Part of the magic of Batman is that he’s a character that’s been interpreted in so many ways that there’s a Batman for pretty much everyone. Batman has been approached by hundreds, if not thousands of writers and artists over the course of his 74-year history, and while not every take on the character is totally distinctive or revolutionary, there’s a wide variety of visions to choose from. Depending on the creative forces at work, Bruce Wayne is either a paranoid, antisocial street soldier on a mad quest for revenge or the reluctant yet nurturing head of a sprawling surrogate family of misfits, struggling to rise to the impossible expectations of his colleagues and protégés. Or one of a million shades in between. It’s all Batman.
Most comic book superheroes deal with that same phenomenon, if for no other reason than that they’ve been around so long. It’s a consequence of the marketing machine, for sure, as publishers have to keep characters evolving to meet the demands of the ever-changing audience, and to keep from telling the exact same stories over again in the exact same way. New brilliant minds discover new potential, or unearth a long-forgotten idea. This evolution is what makes superheroes immortal, but it also makes them impossible to analyze on a deep character level, because there’s practically nothing you can say about them that wouldn’t be correct.
And then there’s Damian Wayne.
Damian Wayne is a Batman character with a beginning, middle and end, planned out and executed by only a handful of architects and with a single vision. Damian is a rare “auteur” DC superhero. For many corporately-owned characters, development is often the result of the characters changing hands between creative teams. For instance, a tough-as-nails character may soften up for no other reason than that the new writer prefers him/her that way, without any events in the story to explain the change. But Damian’s transformation from entitled borderline sociopath to noble hero is done slowly, carefully, and with great consideration.
Created by writer Grant Morrison and artist Andy Kubert based on a dusted-off concept from a 1980s story that “didn’t count,” Damian Wayne was the preteen son of Bruce Wayne and international criminal mastermind Talia al Ghul, herself the daughter of Batman’s ancient enemy Ra’s al Ghul. Damian was trained from birth to rule the world as a new Alexander, killing anyone standing in his way. After the “death” of his father (who was actually lost in time) Damian left his mother’s side to serve as Robin to the new Batman, Dick Grayson. Upon the original Batman’s return, Damian became Bruce’s sidekick and apprentice, finally getting to know his father before being brutally murdered by one of his mother’s assassins.
No disrespect to the Caped Crusader, but writer Grant Morrison is, unquestionably Damian’s daddy. He brought him into this world and then he took him out of it. According to interviews, Morrison originally planned to kill off the character almost immediately, but once the decision was made to keep him around, a massive 7-year storyline began to take shape with Damian at the center. While the story would incorporate the entire history of Batman and dozens of its characters, the true core of Morrison’s three act mega-arc became the complete life story of Damian Wayne – his introduction, his evolution and his ultimate sacrifice.
When he was first introduced at the beginning of Morrison’s mega-arc, Damian was a widely disliked character, which was, of course, the point. This long-lost son of Batman was impudent, irritating and way too good at everything, a bite-sized caricature of Morrison’s “Bat-God.”
It was only when he became the dark, brooding Robin to Dick Grayson’s more jovial Batman that readers understood the character’s true potential lay in challenging the initial perception of the character. Batman and Robin became the fascinating story of this extraordinary kid who thinks he knows everything learning compassion and trust, and in turn how we, the readers, would learn to love him as a character.
So when Damian was beaten to death at the hands of his own fully-grown clone, The Heretic, only a few short years later, it hit readers pretty hard, but it was the ultimate symbol of how Damian had grown as a character. Flashes to an (albeit disastrous) alternate future show that Damian would have become Batman eventually, if he’d lived. Being robbed that future by the embodiment of the destiny he worked so hard to prevent resulted in more than just another shocking comic book death, but a natural compelling conclusion to a character’s story.
With the revelation that an army of unborn Damians lies dormant, waiting to be awakened, it’s likely we’ll see some version of the character return before too long, but the life, growth and death of the first Damian, the “real” Damian, is complete, a whole, full character from beginning to end.
Click HERE for more on A Long Halloween, our month-long series of Batman essays and art.