So About Batman Incorporated #8…
|March 5, 2013||Posted by Jess under Comics|
So they killed Damian Wayne.
I am physically incapable of sighing as much as I believe that particular plot development merits.
Look. I don’t read Batman Inc. or any other Batman titles, save for the only tangentially-related Batwoman. I’ve never read Batman and Robin; my only real experience reading Damian has been his (freaking adorable) appearances in the late, great Stephanie Brown Batgirl. I didn’t read his introduction; I didn’t read his partnership with Dick; I didn’t read his death. So take my opinion with as large a grain of salt as you think my relative ignorance deserves.
But God, the whole thing just makes me so tired.
Again, I didn’t read the death issue and I don’t particularly want to. It may well have been amazing and moving and tasteful and perfect, although I don’t particularly enjoy Morrison’s work, so my mileage might have varied.1
But I just keep thinking of when Lian Harper was killed, and all of the outraged posts insisting that killing a child was cheap, lazy, hackish writing. So why is it different now?
Is it because Morrison intended Damian’s death to be a metaphor for divorce? Apparently, Damian being brutally murdered by an adult clone created by his mother was supposed to symbolize how in a divorce, the child is the one who winds up getting hurt. Because most divorces involve assassins and children conceived via rape and test tubes.2 And because Damian, a child raised by assassins and initially rejected by his father and the superhero community, a child forced onto the front lines long after Dick Grayson’s cohort all had their initial sidekicking ages retconned upwards because the idea of a child in battle was too horrible, a child who has absolutely no mechanisms for healthy emotional processing because of his abusive upbringing, hasn’t suffered. Also, stories about character deaths by their very nature cannot be about the dead character – they’re about the people left behind. Which means that even though “the child is the one who suffers,” the story is actually about Bruce Wayne getting even sadder. At a certain point, there’s no sadder you can go.
Is it because Lian is a rare character of color and Damian is not? NOPE. Despite what his Mandatory Batfamily Blue Eyes will tell you, Damian is of mixed white, Chinese, and Arabic descent, not that you can tell from most official and unofficial art of him. But hey, children of color are a dime a dozen in comics, right? It’s not important that Damian was the first non-white Robin who also happened to be the son of Batman and the star of a comic with his codename in the title, right? Whoooooooops.3
Is it because Damian, as Robin, is iconic(…ish) and Lian is not? After all, his death was picked up by the mainstream press, who understands “Robin” the way they wouldn’t understand “the daughter of Green Arrow’s former sidekick.” Surely that’ll get people reading comics! Except:
- An article explaining that Damian is actually the fourth (or maybe fifth, or maybe third?) Robin, and also Batman’s son, and also the son of Marion Cotillard in the recent movie but everything about her character is totally different in the comics, is going to confuse way more non-readers than it intrigues. It would be one thing if they’d killed off Tim – lapsed readers might have picked it up to see what was going on. (Note to DC: I am not suggesting you kill off Tim!) But anyone who cares about Damian is a recent reader.
- Killing a Robin is super shocking! …Unless it’s the third time you’ve done it, and the last one was less than 10 years ago. Jason’s death was shocking. Steph’s was telegraphed from a mile away; only the manner of it was surprising (sexy! underage! torture!), not the fact. Damian’s? Snore.
- Who the hell picks up a comic because somebody dies? That’s the end of a story, not the beginning. The only exception is Superman, and that only works once.
I’m not trying to say that Damian and Lian’s deaths mean the same thing. Damian is a high-profile character whose death was a stunt to attract attention; Lian is the daughter of a B-list hero (if that) whose death was canon fodder meant to make her father and grandfather sad. Damian got to go out like a hero, on his own terms; Lian was fridged in the purest sense of the word. I don’t think it’s coincidence that Damian is a boy, here. We already know what happens when a female Robin dies.
Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen any outrage. Because Damian is male, and wealthy, and white enough, I guess, and comics have plenty of those guys to go around, even if they’re not all as annoying/adorable as Damian. Or because he’s a popular character created by a popular writer and sure to be back within, oh, let’s say three years, while Lian had no such assurances.4
But the whole thing just makes me sad, and tired, and frustrated. Because Robin was created to draw in young readers, and for 73 years, he – and she, dammit! – has stood in for those readers, a point of identification for kids and teens who wanted to see themselves as heroes. Kids and teens who, I’ve said a thousand times and will say a thousand times more, are tremendously important as the potential new readers, hooked by the cartoons and savvy enough for digital comics, who might save this slowly-dying industry. And I can’t think of a better way for DC to say “Go away, kids, we don’t want you,” than to have the character who most purely represents them be murdered by his adult counterpart.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe killing a character no one has ever heard of in a remarkably brutal fashion and leaking it to second-rate news sources will bring in thousands of new, adult readers, and DC won’t ever need the kids after all. Maybe snatching toys away from children and saying “No, these are for grown-ups! You can’t have them!” is a savvy business decision in a world that still believes comics aren’t appropriate reading material for adults, either.
But killing a kid is still cheap, lazy, hackish writing, and all the New York Post headlines in the world won’t change that.
- And please, please do not leave a comment explaining his genius to me. Of all comic book writers, Morrison has the most clamoring fans eager to tell me that I don’t understand him. I understand him fine, I just don’t like him, and yes, that includes All-Star Superman. ↩
- Side note: can we talk about the spectacular bullshit involved in Morrison reducing a complex character like Talia into a one-note evil rapist supervillain in order to set up lots of stories about fathers and sons and the dudely feelings dudes have about dudes? Unacceptable. ↩
- Though it’s not like the al Ghul family hasn’t seen their share of whitewashing. Right, Christopher Nolan? ↩
- Though with Cheshire apparently joining the cast of Red Hood and the Outlaws, I have hopes…! ↩