DC Reveals First "Dark Knight III: The Master Race" Cover
Hey, have you somehow managed to avoid hearing about the thing that’s going to happen in that one comic book Wednesday? The thing the writer and publisher are so excited about that they’ve been hyping it up in various media?
If so, then you must be the sort of comics fan who doesn’t like to have story points spoiled for you in advance, so out of respect for you, and respect for the diligence you’ve shown in so far being able to avoid having the story — whatever it is, in whatever book it’s unfolding — spoiled for you, I’m going to bury this entire post below the break.
So, if you already know what I’m talking about, read on!
Writer Grant Morrison introduced the character, the 10-year-old version of the baby Batman and Talia Al Ghul produced in an out-of-continuity story, at the beginning of the writer’s multi-year, multi-title Batman run in 2006. He officially became Robin in 2009, fighting alongside the new Batman Dick Grayson in Batman and Robin.
The character’s death won’t come as too terrible of a shock, as one-quarter of the people who had the gig before him ended up dying (Jason Todd, who got better … 16 years later; Stephanie Brown, we’re told, never actually died), and tea-leaf readers likely noticed there was no mention of Damian in the last few rounds of DC solicitations, but several mentions of tragedy of some sort in the Bat-Family.
OK, show of hands: Who thought Damian Wayne was going to be around long upon his initial introduction?
Batman having sired a child that he himself didn’t even know existed for a decade seemed to raise a whole host of problems from the get-go, the damage to his rep as the World’s Greatest Detective being the least of them.
It drastically aged Batman, seeing as he didn’t even meet Talia until Dick Grayson went away to college, and then we have to add at least 10 years; it permanently altered the dynamic of the core Batman cast, as a biological son couldn’t be forgotten as easily as Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain could; it would eventually push the once-new Robin Tim Drake out of Batman comics, after so many people spent so many years selling the idea of Robin to a Robin-averse readership and, perhaps most importantly, it was such a big change to the status quo that it felt temporary, like putting Batman in a wheelchair or killing off Bruce Wayne or having Superman and Lois Lane adopt a son.
I certainly didn’t think Damian was going to last too terribly long, and assumed it was only a matter of time before it was revealed he wasn’t really Batman’s son. And/or The Joker killed him (not that I know all that much; I never thought DC would bring Barry Allen or Jason Todd back from the dead, or re-number Action Comics, for example).
Oddly enough, he has at this point been around so long that I just recently stopped expecting him to be written out of the comics.
This being comics, I think it’s well worth noting that dead almost never actually means dead, and, in fact, dead means dead less and less with each passing year.
It’s impossible to speculate on the finality of Damian’s death with any great accuracy at this point — I haven’t read the issue yet, and Morrison still has a few issues to go before he leaves Batman comics — but let’s not forget that the writer began his run on the character by killing off Batman, and he didn’t stay dead long (actually, between “Batman: R.I.P.” and Final Crisis, Morrison killed Batman repeatedly).
Nor that Damian’s maternal grandfather Ra’s Al Ghul discovered a means by which to restore the dead to life.
Nor that Jason Todd, Barry Allen, Bucky Barnes and even Uncle Ben have all come back to life in some form or another; if Morrison doesn’t bring Damian back to life by the end of his run, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before someone does, right? There are no sacred, non-reversible deaths in super-comics.
But let’s imagine that Damian is dead. It would certainly be in keeping with Morrison’s work on various superhero franchises, from DC’s JLA to Marvel’s X-Men to the whole of the DC Universe with Final Crisis.
At the end of each, no matter how radical or drastic the changes he may have effected, the dial was reset. The caretaker nature of a work-for-hire super-comics creator necessitates that everything be put back in order, and left the way you found it.
With the controversial end of his New X-Men run, for example, Morrison saw many of the most drastic of his story beats deliberately (and almost immediately) undone by his editors and other writers. I wonder if perhaps that might have taught him to clean up after himself so he can end his stories on his own terms, rather than trusting others to do so? If someone were going to do away with Damian Wayne at some point anyway, perhaps Morrison decided he wanted to be the one who did it, to see that it was done properly?
If Damian really is dead, then the timing of his death strikes me as particularly ironic, for two reasons.
Firstly, there’s the fact that DC just wrapped up a big, huge, multi-title Batman story featuring Batman and his allies against their greatest enemy The Joker, written by their lead Batman writer Scott Snyder, a storyline that was named “Death of the Family,” a deliberate riff on the title “A Death In The Family,” which was the name of the story in which The Joker murdered Robin Jason Todd.
The rumor was that there would be a shocking, surprise ending, and that there would be a death. If you thought DC was going to kill off their current Robin, that’s gotta be where they would do it, right?
That the publisher didn’t makes the fact that Damian is dying in Batman Incorporated a mostly marginalized, happening-off-in-a-corner-by-itself Batman book by a departing writer with waning influence on the line, all the bigger a surprise.
Secondly, and less immediately, there’s the fact that Morrison’s six-year run on the character, which wound from Batman to Final Crisis to Batman and Robin to The Return of Bruce Wayne to Batman Incorporated, was interrupted by the New 52 reboot, during which DC Universe continuity was tossed out and replaced by a shorter, mostly unknown continuity in which Morrison’s storyline — in fact, Batman history in general — didn’t really work, if one thought too much about it (and by “too much” I, of course, mean “at all”).
The company line was that superheroes have only been around for five years now, instead of the 11-plus or so of the pre-New 52 continuity (the 10-year sliding timeline from Zero Hour, plus the post-Infinite Crisis “One Year Later” jump, if you’re wondering where I pulled that number from). It was allowed for that maybe Batman was around a little longer.
Even still, Damian’s existence necessitated a career of more than 10 years, and even if the in-progress storyline was retconned so that he was artificially aged, the question of how Batman trained and worked with a series of four Robins — Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian — in five or six years stretched credulity more so than just about any other aspect of Batman comics.
Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison and most of the other Bat-writers dealt with this by ignoring it, but the New 52 reboot didn’t help Morrison’s story in the least, as characters he had used in earlier chapters no longer existed (Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown) or no longer existed in the same form (Barbara Gordon). I imagine this last part of Morrison’s run would have been a lot different without the reboot; I imagine Dick Grayson would still be Batman instead of Nightwing, for one thing.
It sort of seems a shame that the new DCU suffered so many dings and bruises by keeping Damian in-continuity if he was only going to be killed off a year and a half later, doesn’t it?
For the former, I wonder what will happen to Batman Incorporated and Batman and Robin? Both sell well, by virtue of being Batman comics, and it seems unlikely DC would cancel two guaranteed strong-sellers in order to experiment with something like a Sword of Sorcery or Justice League of America’s Vibe.
Batman and Robin has long since outlived its original purpose: giving Morrison a new title to write about the new Batman Dick Grayson and the new Robin Damian Wayne. With the New 52boot, the book was refashioned so as to feature the story of old Batman Bruce Wayne dealing with a sidekick who is also his son. If it outlives Damian, it will need to be re-focused with a new direction once again, likely simply by focusing on whoever the new Robin will be.
Batman Incorporated is harder to see sticking around, as one imagines Morrison will bring an end to the concept as part of his exit from the character. Can DC keep the title going after its premise evaporates? I don’t think so, but it won’t be too difficult to replace it with a new title focusing on the wider Batman family, perhaps dusting off Batman: Gotham Knights, which, similar to Batman Incorporated, tended to concentrate on Batman plus one of his many sidekicks and allies per storyline. (Personally? I’d like to see Batman: Club of Heroes, in which Batman leads the most promising of the Batman Inc. members as a team. Imagine, a Justice League comic … where every member of the League is also Batman!)
As for who the new Robin will be, that’s a pretty tricky question, isn’t it? Were it not for the New 52 reboot, I would have guessed that Tim Drake would have returned to his role as Batman’s partner, but it now seems as if current continuity is that Tim Drake was never Robin, but was always Red Robin.
I’ve heard baseless online speculation that new female character Harper Row might be a good candidate, an idea that seems likely in that: a.) It would be another big thing DC could announce to mainstream press (that is, that there’s a new Robin, and this time it’s a girl); b.) it might make the Stephanie Brown fans happy (of course, why not just reintroduce Stephanie Brown, as she seemingly no longer exists?); and c.) Harper Row appeared in a Snyder-written comic and, with Morrison leaving, Snyder will be the undisputed lead Batman writer, a role he’s gradually been assuming anyway as more and more attention has been focused on his Batman than on Morrison’s Batman Incorporated.
Other candidates include Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen — those guys seem to be get the nod whenever there’s an open position in a DC comic book, don’t they?
Whoever the next Robin ends up being, I’m sure there will be a next Robin. If there’s one thing that Morrison has made abundantly clear over the course of the last half-dozen years, its that Batman and Robin will never die.