The following article contains spoilers for the DC Nuclear Winter Special story, "Warmth," by Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Romulo Fajardo Jr. and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
In a strange (but delightful) turn, the newest DC Holiday anthology embraces a post-apocalyptic tone for its series of short stories. While it doesn’t immediately scream “winter wonderland," the setting proves to be a perfect place for characters of the DC Universe get to experience a holiday season like they’ve never had before.
One of the most surprising characters to see in the special is a very specific version of Batman. By bringing him back, the book gives readers a surprisingly heartfelt follow-up to an alternate future first introduced by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert during the writer's run on Batman. DC’s Nuclear Winter Special brings back the demonically empowered Damian Wayne Batman (dubbed Batman 666), and gives him the chance to grow as a character.
The Mark Of The Beast
Damian Wayne was introduced as a potential inheritor to the role of the Dark Knight in Batman #666. In a dark future where Bruce Wayne died in the line of duty, Damian eventually took over the role and became a decidedly more dangerous Batman than anyone who previously bore the title.
His moral code being more lax than the others who served as Batman, Damian's Caped Crusader is defined by his brutality more than anything else. He's willing to do whatever it takes to protect Gotham City, even if that means cutting someone's legs off. He even bragged in his first appearance that he spent his first three years as Batman basically laying traps all across the city to help him bring down villains.
This version of Damian made a deal with the literal devil, giving him an even bigger advantage over the villains who populate his timeline. He traded his soul to essentially become immortal, capable of shrugging off blasts of gun fire. He also proves to be a Batman who sincerely tries not to kill, but will cross that line when he feels it’s necessary. Batman 666 is a dark man in even darker times, and his doomed arc is a grim possible endgame to Damian’s attempts to be a good person throughout Morrison's Batman run. Sometimes you can't save the world, no matter how hard you try.
The last time we saw this Damian, things weren’t looking too great. In Batman Incorporated #7, Gotham City had been consumed by a new Monster Serum/Joker Venom virus that basically turned the citizens of the city into 28 Days Later-style zombies. By the end of the issue, the virus had spread throughout the last stronghold, Joker-izing Commissioner Barbara Gordon. Damian could do nothing as a nuclear bomb was dropped on the city by the US Government in an attempt to contain the “Gotham Problem.” He was seemingly consumed in the blast, and it wasn’t completely clear if even he could have survived.
The Omega Batman
The DC Nuclear Winter Special answers that question by reintroducing readers to the world of Batman 666, who wanders the now icy world ravaged by the nuclear winter caused in his last appearance. While Gotham lies decimated in “Warmth," Damian endures. However, there’s a single figure hunting him through the ravaged landscapes, one that he knows and waits for.
The figure is eventually revealed to be Ra’s Al Ghul, whose own brand of immortality allows him to survive the newly ravaged world as well. He hunts Damian in an attempt to force his Grandson to kill him and finally free him of the burden of living -- but Damian refuses. The Demon's grandson explains that killing might be what Damian would do, but Batman won't. Damian seems to have finally become the hero he set out to be. He’s found a new place of peace in his solitude, letting go of his trademark anger, quietly embracing what it means to be Batman.
This gives him the clarity to spare Ra’s and instead just sit with the old man, the two of them being last family either of them has. It’s a sweet story, full of little moments of genuine emotion peeking through the doom and gloom of a frozen, post-apocalyptic world. It reveals that Damian has finally, in the face of nothingness, become the kind of good man he always wanted to be.
The Batman Of Bethlehem
Despite the fate of the world, Damian is learning how to become a good man. He has learned restraint in a way he never really had before. By sparing his grandfather, Damian proves he can become something better. When he thinks of his father, he doesn't think of Batman; he thinks of Bruce Wayne. It speaks to the heart that Damian has finally given fully into, providing readers with a Batman 666 markedly more reflective than he has been in prior appearances.