Why Consistent Characterization is Important

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I’ll be honest: I went into Damian: Son of Batman with more than a little trepidation.

There are a few reasons for this. The first – and most obvious – is that Damian is no longer with us, and since he was killed off in Batman Incorporated earlier this year, my affection for the character has only grown. It’s not that I’ve come to distrust DC’s handling of characters that aren’t the Trinity, but… okay, no, that’s exactly it. I went into the book wary of what DC was going to try to pull.

The second reason is that the book is both written and drawn by Andy Kubert. Doing double-duty as writer and penciller means that the book is entirely Kubert’s vision, but the sword is double-edged; he has to handle a lot with this book, and I worried going in that it would be too much to tackle. Even knowing Kubert’s history with the character – he was the artist working with Grant Morrison when Damian was created – I worried that something would fall through the cracks.

The third reason that I was nervous is that this story doesn’t happen in canon. It’s essentially an Elseworld, a DC-sponsored alternate universe that takes place in a world in which Damian didn’t die. That means that the rules are a lot more lax, and Kubert would be allowed a lot more leeway with what he could and couldn’t do in the story. Add to that the fact that Kubert revealed over the summer that he’s been planning this series for years – and thus, that it’s not something that grew organically out of the character’s story as we now know it – and I was understandably apprehensive about the book.

As it turns out, my fears were justified.

The miniseries is telling the story of how Damian becomes Batman. (We already know that it’s not a happy tale; this series is the lead-up to Daman’s Batman as shown in Batman #666, which was a really dark and grim future.) This story starts out with an older Damian as Robin and Bruce as Batman at a crime scene; a bomb goes off during the investigation, and Bruce is killed. After the funeral, Damian travels to a base for the League of Assassins, seeking his mother and grandfather for help in tracking down the person who planted the bomb and thus killed his father. Talia and Ra’s turn him down and essentially tell him that he’s the new Batman, and is thus their enemy. Damian spends the rest of the issue killing various Batman rogues and warring with his guilt over doing so. The issue ends with a surprise confrontation between Damian and his father, though we’re not yet shown whether this is a ghost or a hallucination or something else entirely.

So what’s the problem with the book? Well, for starters, there’s no way that I actually believe that’s Damian Wayne in the Robin suit. Calling him Damian doesn’t make him Damian, and that’s the biggest issue I had here.

I knew going in that this was supposed to be a lead-up to Damian becoming Batman. Therefore, I expected him to be filling the Robin suit, and to follow him through his journey to becoming Batman as the story progressed. In our very first interaction with Robin in this series, though, I altered my perceptions about what I was reading. Clearly, I thought, Damian is already Batman here, and this is him out with his new Robin. We’re going to see the story as told through flashbacks, maybe, or some other storytelling device. There’s no way that the quipping, flippant kid in the Robin suit is Damian.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: There's no way that Damian would ever say "holy crap" when confronted with a crime scene. Or, well, ever.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: There’s no way that Damian would ever say “holy crap” when confronted with a crime scene. Or, well, ever.

But no: we’re expected to just accept that this is Damian. The Damian that I’m used to is a pretty arrogant child who was raised by the League of Assassins; he has very particular patterns of behavior and speech. He has a lot of respect for his father, even though their methods often clash. Instead of seeing that child a few years into the future, though, we’re given a disrespectful Damian who openly mocks Batman’s directions while in the field:

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Duh, Dad.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Duh, Dad.

A flippant Damian who tosses off attitude when chastised:

Damian: Son of Batman #1: I'm pretty sure no Robin has said that since Dick was in the short pants.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: I’m pretty sure no Robin has said that since Dick was in the short pants.

A sulky Damian who swears at his father after Bruce admonishes him for that flippancy:

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Seriously, is this Pod-Damian? One of his clones? What's going on?

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Seriously, is this Pod-Damian? One of his clones? What’s going on?

It’s really weird, and honestly, until Batman is killed and we find out that it was Bruce in that suit, I believed that Damian was Batman. The kid in the Robin suit seemed like a generic kid, sarcastic and quippy and a little rude. He didn’t seem like Damian at all. When I realized who was who, I had to start the issue over with that in the back of my head, because it was so hard to reconcile.

As the issue progresses, Damian’s characterization becomes more and more bizarre. He starts killing off random rogues, many of whom he knows have nothing to do with his father’s death, even though a big part of Damian’s character growth was him growing away from and ultimately rejecting his League of Assassins training. We also see him seeking forgiveness in a Catholic church, even though he’s never shown any sort of religious affiliation. He sasses Alfred, which is probably the most in-character moment he has in the entire issue.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Alfred, you should retire. You don't deserve this.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Alfred, you should retire. You don’t deserve this.

So why does all of this bother me so much?

I was cautiously excited for this book because, as I mentioned at the start, I’m a fan of Damian. I like his character; I love how he grew to love his family, and how he ultimately chose his father’s ways over those of his mother and grandfather, even though the choice must have been incredibly difficult for him. I was looking forward to a book that showed me what happened in his life to turn him back onto that path, and while the book shows us that he has gone to the Dark Side, it does little in showing us the why. When we last saw him, Damian was convinced that his father was right: killing wasn’t the answer. He died because he believed that, because he refused to kill the person attacking him. There’s no way I buy that Bruce’s death would be enough to tip Damian over the edge into “kill all the rogues” mode, and the fact that Kubert sees nothing wrong with writing Damian this way shows that his understanding of the character past his introduction is flawed at best and, at worst, nonexistent.

I wanted a book about Damian. I wanted more of the Robin that was taken away from the fans for reasons that still puzzle me (and many others). This sarcastic, violent teenager doesn’t resemble the complex character that we lost in February at all, and I wish I was more surprised by this revelation. Once again, this feels more like something DC is doing because they know people will buy something with Damian’s name on it than a story that’s meant to hold weight within the DCU.

I mean, when my favorite page in a book that’s supposedly about Damian is the one in which we see that his father has chosen to come back and haunt the crap out of him for making bad choices… well. I think that speaks for itself.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Spooky ghost dad.

Damian: Son of Batman #1: Spooky ghost dad.

At this point, I’m not even planning to get the other three issues of this book. If this was actually Damian – if this was the character that I loved – I’d be all over it. As it stands, though, I have no interest in reading about this other kid with Damian’s name. Maybe I’ll pick it up when it comes out in trade; maybe I’ll get the digital versions when they drop in price on comixology. Time will tell – and hopefully dropping the book will tell DC what I actually think of this weak marketing move and weaker story. (Probably not. I’m only one person, after all, but I can dream.)

Damian: Son of Batman #1. Written and penciled by Andy Kubert. Published October 2013. Buy it from comixology or find a copy at your LCS.

Comments? Questions? Leave a reply! I’ll be happy to talk comics with you.

7 thoughts on “Why Consistent Characterization is Important”

  1. Eric Mesa says:

    It’s a shame that Mr Kubert has gone so far off the rails with Damian. Then again, it’s almost not a surprise; I’ve barely seen any Big Two series where the writer and artist are the same that work well. Tony S Daniels’ work on TEC is a great example. I thought his artwork was usually top notch. I did not enjoy his storytelling.

    I guess an excuse could be made that this is an older Damian. Maybe something happened between [real life] 2013 and whatever year it is in the comic. But I would counter that all the dialogue you sampled is pretty bad – whether or not it characterized Damian well. “Focus on the mission, young man”? When the heck has Batman ever spoken like that in modern times? And why, after all these years, would Batman need to tell Robin to pay attention for clues. He CAME to Batman already an expert in nearly everything that was Batman. To me, the most interesting thing about Damian is that he WAS Batman without the maturity. It’s pretty similar to the issues that Valeria Richards got into during Jonathan Hickman’s run. She’s just as intelligent as her father, if not moreso. But she’s only 3-4 years old. So she’s constantly making bad decisions. Maturity is not yet her strong point.

    Even if he hadn’t arrived all trained up, by THIS TIME he should have already known all that.

    It’s a shame that the comic companies don’t realize how much investment we put into these characters. Why do we have scores of websites dedicated to them? Why do they inspire fan fiction? Because we get to know them. They become best friends or rivals. When you do that, you need to make sure the character isn’t just a blank name to put yourself into.

    1. Kari Woodrow says:

      When you do that, you need to make sure the character isn’t just a blank name to put yourself into.

      EXACTLY this. It made zero sense that this was Damian – any sort of Damian that grew from the one we knew, even if Kubert was going AU from the point that Damian was introduced. It’s someone wearing a Damian suit, not Damian as we know him. That’s dishonest and disrespectful on the part of the writer and the publisher, and disappointing to fans.

  2. Gino Killiko says:

    I was also excited when I first heard of this for the same reason as you, I miss Damian. However, having read the catastrophe wich was Batman 23.1 aka Joker #1 written by Andy Kubert, I chose not to pick this up. I gotta say, I’m damn glad now.

    1. Kari Woodrow says:

      You make better decisions than I do, that’s for sure. I suppose I was hoping that Kubert could pull it together for a character he professes to love as much as Damian… clearly I was wrong.

      1. Gino Killiko says:

        Eh, sometimes you just hope against your better judgement. Case in point, I read every Batman related villain’s month issue, even Joker’s Daughter, knowing full well it was written by Ann Nocenti. I will not, however, take that gamble ever again.

  3. Matches Malone says:

    Honestly love this article. I know I’m super late but I’ve been on such a comic kick lately and I’ve been so angry with DC’s handling of characters. I think the New 52 went downhill in general after Damian’s death and certainly did when Damian was brought back with super powers. What a joke. The only good thing that came out of Damian’s death was the incredibly heart wrenching issue of New 52 Batman where we see Batman watching footage of him working with Damian and mourning in the batcave. I say that’s good because I personally love sadness in stories. This miswriting of Damian is nearly as bad as the current handling of Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson.

    1. Eric Mesa says:

      Yeah, I think it’s a good thing they relented on New 52. They were just messing up their characters too much.

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