Yeah, that seems like a good way to start this post. In fact, it’s the only thing I could think of, giving me an easy excuse to then make it the first subject of this entry in the blog. This issue was one of those chapters in a story of great length that renders you speechless. It’s one of those moments that leave you in the suddenly difficult position of trying to start talking about it, no easy task. To be honest, I can’t even think of the last time I’ve had trouble writing or talking about something major in a work of fiction; something which has affected me on an emotional level, I mean. (Oh, yeah, if you couldn’t tell: Damian dies.) The reason I think this is is that I’m a pretty creative person myself – not only a big reader or admirer of art, but someone who does a lot of writing and drawing in their own time too. Reading the foreshadowing in a character’s line of dialogue; seeing why an artist colours this like that; understanding what the imagery of this shot in a film or comic could mean; knowing when an author’s using certain writing techniques and for what purpose; et cetera are just a few examples of the kind of things I constantly keep an eye out for, and I’m quite proud when I call it right, which I believe I often do. The downside is that the impact of certain scenes are quite often softened.
When I was reading through George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for instance, I inevitably came to the very popular Red Wedding scene, which had been foreshadowed to no end. In fact, I had already predicted one character’s demise as early as the book before from a vision that another character, far away, experiences. When I was coming to write my annotations for the Red Wedding’s chapter, the build up of which strongly suggested that the more anonymous faces of the vision in the last book were actually the same as those currently present, I had therefore already decided that all of them were about to be stabbed in the back, quite literally, before I got there, making what should have been a shot through the heart a mere grazing. Which isn’t totally a bad thing because, god knows, it still hurts like a son of a bitch when it happens. But, interestingly enough, I could talk about it quite easily, and managed to keep focus in my annotations of the chapter, pointing out such things as the onomatopoeia that open it, instead of writing “Ermagerd, he actually did it!” and going off on a rant about how Martin is an evil bastard.
Which is why I find it fascinating that I’m having trouble finding the words with which to talk about the death of Damian in this chapter. If you had been reading my entries about Grant Morrison’s Batman run since the second book of Batman and Robin at least, you’d know that it was as early as there, in the last issue illustrated by Andy Clarke in which Damian confronts his mother and she declares him an enemy of the family, that I first put it forward that the boy was going to die. Since then I’ve brought it up as a possibility every chance I could, littering posts with my theories about how it was going to happen. However, very recently, two things in this run have really surprised me. First of all, there was the story Asylum at the end of the last book. That was our last tale of Damian as the Batman of the future, and what was incredible about it was the fact that it was a real thing, not – as I had always suspected – a silly “elseworlds” series of tales, and the point of its inclusion at end of the last book was meant as a shocking revelation of Damian being Bruce’s third ghost, the Batman who would destroy Gotham. The other thing is right there in my last entry, a simple thing I feel somewhat ashamed for not even considering until it was too late: that Damian might die heroically, and not as an ironic twist of the knife in the war between Bruce and Talia.
You know what? Writing those three paragraphs did put me in mind of a scene in another piece of fiction that I found particularly devastating to a point that talking about it was quite tricky, and be warned that this is a Breaking Bad spoiler. That show is a masterpiece, filled to the brim with foreshadowing, a hell of a lot of duality, symbolic use of colour, and allusions to other work. Indeed, when I told my friends over Facebook about my Hamlet theory, I was actually quite surprised to find that this wasn’t such an original idea of mine, they telling me of websites covered in articles and posts on forums written by people who saw the same thing. Therefore, much like the equivalent of the scene in Hamlet, I realised that when Jesse didn’t go to sit on a park bench with Walt, exposing his crimes using a wire that Hank and Gomez are listening in on, he had actually missed his chance at nailing the bastard, dooming himself and these DEA agents. So when the well-titled episode Ozymandias arrived, I had hardened myself for the death of at least Hank and Gomez. But the former character’s death was still crushing for me. It didn’t matter that I saw it coming – it hit me really fucking hard.
It’s a perfect scene for a few reasons. For one thing, we had come full circle to the spot that Walt and Jesse had used in the first season of the show to create meth together, setting this up to be an iconic moment of the series’ entire run, the one and true moment where Walt’s crimes would finally catch up to hurt him and those closest to him the most. The other thing is that Hank by that point was a character we were really rooting for, a man we wanted to win. We’d seen his character develop from the family member who cracks the hilarious jokes in the background to one we genuinely cared about because, like no one else, he was always true to himself, by far the most honest character we had. That, of course, is also another important piece of the scene: he is a respectable man and character until the bitter end, ignoring Walt’s pleas to beg for his life, preferring to die a good man. That it comes mid-sentence of him saying his last words, when you’re vulnerable but preparing yourself, just goes to strengthen the impact of the scene. Breaking Bad spoilers end here.
Those two paragraphs apply to Damian’s death in a lot of ways too – note, for example, the similar mirroring technique in both he and Dick being thrown against glass that surrounds and protects outfit displays, a reflection of Damian throwing Tim Drake, also present in this scene, into such a display in the Batcave near the start of this run. The main difference is that, no, his death doesn’t catch us off guard so suddenly, but the pay-off is still as huge. Despite the fact that I was correct in my idea that he faces off against his man-sized clone – his brother; his own self – I could never have predicted seeing him brutally impaled the way he is, the clone stealing his “Tt” line as he ends his life, and the shattering glass of Bruce scrambling to get there in time surrounding such a distressing image. Credit to Chris Burnham for the incredible job he does here. On the page before that is a dozen-and-a-half panel fight scene in which Damian starts with the advantage before quickly losing it as Talia’s men fire bullets and shoot arrows into him as he tries to fight off his clone until, by the end, he’s a bloody mess whose last word is what we saw future Damian’s to be – simply “Mother”. It is fucking horrible. Turning the page we even find a shot similar to that of Bruce cradling Jason Todd’s dead body on the cover of Death in the Family, only better in this case – if you can call it that – because we can clearly see the distraught look on Bruce’s face and Damian’s dead eyes staring off panel. Even Talia sheds a tear at the top of this page.
But like I said – I was ashamed to give no thought to the possibility of Damian dying as a heroic character, and that he does, defending Ellie like I thought he would. Yet like the character whose demise I spoiled in the Breaking Bad spoiler territory above, he meets his end with dignity too, as much as he can show for a child anyway. All the time that occupies his fight with the clone, being shot and torn to shreds by arrows all the while, is spent well, causing injuries where he can or calling out his attackers as dishonourable cowards, even spitting in his brother’s face in replacement of saying, “Fuck you”. It’s not the death I imagined for the character, I’m sad to admit, but it’s the send-off he deserved and easily one of my favourite scenes in a comic series ever.
Until next time.