JK Leo is a man of many faces, not unlike Jaqen H’gar or Michael Jackson. Usually he’s the smooth-talking, Gambit-lampooning, Scott Deaux-frustrating, wants to defend Preacher from Shiera Carter because PREACHER IS AMAZING but also doesn’t feel like writing 7,000 words on why it’s such a great meditation on what it means to be a man in America. But sometimes, JK Leo lets slip and shows his softer side. So here’s the honest truth: when I get off work tomorrow (I teach high school English, so this trip will obviously have to be on the way to the bar), I’m going straight to my local comic book shop to have a funeral.
Obviously, spoilers abound for those of you who have chosen today as your day to start being on the internet or to read a newspaper.
You see, Damian Wayne is about to die. Introduced way back at the beginning of Grant Morrison’s arc on Batman around issue 655 (though presented as a concept much earlier in Barr & Bingham’s Son of the Demon and reused over the years in a few out of continuity stories), Damian became a fan-favorite during his tenure as Robin, and I for one am quite sad to see him go. My introduction to the little bastard came when I picked up Morrison and Quitely’s Batman & Robin #1, and from then I was hooked. I loved the idea of casting Batman as a smart-alec, jolly young guy and foiling him with the arrogant, grimacing Young Master Damian.
Since that thrill-ride of an issue and its bright yellow cover, I dove backward into Morrison’s run, tracing Damian’s lineage up through Batman & Son, The Black Glove, and RIP. I stayed committed to B&R, purchasing each issue when it came out, then buying up the TPBs as a bundle once they were all out. Between that yellow issue and last month’s harrowing Batman Incorporated #7, Damian has become one of the most well-developed characters of the past decade. He’s gone from brat to Bat (see what I did there?) and made it quite a journey.
Maybe it’s that I relate to Damian more than to Bruce Wayne – my parents weren’t gunned down in an alley – they separated when I was young. My father is a figure of mystery, a “weird figure of the night” whose legacy I feel doomed to inherit. My mother tries to manipulate me. I struggle with finding a balance between pragmatism and idealism. I have a vicious streak. I love my cat the same way Damian loves his. Watching Damian grow up to be his own man (while still a child) has done more in the way of reflecting my own identity than my years of reading other Bat-comics could have done. What Morrison has done – reframed the narrative of warring parents through the eyes of a child, this is the book I wish I could hand to my ten year old self – the same age Damian is in the comics – the age I remember my own family first going to hell. I was never raised to be a god-king, never had to fight my own clone, didn’t have adopted brothers who had come back from the dead and become true heroes in their own rights already. But when I see Damian scowl at one of Grayson’s stupid jokes, when he stands up to his mother for the first time, when he grits is teeth and does what he feels needs to be done, I see myself.
So here’s the thing: I don’t believe that this is the end of Damian’s story. That’s the great thing about comics. The reason I prefer them over most other forms of literature – characters never die. There’s always a Lazarus pit or a reboot or a mysterious newcomer to take on the mantle. Comics are the medium that gives me the kind of world I want to live in – a world where death is just the end of the first cycle, where little boys don’t have to age until it’s time for them to grow up, where the end of the world is just the end of a story. I’m certain Damian will be back. Maybe in issue eleven or twelve, maybe when some other writer has another great idea for our little buddy. He’ll be back.
So I’ll mourn my Robin in my own way. I’ll read the book a couple of times, admire Morrison’s plotting and turns of phrase, peer intently at Burnham’s vibrant textures, and then I’ll put it down. Then I’ll look at a page that I keep coming back to – something from the pages of RIP, I believe.
“BATMAN AND ROBIN WILL NEVER DIE!”
and in Damian’s words, *tt*.
~ JK Leo ~