This is a three part series that will try to answer that simple question by analyzing Damian in terms of the various roles Robin fills both as Batman's most famous partner in fighting crime and as a character in a comic book. This will not be about which Robin is best, whether or not Damian is a strong character, or if the younger Wayne deserves to wear the famous domino mask. This is not a contest, but an evaluation.
To see this blog with more images, Click Here.
Over the years, Robin has come to mean a great deal of things to both Batman and readers. We will look at three of those things today starting with the earliest defined purpose of Robin and moving towards more recent understandings of the role of the Boy Wonder.
1. DOES DAMIAN GIVE BATMAN AN EXCUSE TO TALK?
If you look back at the commentary of the writers who added Robin to the Batman mythos, you will find that the original purpose of the character was charmingly simple. Batman was a lone figure which meant he was silent almost all the time which does not make for the most fascinating of stories. In the early days of comics, the internal monologue was not really yet developed, so the most common way to explain a heroes actions was to use a narrator which made things feel kind awkward and removed. How do you fix this problem? Throw in a trusty sidekick who constantly asks questions of the protagonist! Thus was born Robin.
Interestingly enough, Robins seem to be getting gradually less extroverted with time. Dick always had something to say whether it was asking Bruce questions or making snappy remarks to the bad guy. When Jason came along, he was perhaps a little less chatty, but he still had to smart off on a regular basis, and he also frequently asked Batman about the case. Things kind of changed with the more introverted Tim who was much less pithy and usually only talked business while in the field. Now we get to Damian who might actually be a little more extroverted than Tim, but he does not talk much because he seems to be mimicking Bruce's stoic and broody way. I suspect that if Damian were not so concerned about how others perceive him, he would probably be rather talkative, but at the moment, he only seems to open his mouth to make a snarky remark.
Still, Damian serves that most basic role of giving Batman a conversational partner even though he does not provide as many opportunities for dialogue as most of the previous Robins.Talk-O-Meter Robin Ranking:
2. DOES DAMIAN MAKE BATMAN LOOK BETTER BY COMPARISON?
I was having a conversation with a big Dick Grayson fan the other day, and she told me how she was reading through The Batman Chronicles and found it funny how often Dick Grayson tripped in the midst of adventures and needed to be rescued by Batman. Dick, the ultimate acrobat, trips over his own feet on a regular basis. Take that logic!
That is something that probably wouldn't occur in comics these days, but have we really come that far? There is a reason Robin is often called the Boy Hostage. In the process of three seconds, I can think of three different times various Boy Blunders have had to rely on Batman to save them when they got in over their head. What better way to show how awesome your headlining character is than compare him to a lanky, immature, untrained amateur?
Whereas all the previous Robins have fit this role pretty well, Damian flies in the face of it; he is no Boy Hostage. In the past several years as he has held the role of Robin, I can think of no time he has been held at a villains mercy. There very well may be such an example that escapes my recollection, but still, Damian is not an easy target. He regularly takes out groups of enemies that would overwhelm the vast majority of martial arts masters. His detective skills could use a little help, but he has actually progressed quickly in that regard. He does need some development in terms of emotional maturity, but Batman is hardly the best example in that field.
Victim-O-Meter Robin Ranking: Bad Robin!
3. DOES DAMIAN SERVE AS A RELATABLE CHARACTER FOR KIDS?
Though Robin was originally created as a plot device for conversation, the creative community quickly observed a second even more useful byproduct of Robin's creation. Readers related to him. Sure, Batman is awesome, and we would all love to be the Caped Crusader, but even as a young kid, some part of you knows that you could never be that awesome, but hey, there is this kid about your age who can keep pace with the Dark Knight. No, he can't punch three bad guys out at one time, but can punch out one. You could probably do that too, right?
It's a simplistic concept, and it is difficult to know just how much Robin actually helps young readers relate to comics, but it is clear that DC believed in the formula because every DC hero, except for Superman, soon had a sidekick tagging along at his or her heels. Where do you think the Teen Titans originated anyway?
In this respect, Damian is probably the least relatable of all the Robins. Now, none of the Robins really had a normal life; unless your parents were taken away by killers, you probably did not truly feel the Robins' pain, but all the other Robins were much more fallible in their abilities than Damian. Furthermore, being raised on the streets or at a circus might not be the most common upbringing, but it is still more easily imagined than being raised to be a modern day Alexander by your crazy mother, her army of bat-ninjas, and the League of Assassins.
On the flip side, I find it very ironic that Damian haters always talk about how the kid has such a lousy attitude. If Damian is supposed to be a character that modern youth find relatable, then what better avatar for their presence in a comic than a snide, cocky, prideful, snooty, snarky, big-mouthed punk. Think about it! Isn't Damian basically just a more intelligent version of the kids who call you names on X-Box Live?Relate-O-Meter Robin Ranking: Okay Robin
Damian does not fair so well in the first round, but there are still many more functions of Robin which have not been considered. At some point, we will revisit this topic.