Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Damian: Son of Batman

A significant postscript to the Grant Morrison Batman run, Damian: Son of Batman takes us deeper inside the world of one of the run's key creations. Set, like three other Damian stories, in an alternate future where he goes on to become Batman, DSOB offers a look at what might have been, but was apparently derailed by the death of Damian in Batman, Inc.

We've previously seen Damian as the future Batman in three stories: In Batman #666, Batman #700, and Batman, Inc. vol. 2, #5. These stories and DSOB occupy realities related to one another, but not the same reality. Counting the pre-Flashpoint DCU, and the post-Flashpoint DCU, it's even possible that we have six different continuities in play, seven if you count a brief mention by Morrison of plans he might have gotten around to down the road. This is quite a mess, potentially, that Kubert inherited, and he did nothing to make it neater, establishing several facts that distinguish this world from most of those other continuities, or at least bearing too little connection to dwell upon. Most strikingly, the central role of a deal with the Devil and regenerative powers that came along with that are nowhere to be seen here. There's one hint of the supernatural, but the reality or relevance of that remain unexplained by the end of the fourth issue. The death of Batman shown in the first issue bestows upon Damian a sense of guilt as indicated by Morrison's stories, but the details are apparently quite different.

The major dynamic playing out throughout the series is the question of whether or not Damian will kill his enemies, displeasing his father (again). His decision is made and unmade and made again, to no apparent illumination on his part or ours. Killing is bad, but it sure is handy sometimes. Yes, and?

There are some surprises, with three Batmen, two Jokers, and two Alfreds, with a priest who occupies a confessional booth sporting a secret identity of his own. Kubert's writing is quite strong in general; several scenes have an inventiveness typical of Morrison. As good as his writing is, his art is of course better, identical in every way to the original Damian-future scenario, which was also a Kubert-drawn story. The details in word and picture are both pleasing. What's unsatisfying is the lack of direction. It's hard to identify, besides Damian becoming Batman, where this story is even trying to go. Is there a big bad? Sort of. Is it about transformation? No, Damian is in the same place on the kill-or-not issue as he was at the beginning. Does he avenge the death of Batman? Yes, but there's no satisfaction as the scene plays out.

In fact, the story ends by opening up the possibility of a long run, which ironically does no service to making the run seem worth extending. Damian's an angsty killer of a hero. Yes, and?

Because DSOB occupies a different continuity than the other three future-Damian stories, there's no impact on the story we had been reading. It remains intriguing to imagine what the future interplay between Damian and Doctor Hurt might have been. DSOB shows us a different world, a pretty one of which we have probably seen the last.