To understand Batman as a character it is essential to grasp the fact that as a person Bruce Wayne is broken. His sanity is held together by force of will alone.
As a child he witnessed the graphic murder of his parents. The trauma of this event was so powerful that Bruce began , as a little boy, the single minded pursuit of avenging his parent’s death. He dedicated, and continues to dedicate his entire life towards this reckoning. It is not a reckoning with any individual. It is a reckoning with death itself.
Batman is at war with death. Always has been. Always will be. He KNOWS he is going to lose this battle. There is no way anyone could win it.
But he never wavers…never falters…never quits…and NEVER loses sight of the mission.
“No one dies on MY watch” is Batman’s mission statement.
That single mindedness is what saves him from insanity…it saved him from becoming the Punisher. Where Frank Castle seeks REVENGE, Batman seeks to AVENGE.
It saved him…it is also why he is broken.
Batman does some pretty INSANE things after all. He has no special powers and yet he dresses up like a bat, jumps off of buildings and hurls himself into battle night after night with the very worst psychopaths in Gotham.
It is also clearly insane to take children into his extremely dangerous battle, KNOWING that they could die. He knew it with Dick, with Jason and with Tim.
But the mission always comes first with Batman, so he did it anyway.
Damian, died as Robin.
Of course there was a difference with Damian. The boy was Bruce’s son.
I know Jason died as well …and came back. Dick and Tim survived to become heroes apart from the shadow of the bat.
But Damian was Bruce’s SON.
This is a trauma that must by it’s very nature be even more impactful than the death of his parents. Any parent I have ever known has a nightmare. It tickles the back of our minds. It is a constant whisper. We learn to live with it because we have to. It is the nightmare that someday , SOMETHING will happen to our children. An accident, an illness or a crime of violence. Something we cannot protect them from.
When a parent loses a child to death there is no word to describe how they feel. “Grief” does not even begin to describe it. Even the shadow of that emotion from the nightmare is almost crippling in the moment that we feel it.
Imagine how this must effect Bruce. As Batman, HE lead Damian down the path that ultimately culminated in the boy’s death. As a parent, how Bruce deals with this will drive the character for some time to come.
It is also a great opportunity for creators to take Batman down entirely new paths.
Will he bottom out? Will he quit? Will he rededicate himself?
Probably all three.
Will he finally come to the realization that there should NEVER be a Robin? Never again be a child in his life that he leads into danger?
It is often said, “Batman needs a Robin”
This is never really explained, just accepted.
Here is why Batman needs a Robin. Robin anchors Batman to life. Bruce has no ability to function as a balanced human being. Unlike Clark Kent who has friends, family and a love life, Bruce is almost completely isolated himself.
The only people he has true interaction with ate those he USES to assist the Batman’s agenda. All but TWO have proven to be disposable relationships.
The only two indispensible, irreplaceable people in his life are Alfred…and The Joker. BOTH are essential to Batman.
Alfred is the perfect assistant. A detective in his own right, field medic and man Friday. He is also completely devoted not only to Bruce Wayne but BATMAN’S MISSION.
The Joker defines the REASON for Batman. He is Batman’s polar opposite and reminds Batman as no other adversary does of the NEED for the Dark Knight.
It is also why Batman continues to allow the Joker to live. On some deep level “Batman also needs a Joker.”
Like I said, Batman is broken. He is going to need a Robin, and pretty soon.
What makes him a HERO is his ability to continue on DESPITE being broken. Bruce has gone to very dark places but he has never fallen down the hole that Frank Castle was happy to JUMP into.
Castle quit. Revenge is the act of a coward and The Punisher is nothing if not a coward. He is certainly no hero.
Bruce does not know HOW to quit. He looked into the abyss and the abyss blinked.
He is after all The Batman. A hero.
Make no mistake, this is the single worst blow Batman has ever suffered. I believe that Batman’s creative team recognizes this and will use this as a jumping off point to really examine the nature of The Bat for some time to come.
I’m looking forward to it.