The very idea of Batman having a son was criticized before Damian ever made his first appearance. Technically, his first appearance was at the very end of Mike W. Barr’s Son of the Demon back in 1987 and the idea that Bruce Wayne would have a child out of wedlock was so controversial that it was immediately retconned. In Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, the character made an appearance under the name Ibn al Xu-ffasch. But, it wasn’t until Grant Morrison started writing that Damian was named.
Morrison hardly names characters haphazardly and Damian is no exception. The name “Damian” has taken on negative connotations after the film The Omen presented the Anti-Christ with that name, so the effect before even knowing anything about the character is that Damian is some sort of evil character. That name is so engrained with the idea of the Anti-Christ that nothing else needs to be said and readers assume the worst about him. But, the name actually means “to tame” which makes sense given that “Batman and Son” is about Bruce Wayne trying to tame his son and prevent him from succumbing to his assassin tendencies. One could easily argue that this first story arc is the true reason why so many fans were apprehensive to accepting Damian as part of the Bat-mythos.
When he is first revealed, Damian is holding a sword to Bruce’s throat. Once Bruce brings Damian back to the Batcave, the son promptly challenges his father to a fight. He then threatens Tim Drake when Tim tries to be nice. When told that Alfred will help him unpack, Damian responds, “*^*% you.” In short, Damian isn’t very pleasant here in his first full appearance. But Bruce still defends the boy by saying, “He was raised by international terrorists in his grandfather’s League of Assassins. Brutalized, indoctrinated, then used as a weapon in his mother’s insane war with me.” With this, Morrison is almost directly telling the reader to give Damian a chance because he has both nature and nurture working against him so he will naturally be kind of a pain.
Combine the psychological trauma done to him with the fact that he has to learn to live with a father that has never been part of his life before (much less the fact that the father is Bruce Wayne – a ruthless taskmaster to children that AREN’T biologically his) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. “I’ve been sent here against my will! You can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do!” Damian screams as he throws a tantrum in Wayne Manor. Though I’m not a father yet, as a teacher, I’ve seen this sort of behavior many times. Defiant children who have been raised without any boundaries – children who have been given everything and have never been told “no.” Even if you don’t have children, you’ve seen it in the grocery store when children beg their parents for candy and the parents cave in. The children can’t be blamed for this lack of structure because it’s up to parents to provide this structure. Therefore, Damian is never really to blame for his actions because he was raised wrong.
If Damian were just a rude brat who disobeyed his father rather traditionally, he could be easily forgiven. But, as the son of the Dark Knight and the leader of the League of Assassins, he is no normal child and therefore, he takes defiance to a new level as he decapitates a one-off villain by the name of the Spook (why, oh why, couldn’t it have been a really annoying Batman villain like the Penguin or Mr. Zsasz?) and then fights Tim Drake for the mantel of Robin. Even with an understanding of Damian’s psychology, it’s admittedly a little difficult to defend him after these two incidents and so, with this establishing story, many fans had made up their minds about what kind of a person Damian Wayne was with little to no room for improvement.
To make matters worse, his next appearance would be as Batman in a possible future depicted in Batman #666. Not only was Damian Wayne a character that was annoying to readers, but this single issue informed readers that he would be here to stay and he is ironically battling the Anti-Christ (a reference to his namesake being associated with the Omen). Despite battling the Anti-Christ, having Damian as Batman in #666 still begets the interpretation that he might indeed be evil. So, while Morrison establishes that Damian will one day be a hero, he still maintains the mystery that he might not be.
Beyond establishing Damian as a future Batman, #666 also plants the seeds for future arcs. This issue introduced Professor Pyg and the Flamingo for the first time, and also mentions that Dick Grayson was Batman for a time. The Anti-Christ Batman hints at the coming of the Devil which will later be Dr. Hurt the Black Glove. Most importantly, however, is the revelation that Damian sold his soul to the devil when he was fourteen on the night that Batman died – a point that will come up in the Morrison’s last issue of Batman and Robin.
While Damian Wayne is something of an annoyance in the early issues of Batman, his role is exceptionally important for a number of reasons. First, he is Morrison’s first assertion that all Batman stories from the past matter. While other writers might wish to ignore Damian’s birth in Son of the Demon, Morrison embraced the story potential and this is simply his first step towards explaining other more wild and bizarre stories from Batman’s past like Zur-en-arrh, Bat-mite, and his relationship with the original Batwoman.
Next, Damian puts Bruce Wayne into an interesting position that we had never seen before – one of the responsible father. Of course, Bruce had always been a father to Dick, Jason, and Tim before, but those were always connected to the idea of a military drill sergeant training soldiers for the war on crime. With Damian, Bruce feels a certain degree of guilt for not knowing of his own son’s existence, and for neglecting the boy who had turned into a monster because of his insane mother.
Damian also acts as a pawn in the game between Batman and Talia. After Talia had indoctrinated Damian, sent him to live with his father so that Bruce would feel attached to the boy, she gave Batman an ultimatum, “Join me and I promise I’ll never threaten civilization again. We’ll found a dynasty that will rule the planet for a thousand years.” When Bruce refuses, she responds rather cryptically, “Then it’s war. And you’re responsible . . . for people like us, the world is a gameboard and nations are pawns.” Because Bruce refused to join Talia, he is directly responsible for the foundation of the Leviathan organization and the war that would take place in Batman Inc.
Fortunately, even though Damian was poorly received by fans, he eventually lives up to his name and becomes “tamed” as he joins Dick Grayson in Batman and Robin.