It’s AAPI Heritage Month, which means it’s the perfect time to talk about Damian Wayne. After all, Batman’s sole biological son is part Asian, with Middle Eastern and Chinese heritage on his mother’s side. Plus, he’s about to level up in a big way after James Gunn and Peter Safran revealed that he’ll be making his live action debut as part of their “Gods and Monsters” saga in a film called The Brave and the Bold. If you’re here, we’re guessing you’re familiar with Damian Wayne, but have you read many of his comics? And if not—or if you have and would like to read more—do you know where to start?
Well, you will soon. Raised by the Demon’s Head and the League of Assassins, brought to Gotham to assist his father as the fifth Robin, here are six essential stories for getting to know Damian Wayne!
1) Batman and Son
The saga of Damian Wayne begins in earnest with the start of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s now legendary stint on the Batman title. In Batman #655, we see a shadowed young figure accompanied by Talia claiming Bruce Wayne as his father. In the next issue, Talia introduces the two in an iconic scene where the young lad holds a sword to a captured Batman’s throat. This was all a violent way for Talia to get her former beloved’s attention, requesting that Damian be brought up under his father so that he could learn from the World’s Greatest Detective and fulfill his potential as rightful ruler of the world.
Right away, Damian is characterized as a spoiled, nasty piece of work who refuses to respect Alfred, Robin (Tim Drake) or Wayne Manor. It’s only when Batman snaps at him in the manner of a martial arts master that Damian changes his attitude and begins to revere his caped and cowled father. The initial story ends in Batman #658 where Talia and Damian are both presumed to have perished in an explosion, but Batman and his readers alike knew that they would appear again before long…
2) Batman Reborn
This is where Damian’s career as Robin begins in earnest, although it’s not as the partner to his father. At the time, Bruce Wayne was believed to be dead leaving Dick Grayson to take up the mantle of the Dark Knight. In a move to honor his adoptive father, Dick took Damian under his wing and promised to bring up the violent and rebellious child as a righteous crusader against evil. This deeply offended the current Robin, Tim Drake, who soon left Gotham City on a quest that would lead to the whereabouts of Bruce’s still living body, vacating the Robin mantle entirely.
As the new Dynamic Duo, Dick and Damian took to the streets in a revved up new Batmobile that could fly, battling new criminals such as Mr. Toad and Professor Pyg, along with the return of the Red Hood. It was this series, under the familiar name of Batman and Robin, that especially endeared readers to Damian in part because he flipped the Batman and Robin dynamic on its head. While Batman was typically a dark hero and Robin provided some lightness and levity, with Dick and Damian the depictions were switched. Now, Batman was the light-hearted detective and Robin was a violent little kid always trying to prove that he was better than anyone.
3) Father and Son
Same title, but a much different series. In the New 52’s Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, Bruce Wayne is back and has reclaimed the mantle of Batman…and the responsibility of raising and training his bloodthirsty son.
Batman and Robin take on the new villain Nobody here, the son of Henri Ducard—one of Bruce Wayne’s mentors during his globetrotting days. Nobody believes that criminals deserve to die, and works to bring Robin over to his side, thus forcing Bruce Wayne to work even harder to keep Damian on the side of the angels. It’s in this series that the underlying theme of fathers and sons gets its strongest workout, with Damian learning more about why his father dons the batsuit every night and beginning to relate to his father’s goal of honoring his parents.
4) Robin R.I.P.
Whoops! Well, you can’t say this wasn’t expected.
Actually, writer Grant Morrison has since revealed that Damian was originally meant to die in part four of his introductory story, Batman #658. Plans change, however, and Damian went on to become the Boy Wonder and partner to Batman—eventually running afoul of his mother’s side of the family. Both Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul had plans for the world, and Batman and Robin were the only ones standing in their way.
In Morrison and Chris Burnham’s Batman Incorporated, Nightwing and Robin are protecting the workers inside Wayne Tower from followers of Leviathan—an organization led by Talia in a faction split off from the League of Assassins. While Batman is in chains and works to escape a death trap, Talia sends in the Heretic, a genetically engineered clone of Damian aged to adulthood. Damian fights valiantly, but eventually loses the fight and gets run through by a sword. Batman arrives seconds too late, just as the light fades from his son’s eyes.
What followed was a tumultuous time in Batman’s life. Fortunately, Damian was eventually resurrected in a globe-trotting story called Robin Rises. How that happened was complicated. Probably best to read the comic, if you’re curious.
5) Super Sons
One of Damian’s most significant relationships outside of the Bat-Family is his friendship with the son of the world’s most powerful hero. Damian met Jon Kent in Peter J. Tomasi and Jorge Jiménez’s Super Sons after running into Maya Ducard, the inheritor of her father’s mantle of Nobody. Initially, the two were less-than-super buddies and their fathers disapproved of them interacting with each other. Jon was younger, far more powerful, but decidedly less experienced. Damian was now 13, much more experienced and cockier than ever.
Eventually, however, through misadventures in battling the likes of Kid Amazo, Rex Luthor and Manchester Black, the two began building respect for one another that eventually blossomed into full-on friendship.
6) The Lazarus Tournament
After having yet another fallout with Batman, Damian abandoned the Robin mantle and traveled to Lazarus Island, where he entered into the Lazarus Tournament—a deadly martial arts fighting competition to crown the best fighter alive. Hosted by the mysterious League of Lazarus, Damian fights against esteemed martial artists such as Connor Hawke, Ravager, Shrike, Brutale and newcomers Respawn and Flatline, the latter whom kills him in their first match. True to the island’s name, however, Damian revives and learns from Mother Soul—leader of the League of Lazarus—that everyone is allowed to die three times before death becomes permanent. Making friends with his opponents Connor and Flatline, Damian discovers Mother Soul’s true identity and works to take her down.
Joshua Williamson and Gleb Melnikov’s Robin series, of which this is the first arc, is notable for highlighting Damian away from the Robin mantle, outside Gotham City in a kill-or-be-killed scenario where all of his parents’ training comes to bear fruit, and he truly emerges as a new and righteous hero.
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Donovan Morgan Grant and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.