This last week, tragedy struck the Dark Knight, a hero that’s more than familiar with it. Now that we’re near the end of what is surely a historic run on the Batman character by writer Grant Morrison, the events of the current Batman Incorporated title are building to a crescendo with great rapidity. This is easily signified by the loss of one of the newest, and yet most beloved characters in the DC Universe: Damian Wayne, the latest young man to take on the mantle of Robin, the Boy Wonder.
Already, I can hear people calling shenanigans at DC Comics for doing what is obviously a blatant publicity grab by killing off Batman’s partner. The facts, though, go deeper than many of the perceptions. You see, Grant Morrison has been writing Batman since July of 2006 in one form or another. He started in the main Batman title, before hopping to new books like Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated. He’s told time spanning stories, one-shots, and even separate mini-series featuring the character. His main mission? Take out all of the “dirt” in Batman’s history that no one else wanted to touch, shine a light of modernity on it, and drag the Dark Knight out of his comfort zone to deal with truly unique situations, conflicts, and characters. One of those situations was one of the most frightening of all: parenthood.
Bruce had served as a surrogate parent before to the likes of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, and a couple of others over the years. He hadn’t, though, ever had a child that was truly his own until that summer Wednesday in 2006, when Grant Morrison’s first Batman issue was released.
Damian’s first appearance was in Batman #655, Morrison’s inaugural issue of his momentous run, draped in shadow with his mother, Talia al Ghul, while watching his father fight. At the end of the next issue was when the two saw each other for the first time, and from the first words to Batman out of the young boy’s mouth, he was instantly derided as a little snot.
“Father. I imagined you taller.”
From there, the young boy was brought into the fold, showing great promise due to his training with the elusive League of Assassins, led by his grandfather: legendary Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul. A decade prior, Talia drugged Batman and took advantage of him, impregnating herself thinking that the Daughter of the Demon and the World’s Greatest Detective could easily create the perfect human child. She moved Damian from her own womb to an artificial one (to “keep her figure,” as writer Grant Morrison put it) and saw to it that he was trained by the greatest minds of the League of Assassins over the entirety of his life. What the poor young boy wouldn’t get in the deal, though, was a loving mother. As long as Damian excelled as a killing machine, she cared very little for the boy.
Over the next several months after his initial appearance, Damian would show up periodically in the pages of Batman, but after the events of Batman R.I.P. and the universe-spanning event Final Crisis, it looked as though the world had lost Bruce Wayne forever. In his stead, original Robin Dick Grayson, who had since become the solo hero Nightwing, took up the mantle of his mentor and began patrolling the streets of Gotham as a new Dark Knight. Tim Drake, the third Robin, had embarked on a global quest to search for evidence confirming that Bruce still lived. As a result, there was a vacancy in the Robin role, and Dick chose Damian to fill it.
Over the next year and a half, Dick and Damian became the new team of Batman and Robin. Where most people including non-comics fans understand that dynamic as a dark, brooding Batman with an upbeat, carefree Robin, the Dick/Damian partnership actually reversed it. With the original Robin now serving as Batman, the Dark Knight was now a bit more lighthearted and whimsical. Contrasting this was Damian, truly his father’s son, maintaining the furrowed brow expected of a Wayne in true form, along with a mean streak and a sizable amount of brutality to match. This was a Robin who was trained to kill, and there were several times that he fulfilled that training and saw admonishment by the new Batman and other members of the child’s new family.
And this is where the tragedy of Damian really comes into play: after he donned the mask of Robin, it became clear that Damian had never been truly equipped with the ability to just be a kid. At ten years old, he strove endlessly for the approval of his mother. When she basically disowned him, the young boy was obviously crushed, but he had a cushion in the most atypical family of all: the Bat-family. Even when outwardly insulting and belittling his predecessors and the trusted butler, Damian would end up drawing great strength not only from his father, but from the family his father had created: from Alfred, to Dick, Tim, Barbara Gordon, and even Jason Todd, Damian found a way to earn all of their respect and vice versa, and for the first time in his life was occasionally allowed to act his age.
After The Return of Bruce Wayne, Dick eventually returned to his role as Nightwing and Bruce kept Damian on as Robin, at first on a trial basis. Then, recently, when his mother was revealed as the culprit behind a faceless, mega-terrorist organization called Leviathan, responsible for much of Batman’s ills of the last several years. Damian betrayed the trust of his father and was “grounded.” While Batman was trapped after an attack by the organization, Damian took it upon himself to charge in as Robin once more, and in a valiant battle, was murdered by an agent of Leviathan with a very close, personal tie to Damian himself.
Although, like many, I was annoyingly spoiled by DC’s endorsement of a pre-emptive article spoiling the character’s death in the New York Post, I was shocked when I read the actual issue: Batman Incorporated #8. A character that I had grown very fond of over the last several years was now gone, and although we know comic book death is hardly permanent, I feel like this one will stick around for a while.
Grant Morrison originally stated that it was his plan to kill the character off within the first story arc that the kid appeared in, but it was quickly apparent to DC editorial and Mr. Morrison that there was greater potential in him. It wasn’t long before he took on a life and following of his own, and it was his popularity that resulted in him succeeding Tim Drake as Robin. Now that Morrison’s run on the Batman character is coming to an end, the writer is thematically bringing things full circle: he gave us Damian, and now he’s taking the boy away.
In the Post article, Morrison sums up the aim with Damian that was heart-wrenchingly and painfully apparent to all of the character’s fans observing his evolution. He said, “What we did was turn this little monster into a superhero.” From the ashes of a violent, skillful, murderous ninja came a definitive and truly noble hero, thinking nothing of himself when it came time for the boy’s end.
Having read that character’s full arc from beginning to end, I can tell you that it was one of the most absolutely resonant character arcs I may have ever read in comics, and even though I’m sorry to see that bad ass little Robin go, that death really meant something. And in the end, that’s the difference between a throwaway plot device designed to spike sales and a profound narrative with bold character statements and a lot of emotional weight.
So, in this piece, I salute Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and the dozens of other writers and artists that have served to give Damian life over the last several years, as well as a desire to salute the fallen Boy Wonder himself. Damian taught me that it’s possible to overcome our programming as long as we aspire to be more than we are, and though he was a full-fledged superhero at the end, that is a defining statement of the human experience.
Not bad for some comic books.
Robin, the Boy Wonder
2006 – 2013
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