Damian, You Son of a Bat!

Damian is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al-Ghul, and has become one of the central characters in Morrison’s Batman epic and beyond.We have seen him struggle to fit into the Wayne and Bat family;  become Robin; confront, challenge and be exiled by his own mother; hold his own against the Joker, and eventually one day in the future, possibly become Batman himself. Many readers were concerned and confused by the introduction of Damian into the Bat Family, yet the foundation for Bruce having a son had been well laid before Morrison’s appearance on the title. As with all of Morrison’s work, visual and textual clues pave the way to gaining more insights into Damian’s conception and creation.

Before the ninja Man-Bats attack in Batman #656, Alfred is sitting in the car outside the art show reading Artemis Fowl – a story of a boy genius. Cass Sherman notes that “The book seems tame for Alfred though, whose library Bruce calls ‘a shrine to blood spattered prose’ in Batman #675”. Morrison is simply referencing the Artemis Fowl series as a piece of inspiration for the Damian character.

The key source of Bruce and Talia having a son comes from Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham’s 1987 classic Batman: Son of the Demon. In that story, Batman and Ra’s al Ghul form a shaky alliance when they are hunting the same man, the terrorist known as Qayin – the man who murdered Ghul’s wife and Talia’s mother.  During the course of the story, (despite their ideological differences and on-again, off-again romance) Talia and Bruce’s romance flourishes once more and results in the two coupling. Soon Talia becomes pregnant and this deeply effect’s Bruce’s demeanour and actions as Batman. This reaches it’s climax when Batman is nearly killed protecting the recently pregnant Talia from Qayin’s assassins. Talia, observing this change, feels that if their relationship is too continue, it will certainly resolve in Bruce’s death. And so, Talia claims to have have miscarried and the news crushes Batman emotionally, returning him to his usual dark and grim persona. He returns to Gotham, never knowing that Talia is still carrying his child. Eventually the child is born, and is left in an orphanage, soon to be adopted by a western couple. The only clue the child has about who is real parents are is in the jewel encrusted necklace, which was a gift Bruce gave to Talia.

While the story was widely acclaimed, for the most part, the events of Son of the Demon were considered out of continuity. Dennis O’Neil stated that the story was non-canon because it did not fit well with the rest of the mythos and that it was erased during Zero Hour. However, the same child of Bruce and Talia from Son of the Demon,  whose is called Ibn al Xu’ffasch, was featured as an Elseworlds character in Mark Waid’s The Kingdom. Grant Morrison renewed the concept of Bruce and Talia having a son, however changed several elements of the story. The character was called Damian, and rather then being given up for adoption, he had been raised by Talia and the League of Assassins. However, the strangest change was instead of their sexual encounter being consensual, Bruce claims he was, “drugged senseless”, suggesting that he was essentially raped.

It must be noted that Grant Morrison himself admits he did not read Son of the Demon before working on “Batman and Son”, and that he is indeed mistaken on a lot of the details. In an interview with Wizard, he said, “For a long time, DC said Son of the Demon was out of continuity. Now it’s just kind of out of continuity. I didn’t actually read it before I started writing this. I messed up a lot of details, like Batman wasn’t drugged when he was having sex with Talia and it didn’t take place in the desert. I was relying on shaky memories. But now we have this new “Superboy punch” continuity after Superboy Prime attacked the fabric of the universe during Infinite Crisis. People still don’t realize how important that single punch was to cover everyone’s ass.” However in the prologue to Batman #666, “The Legend of Batman”, it appears that the drugging mistake has been fixed, depicting a much more romantic encounter between Bruce and Talia.

A common theme in Grant Morrison’s Batman epic is the issue of family. Fatherhood, sibling rivalry and conflict, inheritance and legacy. Funnybook Babylon’s David Uzumeri, commented on the theme of “Nature vs Nurture” within Morrison’s run on Batman, noting that this theme was “especially evident in the rivalry between Tim and Damian for the right to be Batman’s son, as well as the rumination on Batman’s own upbringing.” But this theme can be expanded to the idea of family.

Although Damian’s character had been teased out throughout the previous issues, the sight of the opening of Batman #657 makes clear the  reasoning behind the title of “Batman and Son.” Damian is Batman’s son. While Damian was revealed at the end of #656, there are some key points in this issue that makes it clear that the title has been rightly named “Batman and Son,” rather than “Bruce Wayne and Son.” As Uzumeri points out, “Bruce brings Damian to the Batcave before Wayne Manor, showing that he considers Damian to be the son of the Bat, not Bruce.” He says that the Batcave will be his home now, the home of Batman. Also, Bruce talks and tours the Batcave in his Batman outfit, adding more emphasis that the Bat is Damian’s father. As Batman, Bruce mentions Damian’s mother several times – the intention being that it was Batman and Talia that created Damian, this is crystalized with the panel featuring Talia and Bruce about to make love, in which Bruce is still wearing the cowl.

Yet unlike Batman, who, while loosing his parents to a violent crime, was raised by the kind hearted and strong-willed Alfred, Damian was born into a world of “might makes right.” Damian begins as a spoiled and lethal little brat. He beheads a criminal and displays his head to Tim Drake, and he later attacks Tim in an attempt to take his role as Robin. The boy is certainly strong and smart, yet at his core, there is something deeply wrong. Thus returning to the issue of “Nature vs Nurture.” Could Damian be trained, be nurtured, to take the same stand as the Bat Family that “We don’t kill?” Or was it in his nature to kill, or perhaps even to be evil? This is brought to the forefront with the encounter with former Robin, Jason Todd. Jason, who has gone so far beyond the ethos of Batman, has become a super villain. Jason and Dick Grayson go head to head in a battle of Bat-Sons, in which both claim to be heirs to cowl of Batman. Yet, it is Dick Grayson who victors and claims the right to the cowl and the title of Batman. Nurture wins the battle against Nature, and Dick proves that there is hope for Damian to grow into a man worthy of the name, “Batman”.

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Daniel N. Gullotta is an Australian writer, film maker, and comic book fanatic. He has written on various religious issues at www.catholica.com.au and www.tcpc.org and writes a weekly column on geek related topics such as movies, tv shows, comics, and books at http://www.battleroyalewithcheese.com. Daniel is also a member of the Christian Comic Book Society.

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Also by Daniel N. Gullotta:

Humans and Paragons: Essays on Super-Hero Justice


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