Teen Titans second annual reads more like another normal issue as it continues the story going on in the main title, and at last shows the confrontation between Batman and the Teen Titans.
I was ready to hate this book. I had all kinds of thoughts and fears about how it was going to turn out, how characters would react, and if I’m being honest how Bruce would be portrayed. To make matters worse, I’ve had a while to stew in my worry since the Annual was announced then delayed. It also doesn’t help that I’m not on board for the concept of Damian quitting Robin at all and wasn’t a fan of how Glass chose to push this drastic character change. This all means that making this book anything enjoyable was a tall order. The book is not perfect, and I will always be against this particular character arc for Damian, but I think Thompson has done a good job of making this story work within the context he’s set up.
The relationship between Robin and Batman and how that relates to what Damian has been doing is the general focus of the annual. It does also touch on a number of other aspects of Teen Titans like Deathstroke’s hit he’s taken out on the team and their realization that someone is now after them. Beyond that, they don’t have much of a presence in the issue except to help act as forces pushing Damian towards his final decision.
Now that we’ve made it to the annual, a number of ideas and themes Thompson has been building, from the tie in story in the Robin 80th Anniversary book, through this last arc on Teen Titans come to a head here. Through his short time on the title he’s shown Batman to be worried about Robin’s distance, and has placed Alfred in the role of someone who was very close to Damian. Here, Thompson does much of the same. It is the death of Alfred and Dick Grayson being shot that act as the inciting incidents to Damian’s turn from following his father’s way to deciding more drastic measures needed to be taken against criminals. These reasons are very personal, especially since Damian was close to both men, and the grief from these events makes sense as instigators to drive him to change the way he does things. It doesn’t make sense to put the entire run into focus, since both those events happened well after Damian set up his prison, but it’s another attempt at putting some of his decisions into a more sympathetic light. It’s a shame that these kinds of motivations weren’t built in even earlier, they would have helped to show Damian’s struggle vs simply telling us, but there’s little that can be done now to change that.
Damian’s reasons for his change are shown largely through flashbacks, to time with Alfred, losing Alfred, and when Dick was shot. They are scattered through the book, as key moments when he is trying to decide how to react. These work well to quickly and clearly establish these as important moments to him. Panscia’s pages an panels showing these flashbacks are often simple compared to the more complicated ones going on through the rest of the book, and often mirror events going on. One thing they make clear, is how Alfred was there for Damian when Bruce clearly was not, as we see it is Alfred Damian wants to go to for comfort, even as Bruce is standing right there.
Batman is also a big part of this issue, though to be honest his confrontation with Damian starts out a little odd. He’s aware Damian killed Brother Blood and tried to kill the KGBeast, and that he brainwashed criminals. But how? Yes, he investigated Mercy Hall, so he’d know about Damian imprisoning them, but they were brainwashed by magic. And Damian only just then tried to kill the KGBeast, but that was in Gotham, and Bruce was investigating Mercy Hall at the time. Generally, he just knows too much here. And beyond being disapproving he doesn’t really make any references to Damian’s past or his promise not to kill. In fact, the absolute lack of any reference to that promise is another aspect of this sudden change that bothers me. Prior to Teen Titans Damian would often reference his desire not to repeat the mistakes of his past, and his oath to not kill again. If you’re going to push him to kill, that promise needs to be referenced, by both Batman and Robin.
The conversation between Batman and Robin is interrupted when Deathstroke blows up the area they are in. This prompts Damian to face off against Deathstroke alone. He’s eventually joined by the rest of the team, who attempt to take both Robin and Deathstroke in. This fight works to both tie up the lingering thread of Robin vs. Deathstroke and introduce the rest of the team to the threat now facing them because of Robin’s actions, which is their old enemies rallying against them. It’s a good way of putting them on the scent of this new problem, and making the issue relevant beyond just tying up Robin’s arc.
Bruce does take this moment to return to the conversation he and Damian had been having before Deathstroke interrupted them. In general he is very patient with Damian, and written as the father he is instead of a furious angry Batman, which I approve of. I’m not a fan of him physically lashing out at his Robins as we’ve seen in recent years, so it was refreshing to see a Batman trying to reconcile with Damian. Even when it’s Damian who lashes out and attempts to fight Batman, Bruce is defensive and does not fight back. Just about everything Bruce does in this issue is an attempt to reach out to Damian, he asks him to return home, admit’s he’s failed, and tells him he loves him. Unfortunately for him, Damian sees this as too little, and too late to really make a difference.
Now that we’ve got Batman fully visible through this issue, I do also want to say that I really like how Panscia draws him. He’s the Batman you would expect, but he’s also very emotive through this issue as he tries to reason with Damian. I especially like the page where he tells him he loves him, even in the cowl you can see the emotion on his face, how he too is grieving over how Damian’s changed.
In the end, Damian decides to quit Robin. The events of this issue, his father’s words, and his own inner turmoil driving him to renounce the mantle of Robin as something that simply doesn’t fit him anymore. In a scene that resembles the last time he quit –when he was Robin to Dick’s Batman– he tears off the R and hands it to Bruce. His reasoning is that Bruce won’t really know him until he can escape from his shadow and without Robin he’s free to be the person he should be.
I started reading comics because of Damian’s tenure as Robin. The story of a kid raised to be an assassin who actively chose to do good is an inspiring one. It’s a story that tells readers we can rise above our pasts and circumstances to be more. Taking that character growth away from Damian –character growth we’ve seen build over at least ten years of writing– is a difficult thing to do. In my experience, people don’t like Damian because he’s dark or violent, they’re attracted to the character because of his redemption arc. Choosing to have him kill again, and leave Robin that way is something that is not going to sit right with a lot of readers. I don’t know why DC has decided that Robin needs to go to someone else, or why Damian needed to retire, but this is not the way to have done it. There are many other ways of creating conflict with the change of mantels than pushing him to kill again. I applaud Thompson for doing his best with the story, and creating something that feels respectful of the characters, but I hate that any of this had to happen in the first place.
- Batman reacts to what the Teen Titans have been doing
- Robin vs. Deathstroke…again
- Unfortunately DC seems to really be sticking with this idea, so you might as well have context
Thompson does his best to make the story of Damian quitting Robin believable. He gives context for Damian’s inner turmoil, and couches a lot of his actions and reasoning in grief over losing Alfred. The Batman here is one who genuinely cares about his son, and does what he can to convince Damian to return home. As a reader, I’m less worried about Damian’s future because this feels less like this is his villain origin story and more the story of a hurting and confused 13 year old who needs his family to pull him back. I can only hope that things between him and Batman will be resolved soon.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.