Robin's Requiem: What it Should Mean for Batman and Bruce Wayne

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"A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage."
-- William Blake

Last week, DC Comics delivered to readers the death of Batman's junior partner, Robin. But more than his partner in crime fighting, this Robin was also Bruce Wayne's son, Damian.

As any longtime reader of the Batman comics (or Wikipedia) can tell you, this is the second time a Robin has been killed in the line of duty, the first being Jason Todd (Robin II) who was killed by the Joker (and a readers' poll) in "Death in the Family" way back in the late 1980s. Notwithstanding that Jason Todd got better a few years ago and is still kicking around as the Red Hood (the former identity of The Joker -- nothing Freudian there), the fact still stands that not only did Robin II die, but Jason Todd also died.

The reason for the distinction is this: Bruce Wayne is a public figure, and Jason Todd's connections to Bruce Wayne were thus also public knowledge. (At one point early in Jason Todd's run, Bruce was openly petitioning for adoption of the teen.) That Jason Todd was buried at the same time Robin II was killed could be written off as coincidence in the eyes of the media -- a tragic pairing of unrelated events that just seem to happen that way.

But with Robin V, Damian, Bruce Wayne doesn't -- and shouldn't -- get the luxury of media ignorance. In fact, there's really no excuse for Wayne not getting a visit from the police. (For that matter, just about anybody who follows the Gotham City equivalent of TMZ ought to be piecing things together about now. "Hey, did you notice the unmarried secretive billionaire keeps adopting young boys, just about the same time Batman gets a new Robin? I wonder if there's some kind of connection.")

Batman Incorporated

Not very long ago, Bruce Wayne shocked the world with a press conference where he told the world he had a direct connection to Batman -- that he was, in fact, underwriting his crime fighting efforts financially. This was a bold move, given that it's a public admission of aiding and abetting someone who, in the eyes of the law (as we know it) is operating as an anonymous vigilante with no regard for Miranda Rights. But this is a world of masked men and superheroes, so perhaps it's okay to finance a private enforcement entity the likes of Batman.

However, prior to this happening, Bruce Wayne -- former ward of Richard Grayson, former caretaker of Jason Todd, adoptive father of Tim Drake -- learns he has a biological son with Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of one of his greatest enemies. The ten year old Damian Wayne had been raised in the teachings of the League of Assassins, and was hardly your typical tyke in terms of attitude and physical capabilities.

But the public didn't know this. What the public knew was that Bruce Wayne's playboy ways had finally caught up to him, and one of his (undoubtedly numerous) chickens had come home to roost. Raising a son, that ought to cool his jet setting ways for a while.

Damian came in with an image of his father that was quickly shattered when he saw how "soft" Batman was on criminals. Damian did not so much earn the title of Robin as much as he forcefully took it away from Tim Drake. And if the opponent was bad enough and capable enough, this Robin showed him the shortcut to the Pearly Gates, a habit Batman had to train out of him.

And, over time, this very unlikeable Robin grew into a tough, honorable character who once again learned respect, and even love, for his father -- a greater respect, perhaps, than he formerly had. In Batman #18, we see Damian's last written words to his father: "I want you to know that Mother may have given me life, but you taught me how to live."

And now he's dead.


Grant Morrison's long and winding road in the pages of Batman Incorporated ultimately took readers into the lengthy "Leviathin" story arc. I'm still not sure of everything that took place in this herky-jerky action-packed panel collection, but I do know it was ultimately a face-off between Batman and Talia -- with Damian caught in the middle. Told to sit this one out while all hell broke loose, Damian ultimately disobeyed his father, entered the fray, and got a sword through the gut for his troubles. In the turn of a page, the fifth Robin had been taken from the DC Universe.

But here's the problem: So was Damian Wayne.

And now there are two dead boys in Bruce Wayne's domestic life whose deaths line up too neatly with the deaths of Batman's former partners. It's not going to take a rocket scientist to put together that these children were also wading into bullets wearing leotards. And while it may not prove the case that Bruce Wayne is Batman, the Gotham City Department of Children's Services can absolutely make the case that Bruce Wayne was at the very least supplying children to Batman's cause. And there's a real ugly term for that kind of activity that ought to have the District Attorney ordering up a fast-track subpoena for Wayne, Alfred the butler, and even Dick Grayson.

That, of course, is how things should go. Damian is dead, and Bruce Wayne is negligent at best.

But that's not what's going to happen. Right now, Batman is grieving the way he knows how -- by tearing a path through Gotham's criminals. Soon there will be a funeral issue. He's already encountered a young teenaged girl, Harper Row, who is determined to train to be a crime fighter. And Bruce Wayne?

Bruce Wayne will always be Batman, and thus must always be a free man.

That's not what should happen. But it's what will.

So we prepare to suspend our disbelief even further, asking our conscience to forgive the unforgivable, because our sinner is secretly a saint. And because it's comic books, not meant to be taken seriously, right? After all, is there anyone who really cares if another imaginary character dies in a world where death is so impermanent that it's a ludicrous concept?

Now would be a really good time for comics readers to dig up an archival copy of Rick Veitch's excellent Brat Pack. Methinks more than ever that Mr. Veitch was onto something with that.