Batman Incorporated #8 review

I think I'm safe to assume anyone reading this knows what happens this issue, DC having self-spoiled to the media a couple of days back. And if you hadn't heard, I hope Chris Burnham's cover here - don't look! - gets the message across in a darkly elegant manner.

Damian Wayne dies, slaughtered by his own clone during mother Talia al-Ghul's assault on Gotham city. 'Big brothers' Nightwing and Red Robin are unconscious across the lobby of Wayne Enterprises, so can't help. His father is fighting for his own life across the city. Batman Inc's other agents are scattered around Gotham, dealing with the brainwashed hordes of Talia's Leviathan organisation.

But Damian's courageous fall is witnessed. Wayne employee Ellie, whom he's been defending, watches in horror as the other Damian - aged to adulthood as the younger was advanced by around five years - runs his parent/brother through. Damian saves everyone, destroying the 'world bomb trigger' with his crossbow bolts, but it's the witnessing of one woman that brings the tragedy home. Here we have a ten-old kid, fighting a grown version of himself for the life he might yet have. Damian, the cockiest Robin of them all, begs the mother he knows will be observing, to 'call off your monster', but if she hears, she's too tied up with Batman to even consider the request.

So Damian becomes the second Robin to be slain, following Jason Todd.

Which may prompt regular readers to rightly ask: 'So?' As well as being a Wayne, Damian is an al-Ghul, a creation of super-science. His grandfather, Ra's al-Ghul, guards the mysterious Lazarus Pit, which can bring the dead back to life. Bludgeoned to death by the Joker and caught in an explosion, Jason was placed in the pit by Damian's own mother. Damian was fighting alongside Jason - now going by Red Hood - only hours before his demise.

So while it upsets me to see a tiny child brutalised and skewered while pleading for his life, it's extremely difficult to care beyond the immediate moment, to believe the killing will 'take'. Heck, it's a (boy) wonder he actually died, given how much punishment his father can take - it's not long since an exhausted, drug-crazed Batman had this experience in Scott Snyder's Owls storyline over in Batman #5.

I've heard some readers defend Batman surviving evisceration by 'explaining' that the hero imagined it while drugged. Even if I accepted that, the Batman Inc storyline is firmly set in a world which has seen members of Damian's family return from the dead. So I don't believe that our little Robin will remain with the 'bleedin' choir invisible'. I don't believe writer Grant Morrison would waste a character he's invested so much effort in, having taken Damian from hateful brat to massively popular hero without changing his character. I fully expect Damian to be hale and hearty once more by the close of Morrison's run (and likely the series).

In the meantime, I'm fine with Morrison and his fellow DC writers squeezing every last bit of angst out of Damian's death. It's happened, so we may as well have the dramatics. I'm not fine with DC spoiling the experience of Damian's fans, the readers who've spent hard-earned cash and several years on following his progress, for the sake of a few column inches in the likes of the New York Post. Do newspaper readers really care? I'd wager not, but if they have to be told of fictional events, why not wait a day or two until the comic is actually out? The book's meant to be on sale for a month, if a buzz builds, people can buy it anytime after today - it's a great opportunity to grow the online side of DC's business.

Plus, I trust Morrison enough to expect Damian's demise to have an important role in the storyline, yet the marketing makes it impossible to read this issue as anything other than a stunt comic.

But enough of the death. What else happened? The ongoing Leviathan plotline shambles along - I've long since forgotten what Talia's plan actually is, with the last few issues being big daft crowd scenes, spiced up with the death of another character I like. But there's a wonderful scene between Nightwing and Robin emphasising the relationship they built up when Dick filled in as Batman and Damian was his Robin. Talia and Batman bicker over a radio. Damian flies through Gotham in a mechanical suit. Man-Bats. And Red Robin fights a mop. Oh all right, he does more than take on a cleaning implement, battling a gang of assassins with one of those giant penny souvenirs Batman obviously bulk manufactures, but it made me laugh.

Regular illustrator Chris Burnham doesn't do the whole book, Jason Masters fills in on pages 6-9, the Red Robin sequence. I like what Masters gives us for the most part, the players look good - especially Ellie, who has more character than the average bit-part player - and the art is open, kinetic and sharp of finish. Red Robin's exit from the issue is rather too understated, though, it took me several passes to see what happened to him. And a gob-kicking sequence results in too much streaming blood on the page - but perhaps that was in the script.

I appreciate that Burnham is one of the few artists who remembers that Damian is a small boy, making his murder more horrible than if one of the pencillers who depict him as a muscular teen were on the book. It should be horrible. And it is horrible, even as Burnham puts Damian in deep shadow and colourist Nathan Fairbairn takes a step away from naturalism with a panel filled with blood red and intense orange. And the pages leading up to it are equally nasty, despite the use of tiny panels featuring teeny figures - the intent may be to mitigate the ugliness of what's occuring, but mini-panels mean many more panels of bloody bone smashing.

Plus, Ellie turns into a teeny-weeny doll child in several panels; it's distinctly odd.

Letterer Taylor Esposito chooses his fonts intelligently, varying size, slant and emphasis according to the desired 'voice' - while today's computer fonts may have lessened the art and graft of lettering, there's still a place for heart and craft.

Despite the talent involved, despite some good moments, this comic doesn't rise much above the decent. There's a marquee death, but real world decisions make it seem more cynical than it likely is. And that's a shame - Damian Wayne deserves better.

Comments

  1. "scene between Nightwing and Robin emphasising the relationship they built up when Dick filled in as Batman and Damian was his Robin"

    D'oh! Is that what that was? I thought it was Morrison parodying the usual buddy-buddy dialogue along the lines of "once we take this guy down I'm retiring and buying a sailboat and you were the best partner I ever had" that usually happens two minutes before the bad guy kills the hero's partner/best buddy in a heavily-signposted death scene, I keep forgetting that Batman Inc is free from Nu52 continuity - except when Red Robin is in it, obviously.

    Those were some horrible pages to look at, weren't they? Such brutal use of red and messy design... but enough about Red Robin's awful, awful costume, what about - actually, no, let's go back to Red Robin's awful costume IT IS HEINOUS. Is it like this all the time or is it just how this one artist draws it? Man, it is terrible. What's that about?

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    1. Hiya Brigonos, I've no doubt the impending DOOM was why why got the moment with Nightwing, but it struck me as pretty sincere - well, I'm reading it that way, anyway!

      Heinous is putting it mildly. One of the better things about the Death of the Family thingummy was that Tim got to wear one of his old looks.

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  2. I more or less agree with this review, though I probably liked it a little more overall.

    As for Damian's death in particular...

    The title of this issue is "The Boy Wonder Returns." That alone should make anyone vaguely familiar with Batman comics doubtful, at the very least, that Damian's dead for good. And when I say "for good," I mean in the foreseeable future. Obviously, one day in the future someone will probably bring Damian back, just like they did with Jason, regardless of what happens between now and the end of Morrison's run. Unless, of course, Damian isn't completely dead, and Morrison still has plans for him.

    Granted, it seems like this "death" here will have ripple effects throughout the Bat-books for a few months now. So, that's one piece of evidence that suggests Damian is in fact gone for the foreseeable future. It's either that, OR DC is just trying to get as much out of this death as possible even though they already know Damian will be back relatively soon. It's comics. Anything is possible, I suppose...

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    1. Heisenheimer, there's no arguing with that - bases well and truly covered ... and wouldn't it be nice if Damian got play on them, like an ordinary kid?

      'SLIDE Damian Wayne, SLIDE!'

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  3. I dunno, at the end there is a pieta scene, but so what; there is a lazerus pit somewhere, and he had a gut wound...maybe if he was decapitated...on a greater if lighter note, there is a new Showcase Justice League book out with some sweet '70s Dick Dillon....man....those were good times.....weren't they?

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    1. The Dick Dillin years were when I started buying - magical stuff.

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  4. One rumour I heard is that DC killed him off in order to bring back into continuity Stephanie Brown, to replace him as a new female Robin.

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    1. I like a suggestion on Comic Book Resources today that the Squire, Beryl, would get the job. A British Robin, I wish!

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  5. Great review Martin. Where I am most looking forward to the events of this book is in Tomasi's Batman and Robin. Tomasi has written a great exploration of the intimacy of Bruce's relationship with his son and it is going to be tough reading him struggle on without him. I'm not sure how I feel about your suggestion of that we will soon see Damian's resurrection. Like many fans it has taken time for the character to grow on me but now that he has I didn't want him to be killed off. On other other hand Morrison has taken his creation full circle as was always his intention and this death should mean something. I don't think DC should bring him back (at least for a few years at any rate - well, this is comics!)

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    1. Thanks, Flodo. I'll definitely be checking out Tomasi's take, he really has been writing the 'relationship' bat-book. I shall likely get a lump in my throat.

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  6. I am personally glad Damian Wayne is dead. I never cared for the character and I find it hard to accept that the Bruce Wayne that was so hard on his previous Robins and other Bats is so accepting of Damian just b/c Damian is his kid. We've even seen Earth-2 Batman pushing Helena Wayne very hard, yet.. Damian gets a pass b/c he's the loveable little sociopath that people have suddenly grown to like despite the fact that he has never once earned the right to be Batman by doing anything other than being Bruce's kid? It's frustrating to me because I've read so much with Batman being so hard and pushing people to be so much better and yet.. Damian "I'm the Bat's Brat" Wayne, Kate "I was in the military sorta" Kane, and Stephanie "Which is the pointy end of a Batarang" Brown just get accepted by editorial mandate.

    Bruce needed to have someone die to push him to expect the best again, not just accepting anyone and everyone to be the Bat.. It waters down the legacy and makes it seem.. generic. Undoing Jason Todd's death was stupid tbh and Damian should die and stay dead, for good. The revolving door of death is not a good thing and we, as fans, should stop encouraging it. It cheapens death, it cheapens comics as a whole, and it's honestly just ridiculous. Marvel seems to kill off a character every 6 months now just to bring them back. Let's stop this crap. Dead should mean dead like with ya know.. Jean Grey.. the Phoenix, who can't come back to life b/c that doesn't make sense.

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    1. You're right Jan, Bruce has gone easier on Damian than previous Bat-associates. It seems hypocritical, but perhaps he's actually learnt a lesson.

      OK, it's an inconsistent editorial vision and/or a matter of story convenience. But Damian has grown on me hugely. Usually it's for the comedy, but also for the way he sparks the rest of the Batman Family, as well as the times when he showed empathy and courage.

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    2. I just find him so irritating I can't get past it. His ego is so huge and he hasn't earned the right to be such a fake badass I also find him to be a mary sue. When they want him to, he suddenly gains the ability to do things, he shouldn't know how to do and he takes out vastly more experienced and better fighters with ease, even if it makes no sense.

      Plus I still blame Damian for DC shelving Cass the way they did. His origins are very similar to hers (highly trained kid fighter of a batman frienemy, former leader of the league of assassins, socially inept/awkward). I also think that is why they randomly decided to promote Stephanie Brown after she got herself killed (cause ya know.. Batman predicts Steph would get herself or someone else killed then she does just that, so we reward her by giving her a new title and new responsibility?). Stephanie was a vastly weaker character than Cass (physically and mentally).. and Cass being there would just show all the glaring flaws in Damian as a fighter, plus he'd be weaker than a girl and that just can't be.

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  7. I typed a lot of words on the whole Damian death thing over on Colin's blog, so I won't repeat them here. I just wanted to chime in with complete agreement on the marketing train wreck that is DC these days.

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  8. Thanks Siskoid. And if anyone's not read Colin's article on Damian's death over at Too Busy Talking About My Comics, pop over!

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  9. why, why morrison why did you do it just why

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    1. I've heard theories that it's either because he wishes to wipe a slate clean so writers after him don't feel Beethoven to his direction or because he wants to make sure no one messes up after he's gone. I find the second unbelievable, given his excellent working relationship with Batman and Robin writer Peter Tomasi's.

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  10. Well, that was a waste of an entertaining character. At least he was more fun to read about than Jason Todd. DC needs to stop the sensationalism! Tell good stories! That goes for Marvel too!

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    1. Indeedy. Mind, Marvel Now! Has been producing lots of entertaining new directions.

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    2. mind naming a few also mart do you still read captain america and is it still good

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    3. Hawkeye, Daredevil, New X-Men, Uncanny Avengers, FF ...

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  11. I never suspected that Damian might live. Morrison's promises to clean up after himself led me to believe we'd be back at status quo. But then again the new 52 is always looking for new Batman-related titles, so perhaps Damian isn't going to stay dead for long.

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    1. I'm firmly of the opinion that he'll be back sooner rather than later. But don't quote me!

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