Very few of our comic book heroes have real biological families. Many times, we see surrogate families created from a group of exceptional individuals that work together as a super-group, but if the hero did have a family, they usually ended up as cannon fodder for the origin story. Comic book writers like their characters to have a level of isolation that distinguishes them from the rest of the supporting characters. This seems to be an attempt to make the main character somehow more special than his/her peers. Sometimes, the main character finds a long lost sibling that they end up fighting against but the majority of our heroes are orphans of some sort. Whether it’s the last son of krypton or the only son of the murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne, our heroes have limited blood relatives that stick around. Batman, however, has his biological son Damian. The relationship between Bruce and Damian Wayne is unique to the typical role of Batman and Robin.
The social lives of super-heroes fit into the norm of “I want you but can’t put you in danger if my enemies find out who you are.” Most of the comic heroes are single. Orphaned and single. It’s a lazy idea that has been beaten to death. We like our heroes to strive for love and fail at it. And the idea of a super-hero being in charge of a child that is biologically his/hers is crazy! But with a little bit of Al Ghul coaxing and an artificial womb, that’s exactly what you get. Batman has a biological son. He has indeed procreated.
Admittedly, there are a few timeline issues with the realization of Damian Wayne that have yet to be explained. In the New 52, Damian Wayne is eleven years old. Super-heroes have only been around for about six years. It’s been explained and accepted that Damian was conceived after Bruce Wayne became Batman. Readers are still waiting on an explanation for that situation, but throwing the fanboy continuity issues away, the relationship between Bruce and Damian is arguably the most interesting.
By looking at Damian’s linage, we see the makings of a riveting character. He is the son of Bruce Wayne (duh) and Talia Al Ghul (the daughter of Ras Al Ghul “the Demon’s Head”). He was trained by the masters of the League of Assassins and was indoctrinated by his mother to be “a new Alexander” in a world that he would rule. This has not happened and as of late, in the current continuity, Damian has a price on his head of five hundred million dollars from his own mother.
Bruce has taken in his son after not knowing of his existence for a decade. It has been a very rocky road, but eventually Damian became the newest in the line of Robins. In the comic books, the title that focuses on the relationship between the two Wayne’s is Batman & Robin. The first story arc focuses on Damian’s apparent need to kill. He is holding it back to such an extent that he barely sleeps, constantly trains to the point of exhaustion, and makes snarky comments to Alfred who, as always, plays the part of nurturer. Bruce is trying hard to curb Damian’s appetite for overkill. Damian is portrayed in the first few issues as rash, angry, violent, and disobedient. In essence, he is Jason Todd-lite. At first.
There are many obvious similarities between Jason and Damian. Both are talented fighters, both strive for Batman’s attention, and both feel inferior to the Robin that came before them. The most obvious similarity is the anger that they feel and demonstrate by crippling and killing the criminals they battle. Interestingly enough, Jason and Damian do not get along (in my opinion ,this demonstrates an odd sort of self-loathing). But the main difference between the two characters is that while Jason fell further into his anger; Damian is climbing out of it. He desperately wants to be like Bruce. Batman. The pinnacle of mental and physical human perfection. It’s an awfully high standard to aspire to.
In the first story arc of the New 52 Batman & Robin, Damian cripples and deforms many different criminals. He joins that story arcs big bad (as a ruse to eventually beat the big bad) and disobeys his father as usual. What we see during this arc is a humanizing of Damian even though he is doing very monstrous things. He shows a need for attention, a need to prove his worth, and finally his need to be taken care of by his father. By the end of the arc, we see Bruce’s genuine concern for his son. Not his sidekick.
Bruce Wayne has been the father figure of three different Robins before Damian. Each has lived with him, been schooled and trained by him and ultimately struck out on their own. But even after all the warding and adopting and burying dead sidekicks, Batman himself rarely took that father position actively. The most that had been seen of this active father role before Damian was adopting Tim Drake (in Pre-New 52). Occasionally, readers even saw Tim referred to as Tim Wayne. The name change shows how the writers wanted the readers to start looking at Tim as a legitimate heir.
The concern that Bruce shows for Damian is much more assertive than changing his name. At the end of the first New 52 Batman & Robin arc, Damian ends up being tortured by the villain (whose name is Nobody). When Bruce shows up to rescue Damian like several Robins of the past, the fight that ensues is more than just a hero saving his sidekick. It is a father taking vengeance out on the man that hurt his son. There is a moment in which Batman, having gotten the upper hand in battle, is going to kill the villain by dunking him in a vat of acid but stops the moment he sees Damian staring at him. In that moment, his bloodlust eases and he pulls back from the edge of killing. Bruce Wayne knows that he has to set the standard for Damian by following his own rules and not kill the man that tortured his son.
Readers have seen Batman’s fatherly vengeance before in A Death in the Family when Jason Todd was murdered by the Joker. Batman proceeds to hunt him down and is convinced that only one of them was going to survive that encounter (though we all know they both do). What has been the consistent factor that pushes Batman to the edge of killing is the reaction to one of his son’s mistreatment. But unlike the prior Robins who were all approximately in their mid-to-late teens, Damian is eleven. He is literally a child. Literally a “boy wonder.” I believe that Batman’s overly violent reaction to Damian’s mistreatment shows the awareness of Damian’s, for lack of a better word, innocence. Writer Peter Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason create a scene that shows Damian nearly broken from the torture. He is small and bleeding and in need of immediate medical attention. Batman sees his son in this state and if not for Damian’s presence, Batman would have given into his own dark urge for bloody vengeance.
In addition to being young, Damian has special needs that Bruce has to aid in restraining. The need or desire to kill. This task is a work in progress as Damian kills Nobody to protect them all from Nobody’s threat of returning. Damian could very well be a psychopathic killer if not for the intervention of Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne.
In the latest issue of Batman & Robin, we see the anger fading in Damian. Bruce takes him up into space to “check on” a satellite. There also happens to be a full eclipse in progress as they jet into space. On the way back into Earth’s atmosphere Damian says, “Thank you for sharing this with me, father.” It should be noted that while Damian is in uniform, he is saying this without his mask on. This shows the utter honesty in the moment. It’s a scene that depicts a little boy thanking his father for sharing a moment with him. This moment is not focused on Batman and Robin or hero and sidekick but is focused on father and son…who both just happen to be crime fighters wearing scary masks and body armor. The readers see Damian shifting from stranger and sidekick to him joining Dick and Tim as “Bruce’s boys”. It’s a rather touching moment.
This scene is only enhanced when Bruce relinquishes control of the rocket to Damian. Damian is unsure as he has only ever practiced controlling the rocket in simulations. Bruce assures him that he can do it. Bruce believing in Damian is something that the son desperately needs; encouragement and trust from his father. Throughout Damian’s existence in the DC Universe, he kept telling Bruce what he was capable of and how good he was at this and that. But here we see that Bruce is putting his trust wholly into Damian and his capabilities.
Dick, Jason, and Tim all started out as boys in need. They all became partners and eventually they would become Bruce’s sons. Damian has been Bruce’s son since the moment he was introduced. He enters the batcave a Wayne and a stranger, but always a son. Bruce has made mistakes while raising all of his Robins, especially in regards to Jason Todd. With all of the mistakes that Jason caused and endured it would be easy to see Damian following the same path. It seems that Bruce is trying harder with Damian than he ever did with Jason perhaps because Damian is his biological son but what is more likely is that Bruce rarely makes the same mistake twice. He is more patient and understanding. It seems that Bruce Wayne is doing things right with Damian, having learned from his mistakes.