(Spoilers!) Well, we can’t say that we didn’t know it was coming. From early on in the run, Grant Morrison has said in interviews and at convention appearances that his six year Batman run would end in heartbreak.
Even for those who somehow missed DC’s massive spoiler alert, Morrison’s obvious love for the character that everyone initially hated, then came to love, marked his doom. Along with, of course, the bizarrely popular reset button that every superhero character possesses, demanding that writers put their “toys back in the box” when they leave.
It’s perhaps testament to Damian Wayne’s popularity that even as the death promoting cover leaked, with the events spelled out by the publisher and revealed by the writer, that fans first hoped the “death” was another misdirect, and now cling to the idea that no one in comics ever truly dies. And that latter trope is now partly the problem with the whole concept of death and loss within the superhero genre – when heroes die every week only to return weeks, months or years later, what impact does killing them even have anymore? Especially Robins. For every fan feeling a little sad at this newest revelation, there are ten more dismissing the gravity of the plot out of hand, with a dismissive, “he’ll be back”.
Morrison of course – love him or hate him – is not known for casually killing his characters. Every plot thread and complex idea in the last six years has been leading up to this moment; the culmination of the twisted war between parents that has their spoiled and far wiser child at the centre. To dismiss this latest character death as nothing more than controversy seeking is to underestimate the intricate planning behind these events.
Morrison didn’t create the concept of Batman’s son, but he moulded Damian into one of the strongest characters in Gotham, giving us a Robin that was truly different from his predecessors. Playing the dour Boy Wonder to Dick Grayson’s chipper Batman revitalised the concept of the Dark Knight in a whole new direction; the resulting Batman Incorporated somewhat hamstrung by the narrow confines of the continuity obsessed New 52.
That particular pairing resurfaces in Batman Incorporated #8. We’ve seen over the past few issues that Damian is not the Batman of the future that Bruce assumed. Instead that honour goes to an unnamed monster, a bizarre adult clone of Damian who his mother has raised from the belly of a whale. A leviathan. Curiously enough, leviathans and whales have been swimming around my own mind recently; from my re-reading of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ The Unwritten, to the recent season of Supernatural, and the arguments of Thomas Hobbes. Symbolism is usually a tad more subtle in the works of Morrison, but the whale is such a potent allegory that it is no shock to see it break through.
Chris Burnham plays his pages mostly straight, with some fantastic fragmented panel layouts and one of those amazing scatter pages picturing the most frantic fight scene in the book. Glass and broken glass is a repeated motif once more, both fracturing Batman’s struggle to escape his confines and heralding the entrance of the various Robins. The near colourless clone is draped in a cloak of fire at the climax, mirroring the cape of Damian in a hellish form. The final splash page brings together glass, fire and rain with deceptively simple ease; the final page finishing on an extra tiny panel sequence, another of Burnham’s signatures, now fading to black.
This issue is all about the Robins, with Batman only appearing on two pages. Damian rides to the rescue, briefly saving Grayson on the way, as Tim fights off the Leviathan henchmen and saves a damsel in distress (Ellie). With an army of brainwashed children on his heels, Damian starts cracking skulls (because children on children violence isn’t quite as worrying as adults beating on them) before ending the fight with his quick thinking. Not quick enough however, as our other former Robin, Grayson bursts on to the scene to save him from gunfire.
I won’t lie, having those two team up again is, well, awesome. There’s a little foreshadowing in Damian’s praise for Grayson which sounds more than a little like a goodbye. “We were the best Richard. No matter what anyone thinks.” Knowing what is to come, that is perhaps the real moment of sadness. The final battle comes down to Damian and his demonic twin, with both Tim and Grayson laying broken on the floor.
As Damian begs his mother to stop, to call off her monster, he remains sure that he is the only one who can reach her. He steps in to save Ellie from the monster, remembering his promise to his father that he would never kill again…
His faith is misplaced. His last word is “mother”. Talia weeps, Bruce is too late, and Damian dies a hero. And unseen, I can’t help but think of the little kitten back home waiting on him.
Damian was a character nobody should have been able to relate to – a poor little rich kid begging the attention of his parents. And yet, Batman himself is equally unrelatable – a playboy millionaire with a disturbing obsession with crime-fighting, a detective with near superhuman psychological barriers, and often just a big brooding emo kid. But we love him, of course, and not just for his gadgets. He’s human and so his achievements seem that much greater than the big Boy Scout. He is ancient and iconic, a creature of the night that battles for good, a modern day Sherlock Holmes.
What Morrison did, stitching together that vast history into one epic lifespan, broke him away from the lone warrior teetering on the edge of madness and made him human once more. Of course that Batman would have a son, and even come to learn to forgive the transgressions of all his family. He even, dare I say, began to see shades of grey and inspired his son to choose heroism over villainy.
And Damian the brat became Damian the loveable brat. With his ribbing of Grayson and his fondness for his menagerie of pets, his occasional wisdom beyond his years, and most of all his tiredness with the ridiculous war between his parents, Damian became perhaps one of the most popular newer characters DC has.
Had. Of course he could come back, of course he probably will. The fall out will last so long and then an editor or writer will decide that that particular toy needs to come back out of the box. Let’s have a new Robin. Let’s kill them too.
But make no mistake, this is a real death. With Morrison soon to leave Batman behind, this is the end of his Damian. He introduced the character as we now know him back in 2006, as a murderous little psychopath and his mother’s pawn. Now he has ushered him out, as a genuine Robin, a beloved son, and a true hero. And as cliche as some superhero deaths may be, this really is the end of an era.
Batman Incorporated #8
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham, Jason Masters (p.6-9)
Colourist: Nathan Fairbairn
Cover Artist: Chris Burnham
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Editor: Michael Marts, Rickey Purdin
If you like, try: Growing your heart three sizes!