Here be spoilers for the most talked-about comic on the stands this morning: "Batman Incorporated" #8. If you haven't read the big reveal splashed across the NY Post on Monday, or on the DC Comics site today in the form of a large pop-up ad that basically gives it all away -- my deep apologies. The Internet, and all that; what can you do?
So Robin the Boy Wonder -- in the form of Batman's son Damian Wayne -- is dead, killed after a brutal fight with his cloned brother. His back is apparently broken -- an homage to Batman's similar fate with Bane -- and he is stabbed, strangled, and thrown into a wall. In the end, Batman cradles his bloody dead body in another scene familiar to comic fans -- that of the death of Jason Todd.
The death of Robin. Again.
Grant Morrison notes in an interview regarding Damian's death:
"He does his job as Robin."
But what is that job, exactly? Is the job of Robin to die? Sometimes, it seems that way.
However, there is a bigger question here: Damian Wayne -- Robin -- wasn't even a teen, as Jason Todd was. He was a child. In the relentless scene leading to his death in "Batman Incorporated" #8, it is clearly a child who is being stabbed, who is spitting up blood. Batman is clearly holding the bloody body of a child at the end of that comic.
And I am asking: is that tasteless?
No, I am NOT saying that it is tasteless -- I am merely bringing the question up (which, I understand, might be fan heresy enough). It is a question I don't see being currently asked very often among the blogosphere over the last several days. The general consensus seems to be that Robin's death was "cool" -- not in the sense that a child died of course, but that the action scenes itself were "cool" and it was a great capper to the Morrison run on the book.
But here is the big elephant in the room and I'm going to just say it: in the aftermath of the brutal killing of so many other children in Newtown, is this a tasteless story? Or more precisely, is the story itself not tasteless -- but the use of it as just another "gimmick" to tickle the mass news outlets (of which I am quite aware I am a part of) into once again realizing that comics exist, tasteless? I only have to point to one of the the NY Post's headlines for the Robin story, "Holy Hit Job!" -- a bizarre nod to the sunny 1960s TV show.
And yet, the same news site today ran the following about the death of Jason Todd, in a feature called "Robin Through The Years":
"1988: In perhaps the ugliest promotional stunt in comics history, DC Comics sets up two, pay-per-call telephone lines so fans can vote on whether to kill off Jason Todd, the second Robin."
"Ugliest promotional stunt in comics history." Strange words coming from a site who has so recently participated in a promotional stunt involving the death of Robin.
In a strange twist of fate, at precisely the same time "Batman Incorporated" #8 was being spoiled in the NY Post, a man in France was on trial for putting on Joker makeup and fatally stabbing children in a nursery. The timing of this crime was right after the release of "The Dark Knight Returns," though it is unclear if the lunatic was specifically inspired by the movie.
After observing the comics community for the last decade, it has been increasingly clear to me that as the level of violence -- against children and otherwise -- gets "amped up" in comics, many dedicated fans become deeply defensive about anyone criticizing it. Other fans do get upset over the violence in general, and wonder if comics "are for kids anymore" (answer: probably still in the true mainstream, but mostly not in superhero-land). It is a complicated issue, and I am not saying one side is right, or one side is wrong.
I am merely pointing out that this debate exists, and whether today's events in "Batman Incorporated" #8 spark a similar dialogue remains to be seen.