Batman's had lots of sidekicks over the years. Nightwing, Batgirl and Red Hood have all had gruff, tension-filled partnerships with the Dark Knight. But only one of them has been Bruce Wayne's biological son. Trained to kill since he could walk, Damian Wayne is the most ferocious Robin ever. Now his mum wants him back.
The kid who's worn the Robin mantle for the last few years is, genetically speaking, equal parts good and bad. Damian Wayne is the result of the consummation of the long-simmering attraction between Batman and Talia, daughter of would-be world conqueror Ra's Al Ghul. Ra's Al Ghul's infamous first appearance had him waltzing into the Batcave with full knowledge of Batman's secret identity and, ever since then, his rivalry with the Dark Knight has been extremely personal. The near-immortal villain wanted Batman to marry his daughter and join his crusade to make Earth lush and green again by killing most of humanity. Batman's always refused but one adventure — the 1987 graphic novel Batman: Son of the Demon — where Talia and Batman wound up working together left her pregnant. Batman didn't know he had a biological son until years later.
When Damian showed up at Wayne Manor, he alluded to a past filled with misdeeds. His adventures with Batman saw his father trying to pull Damian out of his dark Al Ghul upbringing. That continuing quest is the main concern of Damian's five-month-old series. In Robin, Son of Batman, Damian is trying to right wrongs he committed during his Year of Blood, a coming-of-age gauntlet that had him committing nefarious deeds around the world. His Year of Atonement has him trotting all over the world with his pet bat-creature Goliath in an attempt to fix things. But he soon finds himself dogged by the daughter of Nobody, an assassin he killed during a mission with Batman. The young girl with the name of Maya also calls herself Nobody and pledges to kill Damian once he's done with his atonement.
DC Comics has had mixed results in letting creators best known for drawing also handle writing duties but Patrick Gleason's proving to be an enjoyable talent on this book. Son of Batman retains the tonal mixture that makes Damien such a loveable, hate-able character. He talks like a member of an ancient aristocracy and acts older than he is. But he's still a kid who's inherited the heavy legacies that come with being the son of the Dark Knight and grandson to archfiend Ra's Al Ghul. He's been pulled in opposite directions — to kill as he was raised or be more merciful like Batman — ever since he was introduced. That conflict is still in evidence in each issue of the series but Damian still feels believably kid-like, acting like an imperious kill-it-all awkwardly trying to grow into something better. And his squabbling with Nobody adds an undercurrent of goofy humour to a main plotline centered on grim doings. They fight...
and then something close to friendship starts to bloom.
In this week's issue #5, Damian comes face to face with the mother he thought was dead. The bulk of this chapter deals with the crescendo of a mystical feud between the Al Ghuls and the demonic Durga dynasty.
But, really, this issue is all about Damian learning it's not as easy as he thinks to reject his past. The mother who sent him on evil errands still loves him in her own twisted way and issue #5 ends with the girl who swore to see him dead saves his life. Just like his dad, Damien is picking up a weird family of his own. (The book hasn't yet shown him reckoning with the fate of his father.) It will probably be a while before he escapes the bleakness that is his birthright but, if things continue as they are, Son of Batman should be a pretty entertaining read.