Spencer: We see a lot of redemption stories in comics (and in pop culture in general), and while many of them end in death, almost all of them end with the person seeking redemption finding some sort of forgiveness. Yes, the ideas of atoning for past crimes and being forgiven for them tend to go hand-in-hand, but should they? It’s an interesting notion, one which Patrick Gleason seems interested in examining throughout Robin: Son of Batman 2. Damian Wayne is out to atone for a year full of horrors he committed before becoming Robin, but atoning for some crimes is clearly going to be much harder than atoning for others — and it may simply come to down to who he’s seeking redemption from.
This month Damian and his pet/bodyguard Goliath are out to return the head of a mystical stone guardian who once protected what appears to be a South American village. This guardian wields the power to warp peoples’ perceptions of reality and turn them to stone, and these abilities give Gleason and colorists John Kalisz & Jeromy Cox a chance to seriously show off.
Part of the appeal of Robin: Son of Batman is simply getting to see Damian caught up in fantastic events far outside the street-level confines of Gotham City, and on that level, Gleason and his collaborators absolutely deliver.
Damian eventually helps to fend off Cartel soldiers who had invaded the village after his first visit, gaining the trust and forgiveness of both the stone guardian and the village elder, who can clearly see how much Damian has grown and evolved since he attacked the village.
Both through his actions and his appearance, Damian has proven to the elder that he’s changed, and is worthy of his forgiveness and trust. Gleason clearly demonstrates this to the audience as well, mainly through the use of flashbacks. While present-day Damian is still arrogant and a bit impetuous, he’s nothing compared to the Damian of the Year of Blood; he’s clad in all-black with a sinister, slicked-back hairstyle and a murderous, self-entitled attitude. It’s a striking contrast.
Unlike the village elder, the new NoBody is much less enchanted by Damian’s attempts at redemption. Damian killed her father, and she is in no way ready to forgive him for that.
I find this to be an interesting angle that many redemption stories don’t often tackle: just because Damian is sorry for his actions doesn’t mean that NoBody is obligated to forgive him. Sometimes the best you can do in these situations is apologize and know what you’ve done everything you can to make up for your mistakes; the fact that Damian seems to understand that and is willing to accept it shows a remarkable amount of growth for him.
Of course, with NoBody involved, things probably aren’t that simple. She’s already proven herself to be a rather complicated character — while she’s out to kill Damian, she also works to rescue the civilians who get caught up in the battle, and has clearly never killed anyone before. Despite that, though, she’s still full of bluster — in many ways she reminds me of Damian himself, and that should make their dynamic going forward especially fascinating.
Still, NoBody’s out to avenge her father’s death, and while murder is still murder, the original NoBody was far from a saint. Killing him probably falls pretty low on the list of Damian’s worst crimes. I don’t think our new NoBody has quite as much awareness of who her father was and what he stood for as she thinks she does. That kind of blindness is a weakness — she’s unable to look at the context behind Damian’s crimes, and instead now finds herself caught in the same infinite loop of revenge as her father once was. Sure, she’s not obligated to forgive Damian (and, for that matter, Damian doesn’t necessarily need her forgiveness to move forward with his redemption), but her inability to let go of her hatred is having a negative effect on her own sanity and morality. In that sense, forgiveness might be better for her than it would be for Damian.
I’m curious to see how NoBody handles these ideas — to see what revenge and redemption end up meaning for her. Both she and Damian clearly have much more to learn and accomplish, and it should be a blast watching them clash, but also likely learn from each other, in the process. In the meantime, I’m wowed by how organically Gleason ties these themes into the lives and personalities of his cast, and by how ably he’s picked up the tone (and even plot points) of his previous Batman and Robin run with Peter Tomasi despite separating Damian from so many of that series’ most defining elements. Damian Wayne is clearly in good hand with Patrick Gleason, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Mark — agree or disagree? Also: what are your thoughts on Damian’s quest and NoBody’s role in it? And what do you think was the real treasure the stone guardian was protecting? Is this one of those “the real treasure is the friends you make along the way?” kind of deals?
Mark: Spencer, I’m glad you had the lead on this discussion because reading your thoughts about Damian’s quest for redemption really helped reshape my own. So far I’ve found the Damian in Robin: Son of Batman to be slightly different from the one we knew in Batman Incorporated and Batman and Robin. Gleason is leaning into the childish aspects of the character in a way Morrison and Tomasi avoided. Whereas previously Damian was a petulant child with oversized abilities, Gleason is shaving off the rougher edges and in Robin: Son of Batman 2 Damian plays much more as wish fulfillment. This feels like a comic aimed at a young audience, and as such Damian is no longer overpowered, he’s just powerful.
Character evolution on some level is unavoidable since Damian is being asked to carry his own book instead of just playing a supporting role to Batman. But at the same time, the further juvenilization of Damian bothers me. Are we missing a crucial part of his character if we take away the anger?
And that’s where your analysis, Spencer, helped change my mind a bit. While I still think Damian has been altered, I can see how that change plays into the larger themes Gleason is working with. Batman is no longer in Damian’s life to act as his moral compass, so how do you adjust for that? By making him face the sins of his past, which are none too few. I would go a step further than you and say that NoBody is not like Damian now, but is a good analogue for the Damian of the past. Single-minded and ultimately short sighted, NoBody is as Damian was. Of course, I don’t think Damian sees this himself. He’s still rather self-centered. There’s the Damian I know.
From a technical standpoint, this is artistically a beautiful issue. Gleason and his colorists absolutely knock it out of the park. You already mentioned the psychedelic effects of the stone guardian beautifully rendered here, but I also wanted to draw attention to the use of light and shadow.
Look at the subtle effects of the pink explosion on the rest of the page. Damian’s leggings glow pink around the knee, but the hue quickly fades. It’s an easily missed detail, but even if you don’t notice the specifics the cumulation of considered choices makes a difference.
It’s obvious a lot of care went into Robin: Son of Batman 2, and while I feel like Gleason is still getting a full handle on Damian as a character, there is something interesting about watching the character evolve. Batman is a character in constant stasis—so single minded in his goals. But his son doesn’t have to be.
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