During the first full day of 2017's Comic-Con International in San Diego, DC Comics co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee surprised the audience at their Meet The Publishers panel by bringing out none other than Grant Morrison.
The legendary creator announced, among other projects, that he is working on a follow-up to his acclaimed Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth with his Batman, Incorporated collaborator Chris Burnham. The new project will take readers back to the near-future Gotham first presented in Batman #666, and issue which features Batman’s son Damian as a ruthless killer Batman who has been damned by the devil.
Batman in Bethlehem
In his first appearance as Batman, Damian is presented as a mystery to the reader. While we know his identity, so much has happened to the character that we aren't aware of and, really, don’t even learn about in this initial story. What we do learn is this: He’s the third Batman following the death of Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon is Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department who blames Damian for the death of a friend — possibly Dick — and most surprisingly of all, Damian possesses some sort of healing factor and/or other supernatural powers. It’s stated that in order to become the Batman that Gotham of the future needed, Damian made a pact with the devil himself.
Batman #666 builds up the Gotham of the future in a short space of time, mostly through its name-dropping of new villains that would later show up in the present for the first time in Morrison’s later run on Batman and Robin. Characters like Professor Pyg, Flamingo and Phosphorous Rex rule the underworld of Damian’s Gotham, but soon find themselves on the bad side of Damian’s worst enemy, the Bat-Devil.
The Bat-Devil is one of the Three Ghosts of Batman engineered by Doctor Simon Hurt; three police officers who underwent psychological and physical augmentation to become dark mirrors of everything Batman represents. At one time, The Bat-Devil was Michael Lane, a police officer whose family was brutally murdered by devil worshippers. He worked for Doctor Hurt until he was later taken in a redeemed by The Order of Purity as the new Azrael.
In the future of Batman #666, it seems that redemption either never came, or it was undone at some point, because Michael Lane is still very much The Bat-Devil. He kills the lords of Gotham’s underground in such a way that their deaths mark a pentagram on a map of Gotham but finds that while he visually resembles a devil, Damian has first hand knowledge of the real thing and was more than prepared for him. The issue ends with Damian saving the day and telling the Bat-Devil to pass on a message to his boss, Doctor Hurt.
Time and the Batman
Damian as Batman reappeared in Grant Morrison’s experimental and non-linear Batman #700, which tells one story across three timelines starring three Batman; Bruce, Dick and Damian. The story revolves around the mysterious locked room murder of the scientist Carter Nichols. Damian’s tale features his quest to stop the villains 2-Face-2 and Max Roboto, who had discovered The Joker’s jokebook and altered Gotham’s artificial climate control system to make it rain Joker venom across the city.
In stopping the villains and rescuing the kidnapped, Jokerized baby they held hostage, Damian discovers that the Nichols of present travelled forward in time to kill himself in the future, and sent the future incarnation back to be discovered in the locked room. He manages to save the child and cure him of his Joker poisoning, as the readers discover the baby is none other than Terry McGinnis, the future Batman Beyond.
Bruce Wayne’s Vision
The final part of Morrison’s Damian-as-Batman trilogy came in Batman, Incorporated #5 which — funnily enough, considering the Arkham Asylum 2 announcement — is titled “Asylum” and features Chris Burnham on art. The issue picks up not long after Batman #700, with Gotham still in the grip of the Joker rain crisis, the US government at a loss on how to handle it, and Commissioner Gordon trapped in Arkham Asylum as one of the few people unaffected. The only hope for Gotham is the baby, with which Batman hopes to manufacture a cure.
However, Batman learns that the baby was never actually cured; though presented as immune to the virus, it still carried it and infected the remaining survivors in Arkham Asylum, including Barbara Gordon. This led to the President of the United States, under advice from his right-hand man Doctor Simon Hurt, ordering a nuclear strike on Gotham in order to contain the Joker Venom outbreak and save the rest of America, killing Barbara, Damian and everyone else in the city.
It was revealed that the world of Batman #666 was glimpsed by Bruce Wayne, who was thought dead while he was journeying through the time-stream as a result of Darkseid’s Omega Sanction. Bruce's assembling of Batman, Incorporated was a way to not only save Gotham in the future, but save his son from his dark fate. While he succeeded in Damian not becoming that specific incarnation of Batman, he failed in protecting him from harm, with the young Robin finding himself skewered by The Heretic, a Damian clone loyal to their mother Talia.
Damian: Son of Batman
Grant Morrison isn’t the only person to revisit this incarnation of Damian; the character’s co-creator Andy Kubert returning to the world to tell the story of Damian’s rise from Robin to Batman in the miniseries Damian: Son of Batman. The series presents a future that deviates from what we know of the DC Universe even more than Morrison’s take and goes from the death of Dick Grayson at the hands of Joker Fish to the rise of a second Joker to rival Damian’s replacement Batman. It’s unclear if Morrison will roll with his previous collaborators vision for their future Damian, but it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that the time period won’t be addressed at all.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Arkham Asylum 2 is that it reopens the book on Morrison’s epic Batman run, which lasted eight years across a number of titles. Readers thought the story was finished with the death of Damian, the death of Talia, and the revelations behind Spyral, but it seems there’s more gas left in Morrison's creative tank. The real x-factor for the graphic novel will be Chris Burnham, who has been one of Morrison’s most invigorating collaborators in recent years. The pair bring out the best in each other in the way that only the greatest collaborations achieve. There’s no real timeframe for the release of Arkham Asylum 2 just yet, but fans of Morrison's Batman run will likely be waiting with baited breath for future updates.