There comes a time when every Robin must leave the nest. Dick Grayson left Wayne Manor in Batman #217 and began a series of solo adventures on his college campus. After returning from the dead, Jason Todd chose to go his own way as Red Hood. Tim Drake began patrolling the streets on his own when Batman’s replacement Jean Paul Valley kicked him out of the Batcave. Stephanie Brown—well, she always marched to the beat of her own drum. So where does that leave Damian Wayne?
The current Boy Wonder is striking out on his own in his ongoing self-titled series, which recently released its first trade paperback collection, Robin Vol. 1: The Lazarus Tournament. The storyline finds Robin attending a martial arts tournament run by a mysterious group known as the League of Lazarus. The tournament pits Damian up against some of the greatest fighters on the planet, including Connor Hawke and Rose Wilson. And if you think Damian will easily make short work of all of them, well, know that the Boy Wonder graphically gets his heart ripped out of his chest before the end of the first issue.
Teen Titans GO! this is not.
This also isn’t Damian’s first extended solo outing. The Boy Wonder previously starred in his own ongoing Robin: Son of Batman and led the Teen Titans. Yet this feels different. Although Robin was striking out on his own, you still got the sense that he was coming home to Wayne Manor from time to time. Now Damian feels determined to carve out his own identity. Where is this need coming from? I think it’s a combination of three things.
The first one is the simplest—he’s fourteen years old. Every teenager rebels and strives for independence at some point. It’s a natural part of growing up. As much as Damian likes to pretend he’s atypical, at the end of the day he’s more like an average kid than he wants to admit. Some teenagers sneak out of the house or get a tattoo. Damian attends tournaments where he fights a bunch of deadly killers. Typical teenager stuff.
The second reason is Damian is struggling to make sense of his own identity as he’s pulled between two families. He’s the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul and the son of Batman, which means he’s constantly being pulled in two different directions. This is a problem none of the other Robins ever had. The ideals Dick Grayson learned from his acrobatic parents were never challenged by Bruce Wayne’s parenting. Stephanie Brown might have had a criminal father, but he was not an active part of her upbringing.
When he’s with the Bat-Family, Damian is constantly criticized for being too bloodthirsty. When he’s with his mother Talia, he’s constantly criticized for not being bloodthirsty enough. Is it any wonder Robin is struggling to figure out who he is in the grand scheme of things? Damian is hoping the Lazarus Tournament can prove his worth beyond his heritage.
The third and most tragic reason for Robin’s rebellion is the death of Alfred. Consider how the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne shaped Bruce, then stop to remind yourself that Damian never had to experience a tragedy like that. That all changed when Alfred was murdered before his eyes in the “City of Bane” storyline. Robin feels like Alfred’s death is his responsibility, and he isn’t sure how to handle that grief.
This might be a hot take, but I’m calling the Bat-Family out for the way they handled Damian’s emotions after Alfred’s death. In Batman: Pennyworth RIP #1, Damian tells everyone that Alfred’s death was his fault, he knows that they blame him, and then runs out of the wake in tears. Not one member of the Bat-Family follows him. After he leaves, they acknowledge it wasn’t his fault, but he was no longer there to hear it. He needed to hear that from them. He needed comfort. Damian’s carrying around a lot of guilt, especially for a child.
I think everyone is underestimating how much Alfred’s death has shaken Damian. In fact, throughout the Lazarus Tournament, Damian frequently has imaginary conversations with Alfred’s ghost. Pennyworth fans will be pleased to see that the butler still has his classic wit, even if he’s just a figment of Robin’s imagination. At another point in the story Damian alludes to Alfred’s death, and how he hopes the tournament will give him a chance to redeem himself.
In many ways, Damian has already changed the role of Robin. Throughout Dick Grayson’s tenure, Batman and Robin were an inseparable Dynamic Duo. Although Tim Drake had his own solo series, he was still regularly by Batman’s side in the Dark Knight’s own titles. It’s been different with Damian. His early years as Robin were filled with team-ups alongside Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne, but that seems to have changed. Consider this, how many Batman and Robin team-up stories can you recall from the past six years?
Under Damian’s tenure, Robin is no longer as tied to Batman as he once was, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll always be the son of Batman and an important part of the mythos, but it doesn’t mean they have to be inseparable. The Lazarus Tournament might not hold the answers Damian is looking for, but it’s an important step in his journey. Robin has left the nest, and I’m eager to see where his flight will take him.
Robin Vol. 1: The Lazarus Tournament by Joshua Williamson, Gleb Melnikov and Jorge Corona is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel. You can also read Robin’s ongoing series on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.