It’s not often I get sad or angry about comic books. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you’ll know I’m generally the first guy to find the bright side to any story, situation or change. But Damian Wayne was unequivocally my favorite Robin, and so recent events (is there even a point to pretending anyone doesn’t know?) hit me really hard.
It’s not that I couldn’t see it coming. I’ve been reading comics, and in particular Grant Morrison’s books, long enough to have seen the writing on the wall for the little bugger. It was the perfectly bittersweet ending to a story that began with a kid we all hated, who steadily became a young man we all (well, me anyway) came to adore. And Morrison does like a bittersweet ending.
The problem is, everything that made me love how Scott Snyder ended his Death of the Family storyline in Batman #17 is also why I am deeply disappointed by Grant Morrison’s decision to kill Damian in Batman Incorporated #8. Snyder took a lot of flack online for not ending his story with a momentous enough moment. No one died, I heard left and right, sounding in my head like shouting Romans, gathered in the seats of the ancient Coliseum. How can a story be considered epic if it doesn’t end in a death?
Except that it can, and honestly did. Snyder took the time to carefully craft a story that didn’t fall back on easy outs or trite shocks. He set up parallel plot devices and inserted sly details that came back around and could give the reader a-ha moments on the second, third, even fourth reads. He found a way to tell a narrative about how a man was so concerned with being right that he couldn’t (and maybe still doesn’t) see what it was doing to the people around him. And all without resorting to yet another comic book death.
By killing Damian Wayne, we have not just one more dead Robin (it’s laughable to even be able to say there’s been more than one), but another in a long string of character deaths in comics that we have no faith in anymore. The Human Torch, Captain America, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Thor, Wonder Woman, Winter Soldier… even Peter Parker really. All dead and returned faster than you could blink. Tick tock, Professor X. There’s barely enough time in most of these cases to even pretend the death could be permanent, and with each one the cycle from grave to resurrection gets shorter and shorter. At least Jason Todd had the good sense to stay dead for 17 years.
And what’s sad is that no matter how much I love and will miss Damian snarking off and proving his worth to his father without trying to look like it, the only thing worse than dying would be his return. Because if there is any poignancy to be found in his death at all (and I’m honestly still questioning that fact), it would be irreparably destroyed by a Lazarus pit, or a Mother Box, or another clone, or White Lantern miracle.
Damian now becomes an also-ran in the Batman mythos, not the first of Bruce’s sons to die, nor the last child to don to red and green (because if anything is true in comics, it’s that copyrights need to be renewed). Batman may need a Robin, but it’s this Robin I’ll miss most. Why exactly?
He grew. In a brave new world where heroes are probably never going to age again, Damian changed. He went from a completely spoiled and self-centered little brat to become a heroic figure who made his father proud. It wasn’t easy and didn’t happen overnight, but it happened, and in an incredibly compelling way. Setbacks occurred — at times it seemed like he would never overcome his mother’s training as a killer — but ultimately, Damian became someone who thought of others before himself and could see killing as an unacceptable option. And at the same time, he moved from a deep insecurity about being the only son Bruce didn’t choose to raise (and overcompensating as a result in his interactions with Red Robin) to knowing and appreciating his father’s love for what it was — genuine yet reserved.
He actually acted like a kid. I can’t remember the last time a child or teenaged main character in a DC comic book actually acted like a kid, and not like a mini-adult. This has been my chief criticism of Tim Drake’s characterization for years, and seems to constitute why I can’t connect to him. It’s normal for a ten year old to act out, challenge his peers (or mentors), and be generally a brat, especially given the circumstances of his upbringing to date. What so many detractors found irritating in Damian’s demeanor, I found realistic in a way that felt both refreshing and compelling, and I can’t think of another character currently existing in the DC Universe that does as much a service to the reality of a troubled childhood.
He brought out the best in those around him. Nothing has illuminated just how important Alfred’s role in Bruce’s upbringing was like seeing how he interacted with Damian (and likewise encouraged Bruce to interact with him). Being able to experience that father-son dynamic not just between Batman and Robin, but across three generations, only made the narrative that much more dramatic and heart wrenching. Dick Grayson too was a better Batman for having a Robin that could invert the classic scenario of grim Dark Knight and boisterous Boy Wonder.
And underneath it all, he loved deeply. Whether it was in collecting his menagerie of friends in Bat-Cow, his dog Titus and cat Alfred, or just in the simply expressed desire that his mother and father could reconcile and all live together as a family, Damian showed a great capacity for love. More than his warrior’s honor, more than his desire to prove himself, more than the potential within him to be a better Batman one day — this is what endeared Damian to me. He loved his father enough to revive long lost parts of his grandparents’ memory, for no other reason than to bring Bruce a bit of the comfort he was now experiencing as a child that his father never truly could.
Goodbye, sweet Damian. I’m going to miss you terribly. I wish you could have had a better end, or frankly no ending at all.