Viewers of Merry Little Batman meet Damian Wayne as the lovable scamp who chases his cat Selina through the halls of stately Wayne Manor, decked in a blanket for a cape and a brown paper bag for a cowl, just like his dear old dad, Batman. The delightful holiday special imagines Damian as a good-hearted soul who wants nothing more than to be like his pop, and doesn’t even get too upset at his father’s overprotective demands. When the Joker returns to Gotham while Batman is trapped in the Arctic, Damian gets his chance to prove that he deserves to be called “Son of the Bat.”
But comic book readers first met Damian under very different circumstances. In a 1987 graphic novel by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham, Batman reluctantly joins forces with eco-terrorist Ra’s al Ghul to take down the assassin Quain. During the alliance, Batman renews his interest in al Ghul’s daughter Talia, to whom he was briefly married. The union results in a child, and although Bruce ends the story thinking that Talia miscarried, leaving him even more broken and disheartened than before, the last panel reveals that the child has lived and been adopted by an American family. The name of that story? The Son of the Demon.
So which is it? Is Damian Wayne the son of the demon or the son of the bat? Merry Little Batman insists it’s the latter, but most comic book stories say it’s a little bit of both.
Batman & Son
Although treated as an out-of-continuity story, Son of the Demon did get referenced from time to time, with various creators bringing back the child of Bruce and Talia. However, because Barr and Bingham never gave the child a name, he appears under other monikers, such as Ibn al Xu’ffasch in the Kingdom Come storyline by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.
But when writer Grant Morrison took over the main Batman book in 2006, they endeavored to make everything canon, including the goofy stuff from the 1950s. So Morrison ended 2006’s Batman #655, their first issue on the book, with Talia ready to bring her son back into Bruce’s life.
The reunion didn’t go well. Not only did Damian have the massive ego of any pre-teen boy, but his mother trained him as a ninja assassin and filled him with legends of his father’s exploits. So when Damian shows up at Wayne Manor, he isn’t the good-hearted kid shown in Merry Little Batman. He’s ready to prove himself as Batman’s rightful heir, which he does by trying to kill Tim Drake, the Robin at the time who had just been officially adopted by Bruce Wayne the issue before Damian returned.
Despite that rough introduction, Damian did mellow a bit and eventually took Tim Drake’s place as Robin (when Tim picked a new identity, not when Damian killed him). But even when he fought alongside his father or leading the Teen Titans, Damian kept a chip on his shoulder, making him one of the more controversial additions to Batman lore. That said, nobody called a 900 number to demand his death, so Damian has one over one of the previous Robins, Jason Todd.
The Many Faces of Damian Wayne
The Damian of Merry Little Batman may differ from the character that comic fans know, but that doesn’t mean a more accurate version hasn’t shown up in other media. The murderous Damian played a major role in direct-to-video animated movies such as Son of Batman and Batman vs. Robin. That version also appears in the Injustice: Gods Among Us video games, both as Robin and as an adult with the codename Nightwing.
However, many adaptations veer away from the hyper-competent murder machine of the comics to explore different facets of the character. In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode “Knights of Tomorrow!,” Damian is the timid son of Bruce Wayne and Catwoman Selina Kyle, who becomes Robin after Dick Grayson takes on the Batman mantle. In the Harley Quinn series, Damian is a snotty, entitled Robin, voiced by Jacob Tremblay.
As these examples show, Damian can be very mutable, a quality that he shares with his father. In the same way that Batman can sometimes be a remorseless vigilante who pummels his opponents to almost death (can’t break that code!) and can sometimes be a paternal voice of reason, so also Robin can change according to the needs of writers and the story.
That’s something readers will need to keep in mind when Damian makes the leap to live action in the upcoming movie Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the first Batman film in the DC Cinematic Universe as reimagined by James Gunn and Peter Safran. At this point, we don’t know much about how director Andy Muschietti plans to approach the story, but we do know that Gunn loves Morrison’s take on the character.
However, as much as Gunn loves his comic books, he has no problem deviating from the source material (remember Peter Quill’s father J’son of Spartax? Because most people don’t after Gunn made Ego his father in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) . That means fans may have to steel themselves for yet another take on Damian Wayne. And that’s not a bad thing.
Damian Suits the Story
Midway through Merry Little Batman, Damian heads to the Batcave and ditches the paper bag and cape. Looking at the costumes that line Batman’s cave, he finds one with his name on it and, squealing with glee, puts it on.
Of course, the movie lets Damian flail in the oversized costume for a beat or two, enhancing the comic effect. But then Damian presses a button and the suit tightens up, fitting him perfectly.
The image provides a fitting metaphor for dealing with superhero adaptations. The story might not seem like a good fit for a character you know. But if you give it some leeway, then something exciting can happen.
Merry Little Batman is available to stream on Prime Video now.