BATMAN INCORPORATED #8
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham and Jason Masters
Release Date: February 27, 2013
WARNING: This review assumes that you’re already aware of the major event that has been revealed in the New York Post, on the front page of DCcomics.com, and EVERY SINGLE COMIC THAT DC IS RELEASING THIS WEEK. I’m going to talk about it, so if you don’t want to know, come back after you find out somewhere else. END WARNING.
Normally, I’m almost entirely indifferent to spoilers, but after weeks of rumors, leaks, and a final 48-hour out-and-out official DC media blitz, Batman Incorporated #8 itself is a bit of an anticlimax. In single combat with an adult clone of himself, Damian Wayne is beaten, shot, and impaled, and finally dies in his father’s arms.
If you’re the sort of person affected by acts of great sacrifice in the face of impossible odds, you’ll find it moving. If you’re the sort of person bothered by the depiction of acts of violence visited on a ten-year-old boy, you’ll find it rather disturbing. If you’re a longtime Batman reader you’ll find specific (and intentional) echoes of Knightfall and Death in the Family, a last nod to time Damian spent as Dick Grayson’s partner, and, finally, a bloodier, more definitive version of the last panel of Batman Incorporated #1.
And, for what it’s worth, it’s probably this last impression that Morrison is chasing most specifically. From the beginning, Morrison’s take on Batman has been all about echoes — revisiting forgotten characters, pulling in the lost and ignored chapters of Batman’s history, times that even he can’t entirely make sense of or sometimes even remember. If Scott Snyder’s Death of the Family gave voice to a certain essentialist side of Batman fandom — back to basics! Batman and Joker! Life and death! No dogs, no wacky heists, and no Robins, if you can help it — then Morrison’s extended, unified story is exactly the opposite. Morrison’s Batman is a maximalist, sometimes madcap declaration that everything, everything is in continuity, even those multicolored, histrionic, sci-fi adventures of the 1950s when Batman traveled to other worlds, gained occasional superpowers, and started training ridiculous crime fighters from around the world. This, from the start, has been a Batman of the sublime, with all of its iconic, implausible connotations.
In which case, the universal broadcast of Robin’s death might actually be the perfect context in which to read Batman Incorporated #8. It might be that it’s a comic that’s supposed to be spoiled. Observing that Damian in Bruce’s arms feels a lot like Jason Todd, in this context, isn’t really a criticism. Dying is what Robin does,1 and besides, it all goes back to Michelangelo’s Pietà anyway.2
Yes, there’s a certain distance in an echo, a certain loss of immediacy, a reminder that this is all just fiction anyway, stories that re-tell other stories, fathers and sons, boys playing a game that ends up getting away from them, a woman as the bad guy because in this sort of pre-adolescent world girls (well, any outsider really, but especially girls) are always icky.
And that’s the trade-off.
This, in the end, is a universe where Damian could never grow up.3 This is the price of our serial stories, of our immortal, perpetually rejuvenated Bruce Wayne. If the story doesn’t end, then Pinocchio can never become a real boy.
Love him or hate him, Damian died for us. It was the best and the worst we could give him. It was the most human thing he could do.
1. After all, given that Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns — in which Bruce Wayne retires as Batman after Jason Todd’s death — was actually published two years before A Death in the Family, Jason Todd himself was dead before he actually died.
3. Outside of the narrative universe, it’s simply not clear that DC will ever allow a character to progress from childhood to adulthood the way that Dick Grayson did, in fits and starts, over the course of decades. Jason Todd had to die in order to become an adult, and the New 52 doesn’t seem entirely sure what to do with an independent but still clearly teenaged Tim Drake. As popular as Batman #666 and Batman Incorporated #5 are, it’s notable that Morrison is slyly acknowledging this impossibility. Even within the narrative, Damian reaching adulthood is a disaster to be avoided at all costs.