While Dick Grayson’s growth as Batman is certainly one way of interpreting Batman and Robin, one shouldn’t forget the “Robin” part of the title. With this series, Morrison took on the seemingly impossible task of trying to make Damian Wayne into a likable character by giving the character true development. His growth as a hero is an incredibly important factor in the narrative of the series because it is proof that even though fans may think they know what they want in terms of story, given the right character and circumstances, even the most hated character can be turned around.
Damian’s first line in Batman and Robin is proof that the character had grown much since his first appearance. In a flying Batmobile while on the trail on Mr. Toad and his gang’s getaway car, Damian coolly says, “I told you it would work. All I had to do was adapt my father’s blueprints” showing that he has diversified his education to go beyond fighting, but into science and technology as well and he has excelled so much in his studies that he has been able to create something that even Bruce Wayne had trouble with. Alfred furthers this notion when he compliments Damian by saying, “Remarkable work, young sir, if I may say so. The gyroscopic array was a source of endless frustration for your father, as I recall.” To which Damian responds, “I promised I’d finish what he started” showing that he has not only accepted his Batman lineage as being more important than his role as assassin, but that he feels a sense of necessity to continue his father’s work.
But at the beginning of Batman and Robin, Damian shows that he isn’t fully responsible just yet as he tells the frustrated Dick Grayson, “If you’re not up to it, stand aside, Dick Grayson. I was bred for the job, and trained in the arts of war by the masters of my mother’s league of assassins. I could just as easily continue my father’s work on my own” and later, “you can have respect if you earn it, that’s all I’m saying.” These instances show that even though Damian has grown into an intelligent and more calm person, he is still a defiant and impetuous child with room to grow.
In a sense, Damian and Dick are foils for one another. When Dick was Robin, he was cheerful and reminded Batman that there was good in the world. Now that Damian is Robin, he is too much of his father and now Dick as Batman must remind Robin that the world isn’t a horrible place. The dynamic of the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder had been inversed.
While battling with the Circus of Strange, Damian’s anger gets the best of him as he goes off on his own to battle and torture Big Top (a fat man in a pink tutu) and doing so allows for Mr. Toad to be murdered by the Domino Killer causing a rift between Dick and Damian. “I already promised my father I wouldn’t kill. Now I’m supposed to be nice to the police as well?” Damian asks showing both that he had taken his father’s lessons of not killing to heart, but also his ignorance in terms of believing that was all it took to be a hero.
Damian represents Dick Grayson’s first true challenge as Batman – if Dick can’t get his partner to believe he is Batman, then no one will. He leaves the partnership to find Professor Pyg on his own which causes Dick Grayson to question his own effectiveness as Batman. It isn’t the Circus of Strange that shatters Grayson’s confidence, but the actions of his own partner.
After being captured by Professor Pyg, Damian never breaks a sweat or shows one sign of fear as he makes his escape and nearly defeats Pyg and his Dollotrons all on his own. It’s an interesting scene because in a typical story, after the arrogant partner is captured, it takes the calm, collected partner to come save him. In this case, Damian is ambushed, and captured, but he is still able to break out on his own and fight Pyg. All in all, he would have been successful in his mission, but despite his capabilities, he isn’t able to save Sasha from the Dollotron horde which causes her to murder her own father and become the Red Hood’s sidekick, Scarlet.
So, the first arc of Batman and Robin has established that while Damian has grown, he still has a lot of learning to do, and the end of the Professor Pyg encounter finally teaches him that there are consequences for not being perfect, but the message won’t be fully received until the next arc with the Red Hood.
Of all the arcs in Batman and Robin, the Red Hood story is the most profound not just because of the parallels created between Dick Grayson and Jason Todd, but for what it represents to Damian’s growth as a hero. In their first interaction together in issue #4 on a rooftop stakeout, Dick and Damian seem to bond in the rain. It’s a short moment where Dick criticizes Damian for wearing a hood and Damian proves that he can fight blind. The two grin and while it isn’t a syrupy Hallmark moment, the reader gets a sense that the two have developed a sense of respect for one another since their conflict with Pyg.
Batman and Robin then face off against the Red Hood and Scarlet for the first time. After their battle, a visibly shaken Damian mutters, “That was her. That was the girl from the circus I tried to save.” The consequences of Damian’s actions at the end of the Professor Pyg encounter were dire, but important to his growth as a character. For the first time, Damian is shown with genuine remorse for something he had done wrong when he realizes that Scarlet is the girl he failed to save from the Dollotrons.
Sasha acts as a foil of sorts for Damian. She represents his first real failure as a hero, but she in the murdering of her father (as opposed to Damian honoring his), her partnership with a former Robin, and her extreme stance in murdering criminals, she represents everything that Damian isn’t. And while she is an excellent lens to help readers better understand Damian, she is by no means alone in this.
After their first encounter with the Red Hood and Scarlet, Damian mentions that Bruce “made some very strange choices when it came to partners” and Dick explains, “Bruce thought he could save Jason …” This one sentence perfectly echoes Damian’s introduction into the Batman universe. Bruce knew that Damian had been raised wrong and he took it upon himself to rewire his son and make him into a hero. Jason is a representation of what Damian could have become if he would have continued down the path of killing crime. Furthermore, both Jason and Damian were hated by the fans and so there is a sort of meta-connection between the two that exists because of that hatred.
But despite the comparisons from Damian to Jason, as Damian says, “It’s not about him. It’s that girl. I feel responsible” and as Dick replies, “That’s a first.” Damian had faced the frighteningly creepy Professor Pyg and survived without the slightest problems, but in failing to save Sasha, he is finally affected.
It’s further worth noting that despite his faith in his abilities being shaken, Damian never once suggests that he isn’t fit to do the job. Where other super-heroes have questioned their ability to perform their duties, Damian never does. He’s so confident in his role that he resolves to redeem himself where others might have toyed with the idea of hanging up the costume.
At the end of the Red Hood story, Damian is damaged once more, but this time, rather than being damaged psychologically due to his failure, he is paralyzed after being shot in the spine by the Flamingo. Surely even the most stone-hearted reader could empathize with this once hated character as he is hurt while trying to do the right thing. After six issues of Batman and Robin, Damian went from arrogant, hated bastard child of Bruce Wayne to a slightly more mature character with psychological and physical battle scars.
But his transformation hadn’t been completed just yet.