Thursday, February 28, 2013

R.I.P. Damian

I suppose it’s appropriate for me to blog about the demise of Damian Wayne.
I’ve made no secret about being opposed to the concept of Damian Wayne from the very beginning. For one thing, he’s the son (creation?) of Talia, daughter of R’as Al-Ghul I’ve never been a fan of R’as Al-Ghul, an eco-glossed Fu Manchu who has limitless resources and time and never manages to accomplish anything.   Except for his gratuitous plot-device of daughter, who exists solely to inappropriately fall for Batman (whom she barely KNOWS) and alternatingly betray him and her father, as the plot requires.  While guys like the Penguin manage to rob banks with umbrellas, R’as Al-Ghul, who lives on the other side of the planet and already knows Batman’s identity, not only never gets away with anything (even a liquor store heist) but routinely dies in the process and has to take a bath in Denny O’Neil’s ridiculous re-start button, the Lazarus Pit.  It’s like O’Neil watched Peter Seller’s The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu before it even came out (1980).  Sacrilege though this may be to those of you who bought into R’as at an early age, but I’ve always felt he was wildly out-of-place and rather an embarrassment to Batman’s Rogues Gallery.  Which, I note, includes the likes of Killer Moth, Crazy-Quilt, the Eraser, and Dr. Double-X.  So that’s saying a lot.
Another strike against the concept was that Damian was Batman’s illegitimate son.  O RLY, Batman?  You managed to escape over 9000 death-traps but still managed to knock some girl up? Nice.  Now, I think this may have been retconned somehow due to the concentrated timeline of the 52DCU, with Damian being a clone rather than a little bastard.  Which, if true, is somewhat better.  But it still seems like sort of desperately flailing for a way to invigorate the franchise: “Now Batman has an illegitimate son/clone!”  To me, Damian was like a Bat-mite with a bad attitude and no magical omnipotence.  I mean, his head’s even the same shape.  This is the sort of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking that Morrison does that so many people admire.  Me, I’m no big fan of that kind of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.  It doesn’t make me think “Grant Morrison’s an innovative genius”; it just makes me think “Grant Morrison’s the new Bob Haney, and constitutionally incapable of coloring between the lines because he lacks authorial self-discipline (or editorial discipline).”  If I wanted to read stories where Batman has a brain damaged brother, or Superman has a hunchback brother, or the Saga of the Super-Sons, I’ll just go back and read those, thank you.
Many of you will think I’m just a Morrison-hater and I’ve given you plenty of reason to think that.  Yet, I was not just a fan but quite a booster of his early work for DC and I remember his Animal Man and Doom Patrol issues both well and fondly.  But it’s one thing to give an imaginative writer a bunch of broken, nearly discarded minor characters and letting him see what he can make out of them with some glue, glitter, and LSD. It’s quite another to watch run wild when he’s given the keys to the DCU’s—the industry’s—two best known and most durable characters, battering them repeatedly into incomprehensible wrecks (the Black Glove, Infinite Crisis, the current Superman storyline; the list is longer).  Grant Morrison does not play nicely with toys and put them back in the box for others to use.  His track record on previously existing characters is pretty consistent: he does his patented ‘wildncrazy’ stuff with them until he’s squeezed as much wackiness out of them as he wants, then leaves a mess for someone else to try and fix.  I’m overstating a little for effect, but almost every time he’s done with a character or team, they have to reboot them in some way and back out of whatever blind alley he’s lead them down.  That’s not really being a team player and building a character for the future.  Morrison is a wonderful writer… of Elseworlds. And he's popular because... a lot of people like Elseworlds.

Damian’s introduction didn’t help endear him to me, either.  For those who coo how cute it is to watch his hardened little heart soften as he matures through his relationship with his mentors, I say (again): he tried to kill Tim Drake and he beheaded the Spook.  Yes, that was before the reboot; and I assume those particularly incidents are no longer in continuity.  But you’ll forgive me if those incidents made an indelible impact on me as to who this character was and what he was about.  The idea of one of our heroes having a murderous, violent son is interesting… but I think James Gordon Junior fills that role quite nicely.  Plus, you don’t see Commissioner Gordon putting Junior out on the street as a rookie cop, do you?  Damian needs/needed MASSIVE THERAPY, not the opportunity to attack criminals nightly.  “Damian Wayne” is bad enough; Damian as Robin is insane. And the whole ‘cute’ reversal of Robin being the hard-ass while Batman tempers him?  (1) Not so cute.  I prefer my ‘smart-mouthed’ kids on television sitcoms, where I don’t have to watch them. (2)  This idea is like one of those SNL skits that’s a funny idea, but becomes excruciating when it goes on too long.  Like, for more than two issues.  (3). To begin with, I missed the part where a bitter, violent child is either cute or funny.
And forget Batman for a minute.  Bruce Wayne, trillionaire, suddenly has an illegitimate heir?  Who is the son of one of Batman’s enemies, whom Bruce has zero reason to know?  People like to laugh at how ‘obvious’ it was in the Silver and Bronze Ages that Bruce Wayne was Batman.  What do they think of Damian’s impact on Bruce’s secret identity?
Honestly, the entire Damian Affair gives me headaches far more painful than those from Bob Haney stories. At least you knew Bob Haney was playing in his own Haneyverse, and that the rest of DC authorial and editorial would ignore whatever he was doing. But the Cult of Morrison has ensured that this (admittedly interesting) Elseworld-ish story has promulgate far, long, and wide across the company publishing.  Even when the opportunity to wrap the whole thing up but simply not have Damian in the New52 presented itself, all regular timelines deferred to Morrison’s. 
Far be it for me to wish any character ill.  I don’t want to see any character beaten/shot/stabbed to death brutally, certainly not a child (particularly by his mutant clone, which is a damning metacommentary about Damian being his own worst enemy). 
But I cannot say that I will miss Damian Wayne.


Bryan L said...

I found him interesting, but I think that's largely because in my head (admittedly, a somewhat strange and byzantine place), the New52 IS Elseworlds. So Damian holds no real "weight" with me, much as The Nail or Kingdom Come or The New Frontier hold no weight for me. I read them all, enjoyed them to varying extents, but never bothered to integrated them into DC continuity.

I was utterly unaffected by Damian's death, because that stuff in comics just doesn't resonate with me any more. Further, the boy's grandfather is known for one freaking thing: resurrection. Talk about a back door.

Finally, Morrison worship gives me a sharp pain in ... well, areas south of my belt. The problem is not so much that he leaves a mess (though he does), it's that other writers are cowed and hesitant to fix the mess. And don't get me wrong, I think the man's pretty brilliant in a lot of areas, but sometimes he's just wrong. No shame there, it happens to most people besides me. You probably didn't read his X-Men run, but bits and pieces of that are STILL getting undone (I picked up one title for a few issues recently and was startled to see that the catlike Beast was FINALLY reversed to "normal"). It will probably take decades to get this put to rights, unless they reboot the universe again.

Headless Spook said...

Scipio, usually I'm 100% with you, but I can't understand this one.

Can you imagine how people reacted to the original Robin when he debuted? Probably pretty similar to your response, and yet now we realize how important Robin is to the Batman mythos.

Morrison tries new things, which is more than you can say for a lot of writers who are content to move heroes from Point A to Point B along a perfectly straight line.

They don't always hit, but then again, no writer's perfect.

tad said...

I basically agree with you, Scipio, but I think this is a good time to get some comic universe nomenclature straightened out.

I think a clone who's created to pass as someone's male child should be called a "clon" -- clone + son.

And if he's your OWN male child (in this case Batman's) then he can be clon + own -- "Clown."

Carry on.

Scipio said...


I do hear what you are saying. I actually agree.

In theory. But sometimes practice goes too far. Regardless of execution, I think the inherent concept of Damian was a bad idea, and should have been forestalled.

The surest sign that a series has reached a creative cul-de-sac is when previously unknown relatives start crawling out of the woodwork.

Scipio said...

"Allow me to introduce my heir, Damian; he's a clonely child."

Anonymous said...

I didn't see Damian in the early days, so I don't remember him from an extra murderous period. The only murder I saw him commit was against NoBody, and you could argue some degree of duress that no ten-year-old could be expected to handle.

And I think that's part of why Bruce is giving Damian all kinds of second chances: because he realizes that this is a child who was trained to be a murderer, and what a child becomes has everything to do with the example his parents set. So yeah, it's crazy that Bruce's concept of therapy is putting on a costume and beating up muggers, but that's really one of the main themes of the entire Bat-family. So that's a string I don't want to tug on too firmly.

I guess that's my way of saying I can accept Damian within the crazy bounds of comics. In the real world, not a chance.

But as for Morrison, yeah, gotta agree with you that he's someone who needs to be reined in by editors, the way Frank Miller does. Also, I think I read that Morrison was using his parents' divorce as some of the emotional fuel for this, plus the message that while the parents fight, the child is caught in the middle. Fair enough. But I have to say, the metaphor goes off-track at about the point the mother creates a hulking murder-clone of the child.

Damian was shaping up of late, and I do like what he was becoming. But if they wanted to write him out, I wish he'd just left a note for Bruce: "Father, I realize your way is not my way; I must leave to find my own. I have taken the liberty of appropriating $1.5 million to fund my endeavors. I am glad I got to know you. With respect, Damian"

Anonymous said...

Aaaand another thing. Various people on the Internets have commented that "Death of the Family" would have worked better if Damian had died there; I say they're wrong. "Death of the Family" was thematically about Joker vs. Batman and their perceptions of family; killing Damian would have meant that the Joker was more or less right.

I have to give Snyder this much (and quite a bit more actually): when he plays in the communal toybox that is DC Comics, he doesn't break all the action figures just to hear them snap. He leaves them in good condition for the next kid to play with. That's good manners.

As for Damian dying, how he died was more or less appropriate to the themes that defined him. He didn't go out a victim so much as a kid doing his best as a hero, and succeeding pretty well all things considered. As character send-offs go, that's better than the Joker beating him to death with a crowbar.

yrzhe said...

"Grant Morrison does not play nicely with toys and put them back in the box for others to use."

The point when I realized this and really soured on putting Morrison on established franchises was his use of Magneto over on X-Men. Not the "Magneto is a pathetic, irrelevant old man who's out of touch with modern mutants" idea, because that was a valid reinterpetation of the character, but the fact that he wrapped it up by having Magneto decapitated on-panel in front of witnesses.

I mean, why? What thematic purpose did that serve that couldn't have worked just as well by killing him in an old-fashioned explosion that leaves no body? It really just came across as a mean-spirited way for one writer to make it harder for future writers to write subsequent stories about a fairly popular character.

Morrison's fans complained when Marvel almost immediately pulled a "It wasn't really Magneto" retcon when his run was finished, but it's his own fault for leaving a mess that needed to be cleaned up.

TotalToyz said...

Another reason you'd have to dislike Damien Wayne is that he's another example of "mainstream" DC continuity being "brought into line" with Waid & Ross' Kingdom Come, something I've seen you criticize before. (Wouldn't Damien have grown up to be Ibn al Xu'ffasch?)

Jeff McGinley said...

You post has a great many excellent points, some I agree with and some I don't (but it makes me think about why I don't).

I tend to view all of Morrison's writing as taking place in his own "Haneyverse". I also think Damien should have been a girl if he's really following his "every story counts" idea.

However this line of yours:
"I prefer my ‘smart-mouthed’ kids on television sitcoms, where I don’t have to watch them."

I'm going to need on a t-shirt.

LissBirds said...

Scipio, I think you hit the nail on the head throughout this entire post.

I never liked Damian at all and could never find him "cute." Too me, that line of thinking is just depraved. He does have a pretty big following, though.

I just don't get the adulation Morrison receives. I just want a good solid story, not "how far can we push the envelope."

Scipio said...

"I have to give Snyder this much (and quite a bit more actually): when he plays in the communal toybox that is DC Comics, he doesn't break all the action figures just to hear them snap. He leaves them in good condition for the next kid to play with. That's good manners.

As for Damian dying, how he died was more or less appropriate to the themes that defined him."

I agree completely.

r duncan said...

1. "But I cannot say that I will miss Damian Wayne." I follow just a few DC books now, since the New 52, and none of them are Bat-books. Do you think Damian will "go away"? He's a clone?...he has a clone?...Lazarus Pit? Even if he doesn't come back, I feel like he will never go away, at least in the minds of the characters.

2. Just wondering. Did Scott Snyder "play nicely with toys and put them back in the box for others to use." I'm thinking particularly of Joker's face and all the people he maimed and killed.

As always, I enjoy you blog.

Scipio said...

Thanks, Duncan!

Scott Snyder didn't write the issue where the Joker's face was removed.

Snyder is the person who tried to make some sense of it after.

And I would hold that the unnamed civilian victims aren't "toys" that need to be put back in the box (like major characters are). For the purposes of the story, they are plot devices (in some parts, in fact, just part of the *scenery*).

Anonymous said...

... and even as far as that "scenery" goes, Snyder was careful to throw in the detail that they were still alive. Still alive means that, with proper counseling (by which I don't mean putting on tights and beating up muggers), they could still live good lives.

Yeah, there are always some deaths when Joker comes to town. But Snyder could easily have ramped up the death toll for shock value, and he didn't. While there was shock value in his story, he achieved it mostly in the other direction: the death of one person is a tragedy.

Also, when the Joker comes back, maybe his face will be back too? Whenever you "kill" the Joker but fail to claim the body, it means he'll make a full recovery by the time he returns. It's basically what happens to Wile E. Coyote when they cut to a new scene.

Cabin Campbell said...

I always hated the very idea that Batman would be careless enough to have fathered a bastard child. Batman plans EVERYTHING. I would have gleefully voted to kill Damien, just as I did with Jason Todd., if only DC had given me the chance this time.

JohnF said...

The surest sign that a series has reached a creative cul-de-sac is when previously unknown relatives start crawling out of the woodwork.

While this is mostly true, a gifter writer can take even the most tired of cliches and make them seem vibrant and interesting.

Anonymous said...

Damian's gone?

Oh, good.

I've generally liked Morrison's stuff, even Infinite Crisis, but his Superman has been horrible. And while I've avoided his Batman, I wasn't reading Batman before he came on board either. Batman and Bratboy are the two least-interesting people in Gotham, to me.

But we're finally rid of the murderous little brat? Good. Now maybe someone will remember the Dark Night Detective.

-- Jack of Spades

JohnF said...

I agree that Morrison's Action Comics is pretty lousy.

Louis said...

I am a huge fan of Grant's--went to MorrisonCon and all that--and think that you might be a little harsh on the man's work. His Batman and Robin run was the only time I ever cared to read any Batman stories. All-Star Superman is one of the best comic book stories ever, etc.

However! I do agree that Morrison just does his own thing and would be better served living out in Elseworlds land doing his own thing. I feel like he's built up enough of a fanbase that they'd follow him to books like that. Batman, Inc. hadn't been served well by the New 52 reboot, nor was the new52 reboot served by having to bend over backwards to keep Damian and Morrison's work in the picture. They should have just let him continue in the old continuity. At least that way he could break whatever toys he wanted and it wouldn't really matter.

Jacob T. Levy said...

The big exception to Morrison's toybox problem with big properties is JLA. He killed off one of his own creations, but otherwise simply left the DCU of the 2000s with a *much* better and more functional central team (and lots of spinoff concepts-- the J'onn series, Hourman) than it had at any point in the 90s (Extreme Justice!).

The fact that the post-Waid writers managed to wreck it and end a really promising era for DC wasn't Morrison's fault.

Anonymous said...

If you ask Denny O'Neil, he'd probably say:

"There is no Damian Wayne.

There never was a Damian Wayne.

There never will be a Damian Wayne."

After all, the concept of Batman having a son by Talia that he knew bothing about comes from "Son of the Demon", a graphic novel that he has all but disavowed, practixally stating that "It never happened."