I have deliberately not commented upon the latest issue of Batman Incorporated over the past week. It is a little too much to take in. The actual event itself has left me quite grief stricken and I am unsure as to its pertinence in the whole DC universe. Before I discuss anything, this is the panel that began my adoration of Chris Burnham’s Damian Wayne. I shall focus upon why it perfectly sums up Robin, as the article scrolls downwards.
In remembering Damian Wayne, there are two aspects of his character that must not be forgotten:
1. He is the heir to the Batman throne and has been born and raised as such by Talia Al Ghul. This was no easy childhood and involved immense amounts of training, education and personality abating. This was unlike any other upbringing. This leaves Damian an arrogant young boy who thinks he is able to take on any foe as well as an adult. He already feels he is the best Robin and will become the greatest Batman. He looks up to his father and very few others. He is rude and petulant and he doesn’t care.
2. He is ten.
Chris Burnham captures the essence of Damian. He uses a couple of techniques that are incredibly effective, which are only used for him in the book. Though that is because he draws few other children. The ways in which he draws his frame is essential to capturing his childhood. Many artists can draw children as small adults. This is a misrepresentation because children have larger heads and Chris bears this out. It often leads to shots from a distance that compares his size to the people around him and the items in the background. This technique is also used to emphasize and emotional moment. When Bruce is reprimanding Damian and when he is unhappy, it is often shown at a distance. Damian often feels as if he is treated unfairly, and we can all empathize by feeling like we are the smallest kid in the world. This distancing effect becomes quite endearing and emotional.
Damian’s facial expressions are ingeniously captured too. Damian thinks he is an adult, but he does not behave like one. He is often very angry, disrespectful, rude, and embraces a sulky attitude. These are not the attributes of an adult superhero. As a child his face is quite rounded and his eyes are quite large. This allows Burnham to focus on the emotion he is trying to portray, through the eyes and skin creases. It is very common for him to look aggressive and turn his nose at situations. This is well told through the shape of his eyes and his vertical forehead wrinkles. We also should not forget to mention how important his eyebrows are in accompanying his eye movements. It is natural to dislike such a petulant child but where Burnham succeeds, is showing the kinder and vulnerable nature of Damian. He is the child that just doesn’t understand and it frustrates him. His sullen face is almost teardrop inducing.
Robin is in full affect when he is ready for battle. His fight posturing is always impressive and quite fear invoking. Burnham is able to take an emotional child and turn him into an effective fighter, without the cuteness and patronization that can often come with young heroes. His kicks and punches also look like they can deal some damage, despite the fact he gives away inches and kilos in the height and weight categories. As much as his arrogance may irritate and annoy people, you have to admit he is one talented young boy. The relationship he develops with the previous Robins is testament to that, as they recognise his skill and he recognises their worth.
If Burnham can draw Damian as a superb hero and yet as a child, then how does he begin to show his death? I was in two minds when I produced the next collage because it just seems so wrong. He is beaten. He is bloodied. He is left calling for his father. As good as Burnham is drawing Damian when he is winning, he is as good at showing him losing. This needs to be the case especially when the story dictates it. It is more justifiable having a child injured but coming out the victor. It is a heart wrenching moment and a lot of these panels are shown from a distance, maybe to keep us at shoulder’s length from them too. Not that it really helps hold back the despair.
This is the kind of ground that is not covered often, and resides in the creepy corners of Crime alley itself. Batman Incorporated does not pitch itself to be a book of severe violence and desperation but we are treated to this. There is almost a compulsion to view Damian as an adult, otherwise how else can we justify what we are reading? Chris Burnham has done such an incredible job at keeping him innocent and vulnerable, despite a thick skin, armour-laden façade. I cannot fail to see him as a ten year old and I am averse to seeing a child stabbed in the gut with a massive sword. I find it interesting how he is drawn in the penultimate panel because the techniques Burnham uses are nowhere to be found. Damian’s face is not even shown, all we see are the whited out holes in his mask, amongst a totally blacked out façade. Maybe the artist is as upset as we are and he may be trying to make the bitter pill minutely easier to swallow. It is his artwork that has captured the character Damian Wayne so well, that leaves us so upset.
(Check out Colin Smith’s great blogpost on this specific panel http://toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/on-one-single-panel-in-batman.html)
His death is as big as they come, not just because he is a child but also because he is the flesh and blood of Bruce. The tragedy of a father to lose his child is indescribable. Bruce has been trying to protect him all through the book and in the end; he fails at the biggest price. The classic themes of Bruce taking on a child ward to fight crime, do not apply here. Bruce suffered dearly at the loss of Jason and I can only imagine how he will respond now. It is difficult to place where these events leave Batman, given the recent falling out of his family at the hands of the Joker. Either way Damian has died, grotesquely and unfairly. There is an immeasurable injustice at the death of an innocent child and I am left deeply devastated.