Damian Wayne: the Bad-Ass Robin

17Apr12

I’ve always been a defender of Robin, as a character, device and otherwise. Well, that’s not 100% true.

I was probably anti-Robin when I was in early high school, back when the Tim Burton movies ruled the Batman-world, and everything had to be “daaaaaaaaaaaahrk” and sad and brooding and Robin was an illogical, goofy character (who fought costumed criminals in comic books… anyway). But when I was a kid and since becoming a young adult, I’ve been at least OK with Robin, and oftentimes a fan. He’s no Batman, but that’s the point. And it makes some sense that a guy like Batman would want and need a partner to fight crime, as opposed to someone with super powers (like Firestorm, or Captain Atom; the A-listers, y’know?).

With all that being said, the Damian al Ghul-Wayne Robin is by far the most interesting take on the Robin identity, and not just because — as the title says — he’s the Bad-Ass Robin. He is one of the only characters I have followed* who was created new, fits the times which spawned him, yet doesn’t feel like a cheap fashion tie-in. Think of the way they brought in Azrael (Batman 2, in the “Knighfall” story), and how 90′s he was, with his over-gadgeted suit and just-more-violent attitude. Or even Tim Drake, who is a good Robin, but mostly by virtue of being not-annoying. As good of a Robin as Tim was/is**, he was just kind of another re-tread of Dick Grayson in a more trendy outfit and hairstyle. Dick, Jason and Tim all served the same purpose: a lighter vice against Batman.

But Damian is different. He was taken in by the Bat-family to focus him from trained killer into crime fighter. He is more angry, pushy and hard headed than even Bruce Wayne. He gives back attitude, yet doesn’t come off like just a punk kid. His backstory sets this up so well, but he’s also served by his current behavior. It’s one thing to tell us a character is a trained killer/circus acrobat/hub-cap-steeling thief, but it’s another to reiterate that character trait — the true, underlying truth — in new ways every issue.

That brings me to the other interesting aspect of Damian’s run as Robin: he can only exist in the comics. To have Grant Morrison introduce a character we all kind of knew was, ahem, conceived back in an 80′s graphic novel was a brilliantly simple idea. It gave him history we weren’t aware existed. With every other Robin, we didn’t know he existed one issue before he threw on a cape and mask. I’m not claiming that Morrison planted this idea in Whoever-Wrote-That-80′s-Sexy-Story-Long-Ago’s head. He just played with what he was given. He didn’t invent, he imagined, and in that imagining, he played by the rules to create a more realistic character existence. This is the rare instance where I will stand up for long-term, overly-complex comic book continuity.

You could not do this in any other medium. Not one that we know. TV shows don’t last that long, and you couldn’t do it in enough novels to keep people interested. I suppose it’s possible to do in a movie series, but see how well that worked for “Star Wars.” It’s really incredible to me.

The last thing I’ll mention slightly undermines my earlier statement about fashion, except that it doesn’t: the hood cape. I love it. It’s kind of trendy, I guess, but it’s also functional. Why wouldn’t Robin want a hat? It’s raining in Gotham City almost every night. The kid’s gotta get colds like nothing.

Truth be told, I’m still not 100% comfortable with Bruce Wayne fighting along-side his honest-to-honest SON. It feels a little too much like Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and is redeemed only because A.) Bruce is showing some serious doubt about this project, which means he has a conscience, and B.) Damian wanted to be there before he even knew his father. He wasn’t brainwashed into thinking this was a great idea (at least, not by Batman). If he never came to Gotham City, he would be doing almost the exact same dangerous stuff. So as long as they keep that up, I’ll probably grow into a more comfortable relationship with him.

Also, if I could pull it off, it would be pretty great to dress up my 2-year-old son as Damian for Halloween.

*I know very little of the Batgirls and Batwoman of the recent years, though I did enjoy Cassandra Cain, who was kind of a pre-Damian Damian if you think about it.

**I think he’s still in Teen Titans, which has always struck me as weird — the idea of having Robin without Batman. For whatever reason, it seems to work.

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