Recently, a character in the Bat-Family died. It was quite a tragic and somewhat shocking event, as it didn’t occur during Death of the Family, but rather right after in Batman Incorporated 8. A character that many (myself included) have come to really like. His presence created a very unique dynamic for the rest of the family, and will definitely leave a hole. Got me thinking about death in comics.
Warning: Spoilers for Batman Incorporated 8 & all Batman-related issues since
The character in question is Damian Wayne, Bruce’s son and current Robin. It was rather shocking for several reasons. First, the big event with the worth ‘Death’ in the title just occurred, and no one died. Also, it happened in a side book, Incorporated, not the main Batman or Robin title. Usually when a big death occurs, it’s in top tier, A-list book and Incorporated is really more of a B book. The ramifications are immense. Batman’s son is dead. Robin is dead. There’s no more Batman & Robin. It’s just Batman.
Batman and Robin 18 is a mourning issue, perhaps one of the best ones written. It is silent, with no dialogue. Just Bruce and Alfred grieving over Damian’s death. A very powerful issue, no words are really needed. Just a grief-stricken father. He mourns like only Batman can, by beating up a ton of bad guys. A really great issue, I highly recommend reading it. Left me visibly moved in the middle of the comic store.
Beyond Bruce and Alfred, there’s another individual I think Damian’s death with seriously scar: Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, aka former Robin, aka former Batman. While Dick was Batman, Damian was his Robin. Their Batman & Robin series ran for 25 issues and was fantastic. You have Grayson who is having serious self-doubt issues in his new role and having to train Bruce’s kid, who is quite a brat (to say the least).
A brat who was raised from day one to be a very adept killer. Yet, they grew together and ended up respecting each other more than they’d care to admin. Shortly before Damian dies, he says to Nightwing, “We were the best. No matter what anyone thinks.” To which Dick replies, “We can’t help being great”. This is one of my favorite images and really sums in Damian in a nutshell.
I can’t help but wonder though if it’ll be long before we see Damian again. Death seems to lack the permanency in comics that is has in real life. How many times have characters died, then come back a couple issues later? All the time. Xavier has died, like 4 times? 5? Captain American died at the end of Civil War, only to come back a little later. Nearly every character has died at one point or another, only to be brought back later.
Do these revivals cheapen the effect of the original death? Usually yeah. At the end of Messiah Complex, Xavier got shot in the head by Bishop. It was a big deal, or at least I thought it was. Nope. Few issues later, after a little help from Exodus, he’s running around in X-Men: Legacy. Now, he’ll probably stay dead for a while now, given that his brain’s been removed. Another example: I remember when they were teasing that one of the Fantastic Four would die. They were right, Johnny did. However, a few months later I noticed he was back. So was that whole death arc necessary? What was the point other than to temporarily drum up sales?
I think it’s because death creates tension and can create some good stories. Can create. A character dying does not automatically create an epic memorable story, but it can help. Look at Joss Whedon. Or don’t actually. The man loves to kill characters to create tension (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Avengers, Dr. Horrible). Some are more narritively justified than others, granted. Or look at Dennis ‘The Butcher’ Hopeless with Avengers Arena. Six issues in and how many characters have died? Just as many? Death, and the threat of, creates tension. Look at the dinner scene in Batman 17. What’s under the dish? Is it Alfred?
But, being the medium comics is, at the end of the day you generally need to return to status quo and have people alive. Dead characters can sell stories in the short term, but to hook people for the long term, you need to have their favorite characters alive. This coming from someone who’s favorite character is currently among the deceased and has been for quite some time. Kurt Wagner died in early 2010. Three years. That’s an eternity in comics. However, they have gotten around this by using one of the oldest tricks in the (comic) book: alternate versions.
Nightcrawler from the main universe is dead. However, his counterpart from the Age of Apocalypse universe showed in Uncanny X-Force. Also, there is Kid Nightcrawler in X-Treme X-Men. Or look at Jean in All New X-Men. Jean Grey is dead in the main continuity, but her younger self is time traveled to the present so they can still use her. There’s tricks like these to try to not undo deaths and cheapen them, but still have the characters people want.
So, do I think we’ll see Damian alive anytime soon? Probably (and hopefully) not. A death should have impact to give it meaning, otherwise you get Dragonball Z. It should be a catalyst for change in the story. It should have emotional repercussions. And I do think one reason that writers kill characters is that it resonates a base fear within us. Even if we’re not actively afraid of dying, there is part of us that knows someday we won’t exist.
After all, you get what anybody gets. You get a lifetime.