by Bobby Shortle
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW FOR BATMAN INCORPORATED #8
It was a rainy September afternoon, and on my lunch break from work I was sitting in a Subway, a six-inch club sandwich in one hand and an iPad in the other. On the screen of that iPad was Peter J. Tomasi’s Batman and Robin #1, and I’ll admit now I didn’t really like what I was reading. Who was this bratty, jerk of a kid who now wore the tights and colors of the Boy Wonder? Robin was supposed to be a bright eyed, naive countermeasure to the dark brooding nature of Batman, but this little killer was more surly than the Dark Knight ever was. I also found the very idea of him, as Batman’s long lost son, to be one that stretched the thin credulity of comics to its breaking point. So, with no foreknowledge or research, I wrote Damian Wayne off as a Poochie type character and moved on.
My opinion of him would not change until about five months later when Talking Comics welcomed Scott Snyder to the show for the first time. Scott said a lot of insightful and interesting things that night, but the one that stuck with me the most was his high praise for Tomasi’s work on the aforementioned Batman and Robin. I’m generally a pretty stubborn guy, but when the writer of one of your favorite books suggests you check something out, it’s probably a good idea to take heed. So, I revisited the adventures of the Wayne family and I discovered that what I had abandoned as cheap gimmick was actually a fascinating character study.
I began to not just like Damian as Robin, but to love him. This was not just another masked hero, but someone that felt like a real, breathing person. In a universe of established characters who must always tow the line between being modern and remaining true to a 50 year old legacy, here was a still developing member of the Bat-Family whose relative newness allowed him to always subvert your expectations. Was he an Al-Ghul spy? A vicious killer? A doting son? A true hero? He could be all those things and none of them, but at his core he is a boy whose very nature tells him to be bad and yet all he wants is to be good. How could you not find that kind of personal journey fascinating?
It was not long after this second courtship with Tomasi’s work that Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated made its New 52 debut. I had never read a page of Mr.Morrison’s Batman work, but was extremely excited to get as much Damian in my life as possible. Yet once again I was left cold, over an inaugural issue featuring this new Robin. The young Master Wayne in this book felt like a regression from the more cuddly version I had come to love in Batman and Robin. Furthermore, this #1 felt more like the middle of an arc than the start of something new.
I reviewed that book for the site, and the release of that review garnered some impassioned reactions friend of the show Alan Kistler. He was quite quick to point out that even though this book touted the #1 marking that it was in fact a direct continuation from Morrison’s previous work. Not wanting to be left ill informed about a book I reviewed, I decided to go back and do a bit of research on said writing. I’m ashamed to admit that before this time I didn’t know that Damian was Morrison’s creation, but once I did, I made it my mission to read every story he appeared in. I’m very thankful to Alan for his tweets that day, because it not only led me to a better understanding of a character I was beginning to love, but also to become acquainted with the work of the man who is now my favorite comic book writer.
I’m going to go in depth about my feelings on Grant Morrison’s Batman at a later date, but his journey in making the Son of the Demon a true hero has been one of the most rewarding reading experiences of my life. Damian’s story is one many of us can relate to. Sure, most of us aren’t a preteen killing machine who has a crime czar for a mother and the world’s greatest detective for a dad, but we all fear being trapped by our upbringing, that we are slaves to our fate and are doomed by our nature. It would have been easy for this child to fall prey to all of those things, and yet with sheer willpower and a little bit of guidance, he overcame them.
He escaped his demons not by running away from them but by facing them head-on with a clenched fist and a sly smirk. He’s a boy who flew headfirst into a battle he could not win against an opponent who could not be beaten, and he did so not for glory but to try to save someone who had taken the wrong path. It’s fitting that he died attempting to break the cycle of violence he was bred to perfect, and that he gave his last breath in an attempt to give his mother a chance at something she never gave him: redemption. Why? Because that’s what heroes do. They stand up, they make the hard choices and they keep fighting even when all hope is lost.
Several times while writing this I have asked myself the same question. Why do you feel a loss at the demise of a fictional character? The answer is simple. Although Damian Wayne is a creation of pencil and ink, he represents an ethos I can understand, a determination I want to emulate, and a perseverance that can be an inspiration to us all. Oh, and did I mention he’s a fucking badass? We know that death is a transient state in the world of comic books, and that at any moment DC could elect to bring the deceased back into the fold, but that doesn’t lessen the impact for me one iota. Damian you will be missed. “-TT-”