Grant Morrison knew what he was doing when he introduced Damian Wayne to the world of DC Comics’ “Batman.” Even when the eleven-year-old assassin turned Robin the Boy Wonder was at his worst, the character was an endearing addition to the Bat Family, and his lovable turn from hellion to hero made the character’s death in “Batman Incorporated” #8 all that harder to watch.
But the writer promises that just because Damian’s final fate was planned from the very beginning of his Batman run over six years ago, it doesn’t mean his Batman epic is over yet. The final four issues of “Batman Incorporated” with artist Chris Burnham won’t just mark the end of this multi-year, multi-series saga. It will also mark the end of Morrison’s tenure with monthly superhero comics for the foreseeable future.
CBR News spoke with Morrison about the most recent death of a Robin, why the story always had to happen, why it’s not at all like when ’80s Robin Jason Todd bit the bullet and how the political underpinnings of “Incorporated” take a backseat to the character work. Plus, the writer discusses his life after monthly comics and how his work will change with its next evolution.
CBR News: Well, Grant, it appears this may be the last time for you making the press rounds on the monthly superhero beat.
Grant Morrison: Yeah, this is it. [Laughs] The monthlies are over!
Let’s start a bit with how “Batman Incorporated” has hit lately with the fans and the press. It’s been odd watching the reaction to Damian’s death and people bringing up the death of Jason Todd years ago in comparison. When Jason was killed off, he’d only been Robin in a short number of issues, and he was not well liked. Damian on the other hand was extremely popular and has established himself all over the DCU at this point. Did you think at all about what the reaction would be when crafting this story? Did you follow the response online?
I got asked about the Jason thing up front back when I did my first interviews, and it never really came up again. And that was really weird. It was kind of like Jason Todd was one of the most awful things to ever happen in comics, and is this the same thing again? But Jason Todd died because a bunch of people called on the phone, and Damian died because his creator decided to do it. It had to fit into the story and have a certain effect. Damian was built to die in the same way that Xorn was built to be Magneto [in “New X-Men”], even though people still don’t believe me. [Laughs] And I think that’s the real distinctive difference between the two. Damian was created to occupy a space in an ongoing story in a way that Jason Todd wasn’t.
And Jason went through quite a few metamorphoses, if you remember. He was the red-haired kid who had exactly the same origin as Dick Grayson. And then suddenly he was a black-haired kid who stole tires off the Batmobile because they wanted to make him seem like more of a bad guy before they wiped him out. There was less control over who Jason was, which is what makes him very different from Damian who had a pretty straight throughline all the way.
You had said very early on that your original plan was to kill Damian at the very start of this whole story. Did the plan to come back and kill him always stay in place, or did you waver on it as the story was told?
No, I knew I’d come back to it in the end because it had to happen. It just didn’t seem right in that first story. I’m really glad I didn’t do it then. It’s like that “Doctor Who” story when he meets his daughter and she dies 50 minutes later. She’s never really mentioned again. It meant nothing, and it didn’t really matter to the Doctor that she was dead and gone. So I thought by giving Damian an actual character arc, it’d make it much more important when I decided to do what I was always going to do anyway.
How does this affect your run overall? I feel like one of the real themes you’ve played with is Batman as super competent/can get out of anything bad ass. Is there a way for this death to happen and have him still triumph?
Well, the next three issues are basically “Vengeance of Batman.” He’s been pushed too far. He underestimated Talia, and then Talia horribly underestimated him. That’s really what it’s all about. And part of this is that we didn’t want to do Jason Todd again. We didn’t want to leave Batman an emotional cripple. The Batman we’ve presented in this run has been through some pretty bizarre experiences including weird meditation in the Thogal ritual. He’s been dead. He’s been brought back to life. His heart has stopped. He has a different relationship to death than the Batman we knew before. And I think in a superhero universe, it’s just not the same for these guys.
So I wanted to show Batman taking this in a very different way and thinking about death in a very different way. I wanted him doing what Batman does and getting back on the scene and kicking ass. That’s what Batman’s all about ultimately. But how that plays out and his confrontation with Talia will, I hope, be very different from anything we’ve seen. What I’m thinking with Talia is that Batman protects Gotham City and does hit little Batman Incorporated, but he’s actually got to go up against an international, global crime organization here. And I think he’s out of his depth. That’s what makes the next four issues interesting.
One thing that’s been growing in this run of “Batman Incorporated” is an element of class warfare in how Talia presents herself. She seems to mock the idea that Bruce Wayne with all his wealth is going to swoop in and save poor people. How does that element grow in the finale? Is there a way in which you agree with her a little bit?
You have to agree with her a little bit. I mean, you’ve got a character here called Talia al Ghul, and that name suggests the Middle East immediately. So you have this character on one side, and then you have Bruce Wayne who’s an East Coast billionaire, which pretty much represents the Western capitalist industrial side of things. There’s an undeniable, inescapable and interesting picture of certain global conflicts going on. It’s the same way as when I was a young writer working on [1986’s Marvel UK title] “Zoids” I couldn’t seem to escape the idea that the Blue Zoids were America and the Red Zoids were Russia back in the days of the Cold War.
I think those things are just obvious an inherent in these things when you have the al Ghul family against the Wayne family. But for me underneath it all — and I think what people have started to feel –Â is that in the end this is about real people. It’s about us. It’s not about Bruce, and it’s not about Talia. These people are monsters and superheroes, but in the middle is Damian looking up and saying, “Why can’t you two just get along?” That’s what it’s about. It’s about being a child of divorce and sitting there with these giant ideologies warring across the surface of a planet that should really have starships flying into space. Everybody should be peaceful and there’s no money anymore, but instead it’s “What the fuck are you guys up to?” That’s what it’s about. These kids with hope trapped between these monstrous powers fighting. You can’t talk to them. You can’t reason with them.
I hope that’s what people take from it more than anything because ultimately Batman is the hero and Talia is the villain. And just like in the real world, you can assign hero and villain roles easily. Sure, Batman is the hero and he’s got to win. And yeah, he represents a form of capitalism – a good form that really works in the DC Universe. He’s a good guy, and Talia’s a villain. So there are several obvious correlation’s there, but I don’t think people should take that as what this story is about, because it’s not. Does that make sense? I mean, I don’t want to walk away from your question.
No. That makes sense. I think you’ve been pretty up front since the beginning that you’ve been writing about these people as characters first, which that jibes with quite a bit.
Though I also thing this has a little bit to do with Batman as a capitalist superhero. He’s the hero, and he’s going to win. Regardless of my politics or anyone’s politics, that’s how things work in the DC world. [Laughter]
Well, these are comics released for commercial sale, so they have to support a little bit of capitalism! But we know you’re moving on from this specific format after “Batman Incorporated” and your last issue of “Action Comics” arrives. Do you have any pages left to write?
Well, “Action” ships tomorrow, so that one’s done. [Laughs] But with “Batman,” I think I’ve got the last bits of #11 and 12 to do. Then I’m done. I’ve written the last page already, so I’m just filling in the pages in between.
You’ve written and completed a lot of big epics in the past from superhero stuff to personal works like “The Invisibles.” What does this end feel like compared to those in the past? Are you working in a different way now without the monthly deadline hanging over you?
Yeah. Part of not doing the monthlies was just because of a lot of opportunities arising. I knew I’d want to keep having things to say with superheroes I liked, but other things were coming in, and I was getting a chance to do things that made it quite difficult to keep up with monthly comics. As you say, “Batman” is something I’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve taken Batman through pretty much everything I hoped to do with him. So it’s reached a natural end, and Superman was always planned to reach this end. I never had any more plans of what to do with him. It’s just more fun to spend some more time on these things now. There’s a totally different feeling I get [with my new work] than I did from the improvisational feel of the monthlies.
Does it feel more like working on novels now where you’re revising more of the openings and crafting a complete story start to finish?
Yeah, I can go back and fit in a better thing if I think of one. Sometimes you don’t get to do that. But even having said that, when you’re improvising hard and fast, the stuff that comes out is usually pretty tight. There isn’t that much difference. It’s just a difference of feeling and control for the creator, I think.
Well, I can’t wait to see how that feels different as a reader.
Let me know! [Laughter]
“Action Comics” #18 lands this Wednesday, and “Batman Incorporated” #9 follows on March 27 from DC Comics.