Batman and Robin: Requiem for Damian - Review

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people telling me Batman has no personality. It’s a commonly-fielded argument – “He’s really only into growling and hitting things” – that fails to acknowledge the deeper elements of the character’s psyche. Is there a reason he growls and hits things while seemingly devoid of emotion? Does a problem rooted firmly in his mind relate to this seeming two-dimensional representation of masculine heteronormativity and illegal violence?

The answer to the latter is yes, there is a problem: if he were to add more outward depth and emotion to kicking ass, you might get kinda what you see in “Requiem for Damian”. And lemme tell ya, it ain’t a rosy thing to see.

Following hot on the heels of Grant Morrison’s “Batman Incorporated” finale, the fourth volume of “Batman and Robin” follows Bruce Wayne coming to grips with the death of his son in the former. This leads to a five stages of grieving scenario that mostly involves beating the basmeezus out of anyone vaguely criminal, and even a few people who aren’t.

Racked with guilt for his apparent failure to protect Damian and wanting to emphasise to Gotham’s baddies that he ain’t as vulnerable right now as they seem to believe, Batman kicks a lot of ass. Trust me, that’s a real nice, much more polite way of saying “He puts more people in the emergency ward than a swine flu outbreak”.

At the same time, his erstwhile colleagues are trying to calm him down (or, at very least, stop Gotham City’s medical insurance premiums from going any further through the roof). This works with varying degrees of success, though it does highlight that most of the Bat-clan shouldn’t consider any kind of psychiatric work in future should the whole crime-fighting thing fall through.

“Requiem for Damian” is a beautiful dirge with a heart that’s both emotive and tragic. Batman is in pain, a tremendous amount, and the reader is guided not just through the literal five stages of grief – used as chapter names for most issues in the book – but also through a showcase of why Batman needs to keep the emotions tamped down sometimes. As if a man broken so badly by parental homicide that he wears a Chirotera costume each night to punch gangsters wasn’t tragic and psychologically damaging enough, now he’s dealing with the death of his only biological son at the hands of an implacable enemy. That doesn’t exactly make Batman feel ten feet tall.

It’s almost too much to read some pages, especially when Batman amps up the bloodshed (still without killing, of course) with the grief palpable in both his facial expression and the level of violence imparted on his foes. Writer Peter Tomasi uses a great script in both visual layout and dialogue (with the former deftly brought to life by regular artist Patrick Gleason) to push Batman further than normal using a tragedy more impactful than a doomsday weapon. This is particularly apparent in the books ‘silent’ opening issue, presented completely without dialogue and representing one of the most tragic Dark Knight chapters in recent memory.

Where the book falls down a few places is entirely in terms of canon; “Requiem for Damian” loses impact if you’re unfamiliar with the current Bat-story, and especially if you’ve not read the latter issues of “Batman Incorporated”. No summary or Marvel-style ‘Here’s what you missed in previous volumes’ catch-up is used at the start, and you might be a bit adrift at the sudden death of Damian, especially if you’re solely reading “Batman and Robin”, when the last volume didn’t play that card. I guess that’s what Wikipedia’s for.

As an exploration of tragedy, grounded in a very real and relatable catastrophe, “Requiem for Damian” hits the right emotional notes. The death of its eponymous son isn’t over or underplayed, and Batman’s reaction and struggle to deal with it is a fascinating journey of heartbreak and emotionally-unstable violence. It’s tragic, but the ending leaves hope for the future. Part of why Batman doesn’t display as much emotion as, say, Superman, is to give the illusion of the implacable man. He’s enduring, and can still get the job done and find a way to, at least on the surface, keep going – even if the worst possible thing happens to him. Isn’t that the kind of person we all want to be?

- Chris


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