By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham & Jason Masters (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)
The Story: As it turns out, even the slightly bad can die young.
The Review: I guess I have little choice but to start this review by addressing the elephant in the room, this “death of Robin” thing. While fans may protest when their pet characters get killed off, they have to make peace with the fact that even in stories, death is a fine and natural thing—when done to some important purpose. In contrast, death for the sake of shock value or cheap emotional impact, without any groundwork along the way, is lazy and hackish.
In comics, death and resurrection happens on such a regular basis that we’ve grown pretty cynical about it. No one ever dies nowadays without the readers thinking, Eh—they’ll be back. With that kind of mindset, it’s easy to look at all the publicity that preceded Damian Wayne’s demise as a purely commercial move. But once you examine the whole of Morrison’s story, not just within Batman Inc., but everything he’s developed since he first introduced the ten-year-old assassin, you realize that the doom of Damian was a very necessary, perhaps inevitable thing.
No matter how permanent or temporary his death, you can’t deny there’s a massive amount of weight behind it. This is in no small part due to Pete Tomasi’s laudable character work on Batman and Robin, where Damian has developed into one of the most complex, rounded figures in the DCU. But this is also due to Damian’s nature; unlike Jason Todd, he is actually Bruce’s son, so as painful as it was for Bruce to lose Jason, losing Damian cuts so, so much deeper. Looking at that final panel, you truly wonder if it’s something he can ever recover from.
Morrison also makes sure that Damian’s death is no forgettable, pedestrian, whimpering affair. While not quite the glorious fadeout that we might all prefer, Damian does die as an act of nobility, to save Wayne Industries employee Ellie as she cradles in her arm the “World-Bomb Trigger.” There’s also a lot of significance to the way he goes down; true, it’s horrifying because we’re still essentially talking about a child, but it’s also enlightening because the way he keeps on, despite getting riddled with bullets and arrows, despite the overwhelming strength of his opponent, despite the futility of it, you realize at once that this is definitely Batman’s son.
But what really prevents this whole deal from becoming a merely graphic piece of storytelling is the emotional weight behind it. As horrible as Damian’s death in itself is, it’s the defeated hope and despair he exudes in his calls to his mother to stop her madness that really gets to you. After this, there really can be no redeeming Talia in any way. That she goes this far to prove a mean-spirited point to Bruce, that she declares her own tears at her son’s death as a “moment of weakness, that’s all”—well, if she isn’t the most hated woman in the DCU after this, then I’ll be a billy-goat’s great-uncle.
Morrison wisely adds in one great moment you can enjoy amidst the grimness, and that is giving Damian one last chance to reunite and fight alongside his first and best partner, his “favorite partner,” in his own words. He adds, “We were the best, Richard. No matter what anyone thinks.”
Dick, characteristically enough, adds, “Hey. We can’t help being great.”
For a couple pages, you see the two greatest sons of Bruce Wayne, one by blood and one by adoption, deliver a team-up for the ages. They re-channel the fun yet efficient fighting style of Morrison’s initial run on Batman and Robin, defeating cultists and assassins both in a series of pows, bifs, blaps, and whaps. It’s a wonderful sequence that makes you think maybe this story can end on a high note, making the actual conclusion that much more devastating.
Burnham may not have the most outwardly attractive style of art in the world, but he sure draws some mean action sequences and raw emotional outburst. If Damian has to go down, fighting and raging, you can’t get a better choice to draw both sides of that event than Burnham. As intense as Damian’s death in #5 as an adult, his death as a young lad is even more gut-wrenching in every respect. Masters is a fine artist in his own right, as he shows in his Red Robin pages, but against Burham’s fraught work, Masters seems a bit bland by comparison. Fairbairn is one of those rare colorists who can use psychedelic, funk-tastic hues and never undercut the seriousness of the scene.
Conclusion: While I still question the ultimate necessity of Damian’s death, I can’t deny that within Morrison’s greater work, it is completely well-earned.
– Minhquan Nguyen