04 September 2011

The DNA of Damian Wayne

Godson, Godson’s Brother, and I will be taking in Batman Live this evening, London time, and I plan to post our impressions in the upcoming week. But that leaves the weekly Robin in need of content today.

I’ll therefore observe the end of the post-Infinite Crisis DC Comics Universe by considering the genetic heritage of Damian Wayne, the current and near-future Robin.

But isn’t Damian the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul? Well, that’s what those characters and the Batman creative team have wanted us to think. Talia has certainly said Damian is her son by Bruce, but she’s duplicitous and ruthless, and her family plays the long game. (Her father makes himself immortal.) So there’s more than a small possibility she’s lying.

As for Bruce Wayne, he was ready to treat Damian as his son, but—let’s face it—his threshhold for taking in dark-haired boys and training them to fight crime by his side is very low. If Bruce perceived Damian to be in any sort of trouble, and/or felt any sort of responsibility for him, he might well treat the child as his son and leave the emotional fallout of keeping secrets for later.

Finally, the science of the DC Universe leaves a lot of flexibility in the circumstances of Damian’s life. Though the Son of a Demon graphic novel that helped to inspire writer Grant Morrison involved a night of passion under a tropic moon, Talia could just as easily have conceived Damian in a test tube, or cloned him, or obtained a suitable baby through magic or time travel or Craigslist.

Furthermore, Batman vs. Robin confirmed what Nightwing: Freefall hinted: that Talia has advanced technology for growing babies, and another already in the lab. Even though Damian has been ten, and the new universe’s Damian is twelve, he was probably conceived more recently and aged artificially.

So what does this mean for Damian’s DNA? The possibilities seem wide open. Tim Drake has asked Alfred whether Bruce did genetic testing on the kid, but I don’t believe the comics have ever given us a definite answer. That leaves multiple possibilities. So let’s imagine that Tim, as Teen Titans: A Kid’s Game shows he’s capable of doing, sneaks a genetic sample from Damian and has it tested. What could he find?

1. Yes, Damian’s father is Bruce Wayne. The writers have already been exploring this situation, of course. Eventually the drama might run dry, especially if the inherent tensions get played out and resolved. In that case, Damian’s genetic heritage might catch up with him in various new ways: premature aging, possibly fatal illness, an annoying little sibling or evil counterpart. (The last happens to almost all comic-book heroes if they stick around long enough.) Or the creative team might decide to shake up the family with a new revelation…

2. Damian isn’t Bruce’s son; he’s Bruce’s clone. This offers a chance to explore nature versus nurture. Are Bruce’s righteousness and Damian’s grumpiness simply manifestations of the same genes? Can Damian maintain the same drive as Bruce through adolescent ennui if he never sees his parents killed? (Of course, we might ask why Alfred hasn’t remarked on the similarity between Damian and the boy he raised. Perhaps the artificial aging process would have produced some physiognomic differences. Perhaps Alfred would know, and would be keeping the secret.)

3. Damian’s father is Ra’s al Ghul. Let’s call this the Chinatown scenario: Talia’s his mother and his sister. That’s already one screwed-up family. No wonder Bruce might want to get the kid away.
4. Damian isn’t Bruce’s son; he’s his grandson. Red Hood: The Lost Days showed that Talia had Jason Todd in her power for years, and that they eventually became lovers. So she certainly had access to his genes. What would it mean to Damian to discover he’s not the son of Batman, but the son of “Batman’s greatest failure”? How would Jason react to having a biological family once more?

5. Damian’s father was a rich businessman from Gotham—but not Bruce Wayne. Tim tests Damian’s Y chromosome and finds that it matches his own. That means when Tim’s parents traveled the world, Jack Drake did more than argue with Janet. Wouldn’t it be a kick in the tights for Tim to discover that he’s actually Damian’s closest relative?

And that’s just a start. What about David Cain, assassin active in Asia and father of Cass Cain, the second Batgirl? Or Superman, whose Kryptonian DNA can be combined with a human’s and whose powers (in the current continuity) didn’t manifest until he was a little older than Damian? Or…

In fact, about the only man whose DNA in Damian wouldn’t have caused great drama in the recently-shelved DC Universe, and most likely in the next, would be Dick Grayson. Which of course means we can eliminate him as a suspect.

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