While Damian’s name can be interpreted as “to tame,” it can also be interpreted as “to conquer,” which seems to be Talia’s reasoning for his name when she says in issue #7, “Damian will stride across the 21st century like a new Alexander” as he is undergoing spine surgery after being paralyzed by Flamingo at the end of the previous arc. Talia’s plans for Damian don’t include his role as Robin as she sees it as a “phase” but with Bruce Wayne gone, she whispers not to her son, but to her idea of what her son should be, “soon then, my dear. Soon.” Talia is more than Damian’s mother in this instance, however. She represents everyone who ever had preconceived notions about who Damian is as a character. Like all of the fans who doubted that Damian would be a worthy successor to the Batman name, Talia doesn’t want Damian to be Robin. She wants him to take his place as the heir of the al Ghul empire.
Damian is barely in the three part “Blackest Knight” until the final issue where he must defend himself against a mutilated, insane, resurrected clone of his father. Even though he is recovering from spine surgery and must single-handedly fight a monstrosity that appears to be his father, Damian shows that he is worthy to be the son of Batman through his bravery in battle. In this way, he has established that he is capable of Batman’s abilities even when he isn’t in the Robin costume. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the “Batman vs. Robin” story, Damian is shown taking on the role of chairman of Wayne Enterprises as he points out an error in finances that other should have caught. So, not only has his abilities as a fighter been proven, he has proven to be a capable businessman as well (something that Dick Grayson had been avoiding throughout the entire series thus far).
The main focus of “Batman vs. Robin” revolves around Dick and Damian uncovering a mystery to bring Bruce Wayne back from the dead. While searching for clues in Wayne manor, Damian asks, “If my father returns we can’t be Batman and Robin anymore, can we?” to which Dick replies, “No, I guess not. It’s a small price to pay for getting him back alive.”
From there, Damian continues to worry that he won’t be Robin any longer and Dick cracks jokes so that he can avoid the tough questions while still trying to teach Damian to be a detective. Finally, a frustrated Damian says, “Do you know what I gave up for this? It’s not just nothing to me.” Afterward, there is a flashback to a conversation between Damian and Talia after his spine surgery.
Talia perfectly explains Damian’s inner conflict when she says, “their plan is to tame and brainwash you until nothing is left but a spineless puppet. The world could be yours.” The tame or the conqueror – the two possibilities of Damian’s namesake – are the options that Talia presents to her son. While in his most vulnerable state after having spine surgery, she invokes the idea of destiny and that Damian has no choice but to follow her plans for his life. But, ever defiant, Damian foreshadows the remainder of this arc when he says, “I won’t be your weapon against them, mother.”
Of course, Damian’s new spine is just another weapon in Talia’s war against Batman (or “game” to quote her from the end of “Batman and Son”) and she is able to take control of Damian’s body to attempt to kill Dick Grayson. After he regains control, Batman and Robin confront Talia where she claims that Grayson’s indoctrination of Damian is no different than her own.
The idea that Damian had somehow been indoctrinated into becoming heroic is an interesting one because it presumes that he has no free will and as a child of ten, one could further argue that he really doesn’t have free will because he is dependent upon others. Still, the guilt he felt for failing Sasha wasn’t an indoctrinated emotion – it was his own. He felt genuinely sorry for his mistake without being told to by Dick Grayson, so perhaps Damian does indeed have the will and ability necessary to make his own decisions.
It’s during the private conversation between Damian and Talia that he truly completes his transformation, however. He’s shows how serious he takes his role when he tells her, “Being Robin is the best thing I’ve ever done, mother.” Talia responds by showing that she is growing a new child that will be Damian’s genetic duplicate. In a way, she has cloned her own son just in case of the occasion that he would ultimately betray her.
When she offers him one last chance to inherit her empire, he replies, “Can’t you just love me for who I am? Not what you want me to be?” Even though Damian has proven himself to be an exceptional fighter without emotion, this scene shows that he is still vulnerable. Underneath his tough exterior, all he wants is to be loved and accepted by his parents. With Bruce Wayne gone, Damian chose to be Robin to honor his father, but this is against his mother’s wishes.
Their conversation concludes with Talia declaring that Damian would be “an enemy of the house of al Ghul” and he completes his transformation by saying, “Very well. I hope I can be a worthy one, mother.”
Finally, after so long, Morrison had finally hit upon the raw, emotional core of the character and it was well worth the wait. Damian’s struggle between “the tame” and “the conqueror” was never overdramatized, but rather just below the surface of the character throughout Morrison’s Batman run with it concluding in the final issue of Batman and Robin and Damian defying reader expectations and becoming a hero worth rooting for. Though at times a frustrating brat of a character, Damian grew emotionally and despite fans virtually begging for him to be retconned or killed off, he became an unexpected and surprising hero.
Batman and Robin was a title that constructed Dick Grayson’s rogue’s gallery and accomplished much in establishing a stronger identity for the hero while he was under the Batman cowl, and accomplished the seemingly impossible task of transitioning Damian Wayne from brat to hero, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this was the real goal; it was merely a façade. Underneath the shiny veneer of character development, a war was being waged. Creeping between the panels and bleeding out onto the page in glorious, four-color symbolism, two players manipulated the events of the comic in a game of dominoes, and chess.
So, while Batman and Robin was certainly a fun read about how Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne grew as characters and became heroes, when read again and more closely, it’s not really about that at all. It’s simply a ruse.