Robot 6

Grant Morrison and the problem of an immortal Batman

batmaninc8

Warning: Spoilers for Batman Inc. #8, The Dark Knight Rises, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus follow.

Grant Morrison’s reflection on his Batman run is interesting, in that it offers insight into what the writer thinks makes the character tick, but the part that jumps out at me was the very end where he brings up Robin and asks, “What son could ever hope to replace a father like Batman, who never dies?”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about since seeing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. As flawed as that film is, it has some intriguing ideas about the relationship between creator and creation, whether that’s alien and human, inventor and android, or parent and child. On that last dynamic, Charlize Theron’s character Vickers observes, “A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.” That’s a horrible thing to say about your father. It is, however, true.

The natural order of things is for parents to be replaced by their children. Peter Weyland created Vickers and at some point, it’s his job to get out of the way so she can have her time. Vickers’ comment echoes one that Michael Fassbender makes earlier in the film about how everyone wants to kill his or her parents. That’s another horrible thing to say and not literally true, but it describes a true phenomenon: The creation is meant to outlive and supplant the creator. Weyland was trying to subvert that order by becoming immortal. He failed, but Bruce Wayne has succeeded. Unfortunately for Robin.

batman incorporated8It started the way it’s supposed to. Batman, the fictional character, outlasted and replaced his creators. But because a company owns him, the natural process stops there. There’s no reason for him to go away. Ever. As long as he continues to make money, the king never dies. He never gets out of the way and he never passes the throne to his heir. That’s what Morrison describes in his essay. The Dark Knight Rises aside, no one besides Bruce Wayne – not Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne, Jean Paul Valley or anyone else – gets to be Batman for long. Batman does not R.I.P. Bruce Wayne always returns.

Morrison has been clear that this meta commentary has been the central theme of his Batman run, but it’s felt innocent up until now. Batman Forever! Yeah! But here at the end, there’s a different mood. Why did Morrison even create Damian Wayne if he knew full well the son couldn’t replace the father? When it comes to company-owned superheroes, we’re used to seeing new characters created as material for future storytellers, but now it appears that Damian was always meant to die — not because Morrison’s cleaning up after himself, but because that death is integral to the theme.

It seems that in thinking about the notion of an immortal, corporate-owned hero, Morrison realized that it’s wrong. He found a flaw in the concept, a loose thread. And being Morrison, he pulled on it until the whole thing unraveled. Based on his comments at the end of the DC essay, he did it on purpose. “He’ll still be here long after I’m dead and forgotten,” he writes. “Long after all of us have come and gone, there will be Batman.” Because that includes Damian, the idea of an immortal Batman is less exciting. It’s certainly less positive. If we weren’t already aware of it, Morrison lets us know in no uncertain terms that there’s a downside to Batman Forever, and it’s not just Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face.

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13 Comments

Nice article, you made some great points!

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the longevity of comic characters and how nothing really ever changes after reading the Avengers vs. X-Men event.
I’ve been reading comics since the mid-1980s, a time when the DC and Marvel universes – but particularly Marvel – were far younger. When a character was replaced – even temporarily – it was still a fresh idea.
And because comics had been less sophisticated in the 1960s/70s the new style of mature storytelling truly made it appear as if characters were “growing.”
But now, nearly 30 years on, it is so easy to look back and see so many jarring examples of change/growth that is then undone to maintain the status quo.
Let’s use Morrison’s X-Men as an example. Like the run or not, an argument can be made that Morrison took the concept of mutants in the Marvel universe to its natural conclusion.
But Marvel very quickly undid that progress to return the mutants to their oppressed, minority status quo.
I was entertained by Avengers vs. X-Men but after putting the book down thought, “My God. I’ve been reading Marvel comics for nearly 30 years and mutants are STILL oppressed and misunderstood.”
Perhaps this is a symptom of an aging fan. At one point it all still seems fresh and new. But then one day you close a comicbook and think to yourself that the characters have simply been treading water for a couple decades.
I mean, how long will it be before some writer makes Daredevil “grim and gritty” again after Waid’s run?
How long will it be before, after Marvel has spent the past few years building the Avengers concept into something bigger than it has ever been, a new writer pulls another Bendis and blows it all up, forcing the team to again start from scratch?
How long before the X-Men make some sort of gains in equality, only to be hated and loathed?
How long before The Hulk – working for SHIELD – wigs out and is a hunted monster again?

I’m not sure how this requires corporate ownership.

So far as I know, no one owns Sherlock Holmes*, but he seems to remain as “alive” as ever, most of a century after his creator died.

* Though the Doyle Estate makes valiant efforts to extort money from modern uses of the chacacter, on the basis of the last sliver of the original canon that is still under copyright thanks to copyright extension acts.

I understand what Morrison was doing, but it basically kills any interest I might still have had in Batman comics. The message is so incredibly negative. Children represent hope. By killing Damian, Morrison killed hope, killed the future, killed the possibly of change. And even if it’s only the illusion of change or the possibly of change, it’s something I need to remain interested in these never-ending franchises. I already knew Damian was never going to be the “real” Batman. I didn’t need the man behind the damn curtain to jump out and tell me so, and that’s what it feels like Morrison is doing.

Why should Bruce Wayne have to age out or die? What’s the point of being a fictional character if you can’t exist in any possible state, given the right situation? Why should people 100 years from now have to read about a different character because we’re all gone? Batman is a fantasy. Let him be as he is.

Wraith, the big difference to me is that Batman is published by one company that oversees his “development.” Since Holmes and other public domain characters aren’t, it’s easier to pick which stories count to me and which I’m going to ignore. If I like Larry Millett’s Holmes novels, I don’t necessarily have to accept Carole Nelson Douglas’ Irene Adler series as part of the same continuity. DC explicitly asks me to do that with Batman’s previous stories.

Ian, it’s not that Batman needs to age out or die, it’s that – as Lorrie poins out – the illusion of character growth doesn’t hold up. There’s a way of publishing an endless series of Batman stories that doesn’t try to create the illusion of continuity. That may ruin the fun for a lot of readers, but I think what Morrison’s pointing out is that the fun’s already been ruined, because the illusion’s so shaky.

Apart from Morrison’s essay, the dialogue throughout the issue reads like Morrison putting out his thoughts on the situation. In particular, the exchanges between Dick Grayson and Damian stand out. Morrison probably knew that the one thing you can’t do is create a true change or true addition to superhero status quod. In particular, and a bit sad when you think about superhero comics history, child characters don’t seem to be long for the superhero world.

In fact, looking at all of Morrison and Co’s major moves post R.I.P. ( Dick and Damian as Batman and Robin, Batman Inc. throwing money and man power at the world’s problems, and Batman Inc. involved in the most complicated of custody battles), there’s no way that all of that change would last. Morrison is veteran writer of comics. He knew that he could only do so much and think that it would remain. That fact is more reason to ‘buy into” these superhero stories not for the characters but what talented and interesting creators might be able to do with these characters.

For a time, I wondered why no one (for surface level reasons) never compared and contrasted Morrison’s and Co.’s journey of Damian with Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s creation of Hit Girl.

Something they both mirror with the real world is that none of them feel built for a kid to grow in

Four words: Terry McGuiness meets Gohan.

What made Batman Beyond so great was that, like Dark Knight Returns, it fulfilled Alan Moore’s concept of giving a few of these superheroes an “ending” and thus elevating them to the same Legend status as characters like Robin Hood, but it was an ending that opened better, much more interesting doors. Bruce Wayne transcends his time as Batman by creating the legacy of the Batman mantle, making it actually feasible for other people to take up the mantle. Terry will eventually train his own successor and that successor will train his, etc. The concept works.

A lot of comic writers seem to have this belief that characters need to stay in their “iconic” versions, every time someone does kind of evolution of the character, we eventually get an arc that regresses them. This thing with Damien is just that. And the thing is, you didn’t have to kill off Damien, Akira Toriyama already showed us how.

Look at Dragonball Z – in a lot of ways, it’s very similar to American style superhero comics, and don’t give me the “Manga creators have more control of their creations argument,” because Toriyama wasn’t allowed to end the series until seven years after he wanted to, and then the series was brought back with new creators for the GT manga.

When it comes to pop culture characters, Goku ranks up there with Batman and Spider-man – he does. He’s got the worldwide recognition, and I can guarantee more people from my generation have read DBZ than Batman. He’s an iconic character who manages to stay iconic in ALL of his iterations, yet he goes from being a thirteen year old to being a man in his forties in the body of a boy by the end of GT. Not only is he character who evolved yet remained iconic, but he had a son too!

Gohan was introduced as an unlikable, whiney kid with tons of potential – remind you of anyone? As time went on, he matured, he became a better, more powerful fighter. He eventually replaced his dad as Earth’s protector. After that, like any good character, he got knocked down a few pegs and then made a comeback tour, before he eventually got shoved to the side so Toriyama could end the series with Goku (my theory is that he planned on ending with Gohan beating Buu and moving forward with the Gohan/Videl/Goten/Trunks/Piccolo cast for a while, was told he could finally end the series if he wanted to, and took the opportunity but wanted to end the series with Goku. It’s a theory).

Not only is Gohan the main POV character for like 90% of DBZ, but he actually replaces his dad as the star for a good chunk of the book. What’s so upsetting about DC letting Morrison kill of Damien is that the character was clearly moving along the Gohan track – he started out as unlikable, and then Tomasi got his hands on him and started slowly moving him away from being such a douche. If DC had let the character live, he could have evolved into Batman. Now, we’ll always have a Bruce as Batman series of books, that’s only possible because of shit like Crisis. We could have gotten a Batman Beyond-style book with Damien and it could have been successful.

Batman Beyond showed it was possible to do a series where Bruce wasn’t Batman, Damien could have taken it to the next level. He’s got a much better pedigree – son of Bruce and the one woman besides Catwoman that people can actually see him settling down with (who also happens to be a master ninja and the daughter of one of his most dangerous enemies). We’ve also seen possible futures where Batman’s son grew up – Kingdom Come implied the possibility, and Morrison’s own JLA run gave a glimpse of a much more mature son serving as Robin for Tim Drake’s Batman. We could have watched him evolve into a next-gen Batman with his own unique personality, ticks and foibles.

* GT anime

Bob from Accounting

February 28, 2013 at 8:58 am

I think if that was truly the ultimate message of Morrison’s Batman, there wouldn’t be four issues left. There’s something more to come.

In other words: You’re wrong. Batman and Robin will never die.

Where can I find this essay you are talking about.

Matt, it’s in the first link of the post above.

Bob from Accounting, I wish I could believe you were right. Everyone was expecting Morrison to kill Damian (he’d told us in the past Damian was supposed to die a long time ago), so if I was him, I would have wanted to do the unexpected. But maybe he’s okay with being predictable sometimes.

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