Damian Wayne is a character I will passionately defend to the ends of the Earth. I’ve just got some strong opinions on him. Seems other folks do, too. That said… DC, just what are you doing with him? Be warned, as there are plenty of spoilers ahead. For everything.
LET’S BEGIN AT THE END
Or at least, later in the timeline, or wherever DC’s continuity is going. Batman Beyond (2016-present). For those of you not following along with this run, Damian does exist, but Terry McGinnis is the one running around dressed as a bat, fighting crime, and getting his skull knocked in. Terry’s younger brother, Matt, has even made an appearance as Robin. Damian’s not even in Gotham.
Early on in Batman Beyond, Bruce clues us in that somewhere along the line, Damian went rogue. Sent out to defend more than just Gotham from Ra’s al-Ghul, Damian does not return…after hours of combat only a tattered Batsuit remains. Damian has renounced his father’s teachings and returned to his beginnings, odd considering how much work writers have put into changing Damian’s character over the last decade. Damian is no ray of sunshine, nor is he completely optimistic, but his moral compass is more positively aligned. During his early days Damian’s moral compass was more like a roulette wheel. He was unstable, dangerous, and Bruce literally could not leave him alone.
Ouch, B, that blows. Damian’s run off to work with Ra’s, but we’re only given some surface details about his choice to shut out the Batfam and turn on Gotham for years to come. Moreover, we are never given a concrete timeline of events. At least, we’re approaching issue #50 of Batman Beyond and there’s still nothing to go on. When, in the story of the Birds and Bats, does this happen? Obviously Bruce was no longer fit to be Batman, and so we can assume he is a much older man, but whereabouts are the others? When did Dick retire from Nightwing to pursue a different life? (He does have a daughter now, I guess.) What’s become of Jason Todd? Did Red Hood lay down the guns for good? Did Tim Drake, seemingly forever a Robin (have you read Young Justice #18), finally decide to move on and give himself his own hero name? If he did, let’s all hope it was better than Drake. We’ve met Barbara in this Batman story, and even have ourselves a new Batwoman… But what of everyone else? Batman Beyond is nearing #50, and I’ve got so many questions!
But back to the matter at hand: Damian Wayne
Dan Jurgens (Batman Beyond) gives us a fairly complicated Damian. He starts out volatile, ruthless, you can’t possibly like him. Under that insufferable exterior, we quickly see some of the old Damian, the Damian we’ve grown used to in recent runs. A character with heart and the potential to be better. That was not lost in Batman Beyond.
Damian has never been a straightforward character, but in each passing series we have seen him grow. With Bruce and Talia as parents, Damian is just as dynamic and dramatic as he ought to be. Before, I had often said (or shouted from the mountain tops, I’ll be real honest) that Damian suffered at the hands of writers in the latest Teen Titans run. And I’d probably still say that, if I was not so curious as to the years leading up to Damian’s decision to take charge of the League of Assassins. DC, deliver the goods already.
Damian doesn’t play well with others, and if someone has drawn a line you best bet his mission will be to cross it. His main personality traits are as follows: brazenly over-confident, complete lack of empathy, and stubbornness akin to an immovable object. In his own eyes, Damian can do no wrong. The kid creates an underground prison to house criminals, with no option for release on good behavior alone. That is not to say Damian isn’t without his more charming moments… his little crush on Djinn? Or his happiness at seeing Jonathan return to Earth, no matter how much taller he may be? Regardless, Damain’s character falls flat in Teen Titans. All the growth seen in any previous series has been wiped out. He’s brash, bold, and tactless when it comes to the emotions of others.
Being crass and a little thoughtless is one thing, chalk it up to teenage hormones. However these are bold words for someone who played an undeniable and massive role in not only the death of Roundhouse’s sister, but also the origin of Roundhouse’s powers.
Admittedly, the underground dungeon was interesting. With villains busting out of Arkham every other week, it’s hard not to imagine one of the Bats or Birds deciding to take matters into their own hands. True to character, if there was someone who had the guts to go against Bruce and do something like this, it would be Damian. Or perhaps even Jason, just look at Three Jokers in DC’s Black Label series... Taking Damian’s initial upbringing into consideration, as much as Bruce, Dick, and maybe even Jonathan Kent believe they have helped change Damian, it is possible that caustic ideas from his earlier years are always lingering. Dormant just under the surface.
TEEN TITANS, THE SECOND ANNUAL
If DC handles this right, Teen Titans Annual #2 could be the sweetest of setups for where Damian is headed before we meet him again in Batman Beyond. His plan to destroy the KG Beast has been thwarted by not only his fellow titans, but also by Bruce swooping in to tell Damian he needs to knock it off. Forget the (however short) temporary loss of his best friend… Who Bendis has also decided to throw into the new Legion of Superheroes… Recent events in the Batman comics have hit Damian rather hard. Dick Grayson is an incredibly important person in the eyes of Damian, arguably more of a father figure than a big brother. With the KG Beast’s sudden take down of Nightwing (Batman #55)…
Damian has lost a crucial role model. It’s not like Nightwing wakes up and decides he’s done hero-ing after being shot in the head, that he wants to live the rest of his life as Dick Grayson sans the domino mask and tights. Nope, instead he demands to go by Ric Grayson. He’s a man who can’t recall who he was, let alone remember anyone in the Batfam. To make matters worse, Damian soon loses a second valuable role model in his life, Alfred (Batman #77). I think we are all still grieving the loss of our beloved caretaker and Sass Master. On top of what would be major life stressors for a real person, Bruce is not around for his son as this is going on. The support that Damian needs, he does not have. Given this gruelingly agonizing chain of events, this is the perfect lead up to how Damian’s character turns out in the current Teen Titans. While he would never admit to it, Damian is likely at his wit’s end, and without someone else to turn to.
Damian, frustrated to no end with his father’s failures, rips the “R” sigil from his chest and hands it over to Batman. He turns his back and walks away from not only his carefully curated team of teens, but also Batman, his father. But where does Damian go from here? DC has an opportunity to give fans of Damian something incredibly cool. A Damian Wayne anti-hero story (or even a story where he’s much more villainous than that).
BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT “GROWTH” YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT? HUH?
Oh boy howdy have I got something for you. For those of you not in the know, in Superman Rebirth #10, DC gifted us with a fresh dynamic duo.
Damian’s first appearance with Jonathan Kent is a bit of a doozy. He steals the boy away to the Batcave and before Batman can let Damian know what’s good for him, Superman bursts in and rips apart all equipment in sight. A fair reaction. That is his child after all. From here, once Batman and Superman have calmed down, Damian and Jon are sent out on a forced bonding boot camp experience. It takes some time, but eventually they learn to work together, and even chat a bit. It probably helps that for all Jon’s perceived timidness and scrawny looks, he can and will let Damian know when enough is enough.
Jonathan Kent absolutely dresses like he bought that zip up from a discount rack in the back of a Hot Topic, sewed one of Krypto’s capes to it, and then called it a day. Now where can I get one?
Eventually, the two learn how to work together, and become what Damian would absolutely refer to as acquaintances, and definitely not friends. Not too long after, the Supersons are given a standalone series with that title. Damian starts out with a harsh personality, much like what we’ve seen in Superman Rebirth and around the DC Universe in general. While Bruce forces him to attend the same school as Jon, it is clear Jon has friends and Damian can’t be bothered to get to know a single person. He is as ferocious on the playground as he is in combat. That isn’t to say Damian is not entirely incapable of being a compassionate or understanding character, in fact we begin to see some changes to his character. Having a ray of sunshine for a friend probably helps with the attitude adjustment.
While Damian still seems to be seeing things in black and white, on some level he is calming down a bit. Clearly, he does want a better future for himself, or at least he isn’t interested in whatever Talia is trying to serve him. Later, Batman even goes so far as to gift the boys with their own hideout, which Jon affectionately names the Fortress of Attitude. If I was 10 again with a wicked cool underwater secret base for me and my friends (or even just a tree house), I’d bet my last dollar I’d name it something dorky, too. Damian is less than happy about the name choice, but the battle over a name is not worth his time or energy. Damian? Not picking a fight? Who would have thought.
Not everything is a challenge for this kid anymore. The above is from Vol. 2 of Batman and Robin (New 52 Era). Continuity aside, this earlier and younger Damian is figuring himself out, wanting to make a name for himself as Robin. What better way than to take down those who came before you? We’ve seen this grim attitude before. Tim, who was already beat down once when Damian first entered the fold, is definitely not amused.
Jason’s embarrassed (spoilers: Damian lays down a crowbar and then steals his helmet). Dick appears downright disappointed. Still, this was during the New 52, and Damian’s character has continued to grow. He never loses that bite (after all, he wouldn’t be Damian without it), but he certainly no longer aims to kill.
In the Teen Titans run, Damian makes many hasty decisions at the expense of the well being of others, and most definitely without their opinions. Yet, even while that is going on, we see a different Damian in the Supersons of Tomorrow (2018 maxi-series). Damian and Jon are presented with challenges that are much bigger than them, and they need each other’s help. While Damian is undeniably extremely intelligent in every series he’s featured in, he still requires help from his super friend in Supersons of Tomorrow. He cannot go it alone. Moreover, there are multiple occasions where Damian is given the opportunity to help others, and willingly chooses to do so in a constructive manner. Not so much of that in Teen Titans, imo.
Bendis wrote an interesting Damian during Jon’s return to Earth in Superman (2018) #16. In the beginning, their reunion was rocky. Damian was suspicious of Jon’s return, and how could he not be? Three weeks prior, Jon was a scrawny 10 year old, now he’s about 16. That’s quite the change to wrap your head around, I know I’m still having difficulties with this plot choice. Yet, after the tension has subsided, the pair talk things through and even go on an adventure together.
Seeing this stark contrast in how Damian treats Jon, compared to his harsh words with many members of the Teen Titans is jarring. I have a tough time believing that Damian can reconcile differences with Jon so easily, yet be so volatile when it comes to nearly everyone else in his life. Granted, Damian and Jon have been through some $%&# together, especially with that one crazy summer adventure through space… Damian Wayne is, at best, unapproachable, but he has not been a mean and malicious kid for quite some time. Damian can laugh, joke, and take a jab at his character. Moreover, he has grown to become a more thoughtful character, as seen again in The Supersons Return issue of Superman. If you’re looking for more Jonathan Kent content, this would be a great issue to pick up and add to your collection.
BACK TO BEYOND
Damian’s always been at war with himself, and while other characters in the DC Universe are sometimes upset by his actions and motivations, no one outright blames him for it… Except maybe Tim, but Tim was nearly killed by a 10 year old out for blood. It’s common knowledge that Damian’s first few years were more than rough, they were downright traumatic. Keep stacking up those bad feelings and naturally the kid’s gonna blow. Or run. Furthermore, Damian is still a child. He’s wicked smart, he’s got deadly skill, but he is still a child and many other characters in the DCU recognize this. People want to help Damian, they don’t want to hurt him.
And that leads us where we are with Batman Beyond. But how did he get here DC!?
Damian claims that he left to work with Ra’s because Bruce’s scope was limited to Gotham; Damian wanted more. Here, more boils down to the eradication of most humans for the good of the planet… Had Damian always been in the League of Assassins without any benevolent outside influence, this train of thought would be much more believable. That isn’t how his life went, he found his way to the Batcave instead. Damian spent time with good role models and friends to help him along the way. He isn’t the incorrigible, near emotionless, demon spawn Teen Titans might have you think.
To circle back, DC has an excellent opportunity with Damian’s decision to renounce his role as Robin. The writers of Teen Titans made Damian into a more hardened kid, and given all that his character has suffered in the last couple of years it makes sense… However much some of us may not like it. Let the kid star in his own series so we can see how he comes to the conclusion that working for Ra’s al Ghul trumps his time in Gotham. Damian’s always been an interesting character, that isn’t about to change anytime soon, so a deeper look into his thought processes would just be freakin’ cool. And probably a decent money maker.
POOR CHARACTERIZATION, OR A RAD SET UP?
While I can’t claim to have any idea what DC will be doing with Damian’s character now that Tim Drake has resumed the Robin role, I can admit that speculating is a good time.
The writing done on Damian’s character throughout Teen Titans has been abysmal, or at least it feels that way. While four or so years working with the bats and birds is likely not enough time to erase ten years of torment with the League of Assassins, it is still hard to believe Damian is as malicious and unsound as he’s been being written. Unless, and this is a major unless, everything he has gone through in the stories of others up till now can be tied back into the attitude problems seen during his time with the Teen Titans.
Time for a review session.
I’ll try to keep things linear here.
Family confusion. Slade Wilson has always been and will always be one seriously messed up dude. I’d also love it if DC would have him pick on some folks his own age instead of tiny teens. Maybe I’m asking for too much. Deathstroke put Damian through a weird spot when he falsified DNA records and claimed the pint sized peanut as his own, causing a lot of turmoil in the Batfam, and a lot of emotional distress for Damian. Later it’s revealed that Slade was just doing Slade things, but that’s a lot of stress for a kid whose already from a family of assassins. Was Slade (also an assassin and a damn good one at that) his real dad? (NO!) But why not have Damian run through hell first.
The wedding. Prior to this next set of panels, the Bats and Birds were arguing just who should have been keeping tabs on Bruce, because he had just proposed to a villain and run off. What I have omitted is another few panels where Dick comes around and sits with Damian so he isn’t alone. Damian, current Robin, is feeling the blame. He’s roughly 13 here, he shouldn’t be responsible for watching over his father’s actions. A grown man shouldn’t need his teenage son to keep him from making reckless choices, but Damian’s got heart and he does feel bad.
The loss of Dick. For Damian, Dick was a rock. Dick was always going to be there and he was a steady, reliable person in Damian’s life. This much has been said about Dick across the whole DC Universe, not just among the Batfam. There are many panels illustrating how great a role model Dick is to everyone, and how dependable he is for Damian, but this seems fitting. Guess the end of that healthy friendship might have seemed like Batman #55, when Dick was shot in the head and lost his memories. Hello, Ric Grayson.
The loss of Alfred. Tom King, why. Dick’s been gone about 20 issues, Bruce is in trouble, and Damian’s going it alone. Alfred’s death may have been the last straw as far as trauma is concerned in Damian’s life in Gotham City. He’s had a tough break as Bruce’s Robin. No one can deny that fact. I was about to say, “Sure, he didn’t die like Jason,” but that’s not true either. Damian’s a cardholder in the Dead Robin’s Club.
Bruce has been a lackluster, not always present father. After witnessing Damian’s lashing out at Deathstroke, his fellow Teen Titans, and then himself, Batman finally admits his faults. He can’t ignore the damage done.
Damian’s been through a lot, Damian’s also lost a lot. Perhaps he’s given up on finding the good in Gotham. Countless times he has seen the villains of Batman’s Rogues Gallery not only escape Arkham, but deal more damage than they should ever be able to get away with. Gotham’s been slipping though. Nightwing could no longer be called on if help was needed, Bane had hold of the city, Red Hood had his own concerns… There was just too much for so few heroes to handle. Moreover, the writers of the annual give us some details to Damian’s thoughts throughout the annual.
Still, it has been a while since we have seen Damian act so irrationally. Damian may be hot headed, but he usually thinks things through in a manner that is easy for audiences to digest and understand, given his personality. Is the writing in Teen Titans actually so good that it comes across as bad? Meaning that each of Damian’s recent troubles seen in other comic runs are sending him back on the path laid out for him by the League. Has Damian reached his breaking point?
Or is his way of thinking throughout Teen Titans some twisted combination of his time in the League, mixed with what Damian perceives to be Bruce’s failures, maybe sprinkled with a little bit of insecurity on top? Damian’s always felt the need to prove himself as better than all the other Robins, too. That’s not a short list. Perhaps Damian’s currently of the mindset that he has done better than the Robins who came before him, and it is now time for him to do better than The Batman. Because if anyone can outclass Batman, it’s totally a 14 year old kid who was raised by assassins and costumed crime fighting vigilantes.
So what of life with the al Ghuls?
As far as we know in Batman Beyond, Damian willfully took up his current post in the League of Assassins. Damian’s hardened exterior nearly drove him to kill Terry in cold blood, but Bruce was able to bring his son back from that evil path. The League had known their fearless and fearsome leader to be just that, but Bruce’s presence softened him a bit. Or perhaps that kinder side of Damian was always there, just not something he could show around the League. And for good reason.
As Batman Beyond approached the mid-40’s issues, Damian found his place as leader of the League was in serious jeopardy. He already did not agree with Ra’s plan to kill off all human life, and sparing Terry and Bruce in front of the League was just the icing on the cake. Damian’s “kind” action paved the way for a hostile takeover, one which nearly gets him killed. But Bats and Birds never stay dead for long, anyway (Read literally any Batman run. Really).
It would appear that the good influence of those around Damian when he was younger hasn’t worn off just yet. Happy to hear he doesn’t want to lay waste to all of humanity. Too bad it nearly cost him his life.
As traitors, but not as folks who just want to get rid of all humans, yeah that sounds like Damian. Glad to see he will forever go up against anyone he feels has slighted him. This is a favorable example that is more in line with his character. We’ve seen this same attitude when Damian was a child, but he would go after people for perceived slights. There’s a difference. Many who wrote Damian recognized this trait, but also wrote Damian moving away from this kind of attitude as he became surrounded with more good influences and involved with teamwork… Just not with the Teen Titans.
Again, could Damian’s current attitude be the result of bad writing? Personally, I’ll only accept everything that has gone wrong with his character in this run if it leads the way to who Damian becomes in Batman Beyond. BB is much later in Damian’s life (just look at him), and DC has a golden opportunity to bridge that great gap. Did the events mentioned earlier cause enough mental distress to unravel Damian’s character? Send him over the edge and packing his bags? Every Robin leaves the nest eventually, well except for Tim who keeps going for those green tights. Clearly Damian has decided now was his time, but on what grounds?
Gotta take a deep breath here. We just don’t know. It could be any number of these things mashed together, or it could be absolutely nothing at all but bad writing. We’ve seen plenty of characters seemingly treated without care, and Damian would be no exception. The missing link of a run between Damian deciding to end his Robin run and just how he ends up in a mindset where he chooses to go back with Ra’s leads me to hope DC has something else in mind for this spiteful young lad.
Alternatively, hey DC, I’ve got loads of ideas, hmu.
FOR NOW, THAT’S ALL FOLKS
Don’t worry though, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Damian’s character as things move along. Supposedly, he will be making an appearance in an upcoming issue of Detective Comics, considering Tim’s current Robin status, should be interesting. I’m also curious to see Dick’s reaction to Damian’s walk out. Dick only returned to himself this September (Nightwing #74), and something tells me he might have more than a few choice words for Bruce.