, he looks at a destroyed painting of his parents.
“You made the right choices. I’m proud of you.”
Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get Batman to say something so touching, but there’s a reason for it. Damian’s pain is his pain. He’s a child whose father died and now he’s dedicated to dressing up and avenging him. Every time I look at this sequence, I can’t help but feel that Batman is telling him this because Damian is living out his own dream of having his father come back and this is exactly the thing that Bruce has dreamed of hearing Thomas Wayne say. Also, he’s realizing that as much as it means to him, that painting is nothing but sentiment. It’s a reminder of a family that’s gone, yet the Wayne family truly lives on.
When Dick was written out of the Batman role and it strictly became Bruce and Damian fighting crime together, I was a little apprehensive. What kind of dynamic is Bruce and Little Bruce? Then I realized that Bruce Wayne isn’t so high on himself in the first place and by putting him with his mirror, you’re only going to get static. That leads to an interesting realization about the Batman corner of DC’s New 52. Despite all the big owl and Joker storylines in Snyder’s blockbuster Batman run, as well as Grant Morrison’s grand finale in Batman Incorporated, my favorite Bat-book has been Batman and Robin by Peter Tomasi. He’s really done a fantastic job of showing that in order for Bruce to make Damian grow up right, he has to grow up himself.
The first big storyline has to do with Nobody, son of Ducard and the man who Bruce almost killed one time in a fit of rage. He tries to get Damian to be his sidekick as they go around killing the criminals who they feel deserve it. At the same time, Batman’s discovering sketches in Damian’s room that depict him horribly murdering their rogues gallery (ie. cutting Two-Face in half and roasting Penguin like a pig). In the end, Batman wins, but he watches in horror as Damian kills Nobody. This leads to a big talk between the two where we discover how affected by death young Damian is.
Just like in that Kingdom Come sequence, a wiser Bruce is there to reassure a son who needs it.
In his latter days, Damian was raised by three men. One was Bruce, who would see him as a younger version of himself from before the time the friendship of others lightened his life. Then there’s Alfred and Dick, the two responsible for making Bruce a better person. Despite the dark future presented in a couple of Morrison’s comics, Damian’s been given the potential of being the perfect Batman. The one just as smart and driven as Bruce, but mentally balanced and human like Dick. That makes his death that much more of a punch to the gut.
It’s not a bad death, though. It certainly doesn’t come out of nowhere for mere shock value. Plus there’s a bit of redemption in there. Not just for his behavior as Talia’s little killer bastard, but for that girl that Killer Croc devoured, as well as his failure to save Scarlet in Morrison’s first Batman and Robin arc. Damian dies defending Ellie, an innocent young woman who’s acted as a recurring innocent in Morrison’s run. The last thing said before he dies in Batman’s arms is Ellie whispering, “He saved me.”
He goes out a hero. Good for him.
He’s pretty dead, but he’s also an Al Ghul and you know how hard it is to get rid of those (unless it’s Nyssa). Plus, keep in mind, the last time DC made a big deal about a character dying, it was to promote Morrison doing a comic where Batman obviously doesn’t die in order to set up another comic where Batman obviously doesn’t die. It’s hard to say if Damian will still be Robin if he’s still breathing by the final curtain or if he’ll be sent away to live the normal childhood that a kid like him deserves. Then again, that would just be the ending of Kick-Ass, so what do I know?