For the record, I’m not spoiling anything here as DC Comics has already issued a press release regarding the imminent death of Damian Wayne – Bruce Wayne’s son and current not-too-secret identity of his present sidekick, Robin – so stick that in your pipes and smoke ‘em. Depending upon how you view continuity, Damian is the fourth teen/tween to wear the mask, and, so far as I care, his death has been a long time coming.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been reading Bats since the early 1970’s. I don’t know that my voice is so much ‘unique’ about the Dark Knight. I only know that I like what I like, and so much of Damian’s character was a rehash of territory already well-explored by another kid behind-the-mask, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let’s take this one step at a time …
I know, I know, purists: you wanna nitpick my title. To be fair, the Robin who died previously was technically Batman’s second sidekick, Jason Todd.
Those of us who were there at the time know how the flash-in-the-pan by Max Allan Collins all-too-quickly morphed into the much-maligned Jason Todd of Jim Starlin fame (or “un-fame,” depending upon what your thoughts of Starlin’s run on the Bats were). Todd took the mantle of the Redbird after Dick Grayson kinda/sorta retired, only to re-emerge as Nightwing. But it is what it is: yet another ‘Death in the Bat Family’ that smacks of so, so many similarities to Jason’s demise that it should bring a lawsuit from Denny O’Neill, the architect of the Boy Wonder’s original demise.
A little more backstory …
You can blame Mr. O’Neill. He had a stellar run with the Bats; even created Azrael; and gave his ‘Agent of the Bat’ a respectable tenure with some neat-o-keen conspiracy angles. It was his inspiration: he thought that readers of the various Bat-books would take some pleasure in determining the fate of the beloved (???) character, so he came up with the idea – let ‘em vote.
(For you young sprites, this was all long before American Idol did the same. And, last I looked, they haven’t killed off any of those warblers.)
DC Comics approved, so they set up a telephone poll wherein callers could vote to either let Robin die or see him survive. The vote was very close – Wikipedia reports the final tally as 5,343 in favor with 5,271 opposed (no abstentions allowed!). Thus, the controversial (and, yes, it was controversial despite what some would have you believe) “Death in the Family” storyline brought an end to the Boy Wonder, who wound up pretty much bludgeoned to a pulp and blown up for good measure, all thanks to the Joker.
For my learned tastes, the only thing I can honestly say I distinctly remember from the storyline – it was rather tepid – was the panel of Batman emerging from the destruction with the body of the dead Jason Todd in his arms. That and the resulting team-up with Superman to bring about an end to the Joker’s current reign of terror were the highlights. If you missed it, meh, you didn’t miss all that much, other than a marketing scheme gone mad.
Since then, O’Neill has kinda/sorta backtracked a bit on what he thought of the whole campaign, and historical revisionists would have you fully believe that if he had it to do over again he’d do things differently. I’ve read conflicting accounts where he supports the story they told but disagreed with the manner in which they got there (the vote). Also, O’Neill admits that both he and DC Comics received tons of hate mail. Methinks what probably bothered them more was the fact that comic book writers, creators, and media pundits spoke up against what really boiled down to little more than a marketing scheme. And, depending upon which version of the story you believe, O’Neill claims that the death vote may’ve ultimately been orchestrated by a single caller – check it out over on Wikipedia, if you’re that interested in the few specifics he offers.
Ultimately, what matters was a single question: was the death necessary?
So far as it matters, I hated Jason Todd. Sure, he may’ve had a respectable story or two – maybe even an admirable quality or two, as well – but he was a wiseacre who probably could’ve been relegated to smaller and smaller appearances until writers actually hatched a story worthy of either his elimination or his retirement. I’d argue it still could’ve had the same relevance if it had been handled right, but maybe that’s just this old dog unwilling to learn any new tricks.
That brings us up-to-date.
February 25th’s New York Post broke the story with the headline: “DC Killing Off Batman’s ‘Boy Wonder’ Damian Wayne In New Comic Book.”
It read like a ‘Nam flashback.
I stopped reading Batman regularly around the time I met the Damian Wayne character, though I’ve picked up the occasional issue here and there off and on.
Well, to tell you the truth, the kid just rubbed me the wrong way. He seemed a throwback to Jason Todd. He certainly acted like the brat. (Interestingly enough, even creator Grant Morrison is quoted in the NY Post article as saying, “He’s a little brat, but he’s a super-brat.”) Damian certainly deserved about as much negative attention as Jason Todd received. And so much of the Batman storylines after thirty-five plus years of reading had really grown repetitive. Heck, I even found the much-ballyhooed “Batman R.I.P.” storyline reprehensibly ignorant (never been a fan of Grant Morrison on any title) of the Batman mythos, choosing to weave a narrative that made as much sense as your average drug trip. One could even argue that “R.I.P.” was a jazz riff on the already explored “Knightfall” tale that tinkered with Batman’s possible demise and/or retirement.
The way I see it, a few decades ago you had Jason Todd as Robin – a maligned little monster readers mostly shunned who got his comeuppance at the Joker’s hands with a big, theatrical death – and now you have Damian Wayne as Robin – a criticized ‘super-brat’ who’s getting his comeuppance at his creator’s hands (some joker named Morrison) with a big, theatrical death.