Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
Like every other avid comic book reader, I eagerly anticipate each Wednesday when new issues come out. Scott Snyder’s “Death of the Family” storyline ended in the recent weeks; the first “fallout” issues dealing with its aftermath came out just last week. This week, instead of dealing with the aftermath of “Death of the Family”, DC Comics published Batman Incorporated #8, which deals with another storyline entirely. Bruce’s former lover launches an all-out assault on Batman and Robin, putting Robin—Damian Wayne—in mortal danger. As a lover of DC Comics, I can say without hesitation that Batman will always have a special place in my heart, but Batman Incorporated #8 represents everything wrong in The New 52. Today, February 27th 2013, Damian Wayne has been killed.
This issue marks the climax of writer Grant Morrison’s run on Batman Incorporated. Morrison has written stories of critical acclaim, including Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Batman: RIP, and Final Crises However, these great stories are now marred by the travesty that is Batman Incorporated. Marred with a convoluted death, terrible pacing, and the musings of an abusive writer, Batman titles will never be the same after this issue. In “Death in the Family” readers saw how hard Batman ran with every fiber of his being to save Jason; we get none of that in Batman Incorporated—the two-page spread in which Batman comes out of the water and rushes off panel gives no climatic experience. Moreover, in Robin’s fight scene, which was essentially about a page and a half, we got no indications of heroism, and instead only receive a scared, out of character, little boy who got gutted by a sword.
With Damian dead, younger readers have been alienated. Robin was initially introduced to the Batman mythos in April of 1940 to attract younger readers by creating a character they could identify with. Back then, Robin was Dick Grayson. Very few of us today can relate to Grayson now, since most of us don’t have dead or absent parents; moreover, Grayson has grown up and taken his own mantle as Nightwing, separate from Batman, which furthers him even more from that demographic. Almost no one related to Jason Todd back when he was introduced as the second Robin, which was one of the main reasons editors considered his fate—he was killed and resurrected and is now an anti-hero. Tim Drake in The New 52 isn’t relatable to anyone because he’s perfect; whereas pre-52 Drake only had his intelligence to rely on, New 52 Drake is not only smart, but also athletic, acrobatic, and militant. No one can relate to someone like that, which was why Damian Wayne as Robin was a refreshing take on the Robin identity.
He is the perfect embodiment of the kids in America today. Both of his working parents are always gone—Bruce plays Batman and Talia Al Ghul heads the League of Assassins while holding her father hostage. Separated or not, Damian’s parents have neglected him, just like what has sadly become more common for kids in our world due to the working economy. Damian’s had to fend for himself and deal with his own issues while in pursuit of his parents’ acceptance and time—he gets neither. Damian continually shows his endearing child-like nature in his compulsive need to impress his Father in a misguided attempt to make Bruce proud, all the while having been manipulated by his mother. Through his past, Damian has become one of the most three-dimensional characters in current comic book literature.
In an exclusive with The New York Post, Morrison said, “Robin’s death will illustrate how parents lose sight of their kids when they fight.” Morrison believes that he’s creating an allegory for domestic turbulence; however, he misuses his powers as a writer by inserting himself into the story and fundamentally changing the cores of some of the characters. Morrison “threw in elements of his own parents’ divorce” which colored Talia Al Ghul’s character. Pre-52, she legitimately cared about her son, now, however, she sees him only as expendable. This contradicts Peter Tomasi’s own interpretation of Talia’s character in the New 52; Tomasi is the writer of Batman and Robin where Talia’s relationship with Damian takes the most precedence. Morrison completely changed her to suit his own needs. He needed Talia to move away from her maternal qualities to justify her actions towards Damian. This makes the reader lose all faith in Talia as a mother, which turns the reader completely against her. Although this may be what Morrison wants, her actions go against the fundamental core of her character. There is no redemption for Talia, there is no remorse. Her tears and “moment of weakness” at the end of Batman Incorporated #8 are out of character with Morrison’s initial out of character portrayal of her character in his own book. Taking her core apart was a blatant misuse of his powers as an author. In comic books, writers share the mythos and the universe—where one author establishes qualities of a character or creates events, these actions spill over into the other titles. Morrison changed not only Talia’s, but also Damian Wayne’s, character without justification or character development. It’s that lack of consideration that makes Morrison’s actions seem to be an abuse of power, because he didn’t take the time to develop the characters to where he wanted them to be.
Damian Wayne was initially an emotional boy behind a mask generated by countless years of Spartan-like training under his mother. Morrison adds an uncharacteristic amount of whimsy to Damian’s character throughout the course of his run. Take, for example, in Batman Incorporated #1, Damian saves a cow from a butcher shop and declares it “Bat Cow” and that he will now be a vegetarian. As amusing as this initially was, it’s so uncharacteristically Damian, it’s frustrating. Moreover, Morrison has continued a storyline from Pre-52 and integrated it into the New 52, and effectively took control of Damian’s character; however Tomasi, should have precedent over how Damian’s character should be. Because of that, Morrison warped Damian into what he wanted, rather than taken the New 52 Damian for what he was; Morrison essentially brought over his Damian into a world where Damian should have been controlled by Tomasi. However, nothing has infuriated me more, than when Damian died, because Morrison completely took him out of character. Damian is no longer a clever, intellectual boy, skilled in tactics as shown in Batman and Son and Batman and Robin (2009), both of which were written by Morrison himself. Morrison reduced him to a naïve, child-like character. In reality, through his training as both an assassin and Robin, one would think Damian should have had more sense than to attack an opponent who’s both physically larger and is potentially as or more skilled head on in front of about fifteen snipers. No one would do that. In his last moments, Damian does not exert any control, use any tactics, or exemplify any of the many skills he’s accumulated over his career. Morrison’s definition of a “heroic death” does not fit the standards of what the general public would consider it to be.
Although Damian was Morrison’s creation, and was initially going to be used as a plot point in the non-canonical Batman and Son, Damian has grown far and above his initial use as a plot device. In a 2006 article on Newsarama, Morrison said, “I’d originally planned a heartbreaking death scene for the Damian character in [Batman and Son]. He was to save Batman’s life then perish in what was a really nice and emotional conclusion…then I started writing the character and realized he was too good to waste.” Morrison himself recognized that Damian was “too good to waste,” but Damian is so much more than those four words. Over the course of the series, Damian has evolved from a ruthless child-assassin to a voice of reason for Dick Grayson (Nightwing #17), an anchoring point for Jason Todd (Red Hood and the Outlwaws #17), a rival for Tim Drake, and a beacon of light for his father (Batman and Robin #17). Damian is one of the most pivotal characters in all of The New 52 and Morrison’s decision to kill Damian spits in not only our faces as readers, but also in the faces of the other writers of the New 52.
Scott Snyder recently wrapped up “Death of the Family”, a story arc where the Joker launched a full on assault on the Bat Family. There had been hints that someone was going to die and based on the ending of Batman #17, I thought the worst was over when the Joker died. But that was not the case. Morrison wanted to highlight culpability and give his characters room to grow from loss, but that could have easily been done with the death of Alfred in “Death of the Family”. Both Alfred, who’s a father figure to Bruce and the rest of the Family, and Damian are lights for Batman’s moral compass. Alfred represents the old while Damian represents the new. I don’t understand why Morrison wouldn’t want to kill Alfred, so that Damian would become the main anchor for Bruce and look towards the future, rather than kill Bruce’s legacy and son—his literal future. Morrison’s actions symbolize a giant “two-steps” back for the entire New 52. Damian’s death, for all intents and purposes, is senseless. Did Morrison really bring back Damian into the New 52 only to kill him off before his prime? No reason, both from a literary and reader’s perspective, justifies the killing of this ten year old boy, who hasn’t even seen his first year as Robin in this new universe.
Regardless of what I think should have happened in the plots of these Batman titles, there has clearly been some miscommunication happening all throughout the New 52. In Teen Titans #0, Tim Drake’s past is contradictory—one writer had him start off as Robin and another had him start off as Red Robin. More recently, in Red Hood and the Outlaws #17, Jason Todd talks to Damian in reflection on some of the events that happened in previous issues of Batman Incorporated, specifically how they fought together as Wingman and Redbird. This brings the legitimacy of Batman Incorporated into question, because it doesn’t make sense for Damian to die, if he was out and about in Gotham while his mother had a hit on him. If Damian had to deal with both the Joker and his mother simultaneously, then I could understand his death because no one could deal with that; however, because specific events in Batman Incorporated are referred to during a post-“Death of the Family” issue, the reader doesn’t know when these events have actually taken place. It’s these kinds of idiosyncrasies that frustrate me, because they could have easily been avoided with just a touch of communication between the writers.
Past all of this, however, Morrison’s decisions are in the wrong when looking at them through the lens of “Death of the Family”. With Damian’s death, everything that happened in “Death of the Family” has been negated. The Joker’s goal was to split the family apart to bring Batman back to his prime. Morrison is a large proponent of the “Batgod” Theory, in which he believes that Batman can overcome any situation because he’ll be at least five steps ahead of everyone else; from surviving hell both physical and mentally in Arkham Asylum and literally standing up to the embodiment of evil in Final Crises. By killing Damian, Morrison has effectively become the Joker. He’s killed off one of the main lynchpins of the Bat Family in an effort to put Batman back on his pedestal where he belongs; this is another example of how Morrison abuses his powers as an author by not taking into consideration what Batman has become. Instead, Morrison only focuses on what he wants Batman to be.
Morrison still has four more issues until his run on Batman Incorporated is done. Hopefully, this death is just a ruse and Damian will be back with us by the end, but I cannot stress enough how much of a mistake it would be for Damian to stay dead. Nor can I stress enough how much of a mistake it would be for Damian to stay dead under the current circumstances. Because of his blatant out-of-character qualities, one can theorize that perhaps Damian has faked his death in an attempt to make his parents see reason. However, I’m very skeptical about this logical deduction, simply because the illustrator of Batman Incorporated said in a Newsarama article that, “Damian Wayne is as dead as Thomas and Martha.”
The fans are currently in uproar that Damian has been murdered—not only by Talia, but by Morrison himself. Recently, DC Comics has added a two-page news cast at the end of every issue and changes each week. The ending to this week’s was, “Robin is dead. Repeat. Robin is dead. I’m… I’m sorry… Please excuse me,” as tears begin to well in the reporters eyes. This portrayal of someone separate from the DC Universe, which serves as a mirror of ourselves as readers, effectively conveys the feelings we’re experiencing over the loss of our little soldier boy. Some may claim that life is not fair, that we shouldn’t expect anything different because Damian’s death is not fair—but as many, many people also like to point out: comic books are not real life. It’s in the pages of these epics that hardships are experienced, but not out of randomness or purposelessness like in life; everything happens for a reason in all literature. Hopefully, the reason for Damian’s death will become clear in the subsequent issues, but at the moment, all we can do is grieve and keep the Boy Wonder close to our hearts.
*This article does not represent the opinions of Emertainment Monthly, just of the reviewer themselves. *