09 January 2011

Damian Wayne: “Being Robin Is…”

When Grant Morrison introduced the character of Damian Wayne in Batman and Son, the kid was clearly trouble. He was said to be Bruce Wayne’s biological son by Talia al-Ghul, though the genetic truth wasn’t confirmed for some months and the mechanics are still murky.

More to the point, Damian was violent, defiant, angry, and contemptuous. His grandfather’s League of Assassins had raised him to be a deadly fighter. He killed and beheaded a minor Batman villain called the Spook. He attacked Tim Drake, the latest Robin. In a word, Damian was evil. Morrison even said so in interviews.

Bruce’s response to meeting a dark-haired athletic boy lacking a father figure was, naturally, to suggest that he become some sort of Robin. Damian certainly had qualities that role required. Younger than Tim when he started and probably younger than Dick (there are competing legends), he was pound for pound the best fighter. He had the intellect, if not the interest, for detective work.

The nagging question was moral. Would Damian accede to the Batman’s no-killing ethos? Would he work well with his mentor and others? Could an evil child ever be Robin?

That question hung over Damian’s first year as Dick Grayson’s crime-fighting sidekick, told mostly in Batman and Robin but also in other DC comic books. As guided by the original Robin, could Damian fit into the role of Boy Wonder? The overarching storyline was a contest between Damian’s upbringing and personality on the one hand, and the tradition that Robin isn’t evil.

In the first three issues, Damian gets sick of taking orders from Dick, quits, and storms off; to his surprise, Dick rescues him because they’re still a team. The next two arcs bring on alternative versions of the Dynamic Duo: Jason Todd, former Robin, as the Red Hood and his created-for-the-moment sidekick Scarlett; and Britain’s Knight and Squire. Since the current Knight was formerly Squire, that means we see two former Robins, one former wannabe Robin, two wannabe Batmen, and two young redheaded female sidekicks. Plus, the new Batwoman (who also has red hair). Meanwhile, Damian has his injured spine repaired by his mother Talia’s surgeons.

The final three issues of the year brought the original conflict back home. Talia uses Damian’s new spinal implant to control his movements, turning him over to Dick’s arch-enemy, Deathstroke the Terminator. There’s a fight, of course, but the real confrontation occurs when Damian faces his mother. Evil never had a chance.

If Damian hadn’t proven commercially successful, DC Comics could still have killed him off, as Morrison originally planned when he first conceived of the character. He could have died heroically, like the kid in “Punish Not My Evil Son”; or “tragically,” doomed by the advanced medical process that created and aged him, as Peter Tomasi set up in his glimpse of Talia’s baby-making technology in Nightwing: Freefall. But either way, I’m convinced that Damian wouldn’t have died evil.

Of course, he’s still a little snot.

2 comments:

Jessi B said...

This little snot made Jason Todd look like a saint.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, I think that was the point. But then the question was whether he could be redeemed, both as a hero and with fans.