Written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Chris Burnham with assistance from Jason Masters, Batman Inc. #8 closes the second act of the second volume of Inc., itself the final chapter of the sprawling Batman saga Morrison’s been crafting since 2006.
When last we left Damian Wayne, the central figure to Morrison’s oeuvre, he propelled himself from the Bat-cave defying his father’s orders to hide from the war his mother Talia was sieging on the empire of Batman. And as if the very notion of laying low was insulting to Damian, that the true son and heir of all that is Batman would run and hide from a noble fight, in this issue he dons the Robin mantle in full glory for the first time in 7 issues.
And in a series of moments that feels like both Damian proving to his sparring parents and Morrison proving to the audience the validity of the character he created, Damian becomes and embodies the legend of the Batman. The striking and bold title card “THE BOY WONDER RETURNS” and the RIP cover immediately pins Damian as embracing his father’s legacy in nod to iconic staples of the Batman comic library. As he swoops into Wayne Tower through the smashing windows his beating bat wings paint him as the bat that crashed into Wayne Manor all those years ago spawning the idea of Batman. Damian even inherits the lowest points in his father’s life as in a series of brutal and horrifying panels he receives a back-breaker familiar to even the most superficial of Batman fans.
These panels in particular had me at my most emotional while reading. They’re small, tight, flurried and claustrophobic. Rather than the “Death of Superman” style splash pages of violence which denote grandeur, high stakes and importance, this page’s modesty in terms of space serves to highlight that Damian is a child and that the horrors he suffers being pelted with arrows, bullets and devastating blows is not something to be glorified or celebrated, but mourned. This isn’t a heroic duel. It’s a small boy doing everything he can for his father who is too preoccupied with the selfish war he and the boy’s mother embroiled themselves in. Like selfish parents in a divorce alienating their children. That Damian’s final blow is dealt by a younger brother favoured by his mother stealing his trademark “>TT<” of exasperation and incredulousness hammers home the themes of the fractured family on a child’s wellbeing with a brutal stab to both Damian’s heart and the reader’s.
On a craft level Chris Burnham shines brightly in this issue. His visual callbacks to the explosive onomatopoeia of Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin #1 as well as the Adam West Batman carries fantastic and effortless weigh amidst the wonderful character moments between Dick and Damian. The Quitely/Seth Fisher (plus too many other influences to name) mash up style of his combined with his amazing use of panelling ensure action flows very smoothly. Nathan Fairbairn’s coloring pops and shines deliciously before taking a malevolent turn on the second last page with heavy reds and oranges whose brightness juxtapose wonderfully with the darkness of the scene depicted. Jason Masters fill in pages do a great job of maintaining cohesiveness with Burnham’s style.
The final page of Batman cradling his son’s body carries great weight in isolation, but felt somewhat disjointed following up the preceding page. Without having seen Batman enter the lobby where the onslaught took place, initially spot the body or deal with aged clone assassin suggests to me that all is not as it seems regarding Damian’s death. Indeed this isn’t the first issue of Batman Inc. to conclude with us having believed Robin died. But that said, with the final series of panels along the page bottom of Batman’s darkening face like the flat-lining heart beat on an ECG, the emotional weight of Damian’s valiant death hits home hard. There is but one solace to be had in the back of our minds if this proves the end of Damian Wayne. Batman and Robin will never die.