THE TWENTY TEN BATFAMILY

From left: Damian Wayne, Dick Grayson, Kate Kane, and Steph Brown

Feel it comin’ in the air

Hear the screams from everywhere

I’m addicted to the thrill, it’s a dangerous love affair

Can’t be scared when it goes down

Got a problem, tell me now

Only thing that’s on my mind

Is who gonna run this town tonight

Who gonna run this town tonight?

We gonna run this town

– Rhianna, Run This Town

At first I thought to myself, it was clearly Kate but I’d already written about her. Then I thought about Jaime Reyes, the third Blue Beetle who I alluded to in day four. Then I thought about Damian Wayne, the fifth mainstream continuity Robin. While I let my brain spool up to decide what I had to say about Damian, I started thinking about how quickly and deeply he’s embedded himself in the fabric of the DCU from becoming the officially licensed Robin to his interactions with Steph and his upcoming membership in the Teen Titans despite the unlikeliness of his character which led me to recognize just how bizarre and unlikely the entire Batfamily is relative to it’s publication history. The member who’s been the longest active in their current role out of the four Bat-legacies is Kate who first appeared as Batwoman in 2006 in the pages of 52. That Grant Morrison’s work on the Batman line will go down in history as being on the shortlist of the most definitive takes in history is inarguable. Once you factor in Paul Dini and Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics runs, Brian Q Miller’s Batgirl, and Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey, it becomes clear and inescapable that 2006- 2010 has been and continues to be the most revolutionary and vital period in the entire history of the Batman line. At the core of that stands four people. Four astounding people who have redefined the most important and enduring legacy in comics in the span of an eyeblink. Ladies and Gentlmen, your 2010 Batfamily:

DAMIAN WAYNE [ROBIN]

There never really was anything about Damian that suggested he would or ever could become a compelling character when Morrison introduced him in his first Batman arc, drawing on an obscure and generally accepted as out of continuity story to justify his existence. Until Batman and Son, Damian was the unnamed and presumably put up for adoption love child of Bruce and Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of the guy Liam Neeson played in Batman Begins. Under Morrison that love child was fleshed out to become a vat incubated scientific genius and remorseless killer all of ten years old. He occupied a very strange place in the narrative and disappeared for much of R.I.P. until after Bruce’s death when he returned to the Robin mantle alongside Dick Grayson as Batman.

It was under Dick’s tutelage in Batman and Robin that Damian first came alive as a character. I was one of the few people who loved Damian from the first time I set eyes on him, but he was a lot like Fantomex when he first appeared in Morrison’s New X-Men; a bizarre parody character who seemed to have a very limited amount of mileage to him. It’s one of the numerous reasons why you can never underestimate Grant Morrison. Issue by issue, Morrison brought us deeper into the inner workings of Damian’s mind and then bit by bit let him grow and begin to mature until the heart shattering Batman Versus Robin arc. All at once we truly understood that Damian had let Dick in, allowed himself to trust and love someone for the first time in his short life. Then his mother took control and tried to use him as a weapon.

Batman and Robin #12 is in my mind without a doubt the best issue of Morrison’s Batman work to date and one of the ten greatest moments in superhero history. After overcoming the implant in his spine that allowed Deathstroke to control him remotely, Damian and Dick storm Talia’s compound which climaxes in Damian’s confrontation with his mother. Having toed the line between loyalty to his mother and his desire to be a worthy successor to Bruce until that moment, Damian finally rebukes his mother and chooses to be Robin in a heart shattering, character defining moment. In that one page, all the haters were silenced. If he somehow wasn’t before, he certainly was a real character now.

DICK GRAYSON [BATMAN]

Dick’s the only one who really surprised me out of the current Batfamily. I think that it could be convincingly argued that Dick is the most fully realized character in comic book history. We first saw him around seventy years ago as a child and have watched him grow and mutate more than any one else, and yet until Morrison handed him the Batman mantle and launched Batman and Robin I had little to no interest in him whatsoever. I had no great hopes for Dick in the series, but I took to him quickly and have become very anxious about his future as Batman when Bruce returns. Until the two part trip to England, I was feeling much the same as Dick was; he was only there to fill the gap until Bruce returns and Bruce couldn’t get back soon enough. After he faced down the evil clone with Kate and returned to Gotham to hunt down the Domino Killer, my opinion began changing and then the Batman Versus Robin arc happened. It became clear that Damian was far more than just an obligation to Dick. He was the first and only person to love Damian for who he is. His vicious attack on Deathstroke while in a hospital bed in Talia’s compound certainly didn’t hurt, but it was the development of his relationship with Damian that really turned the page for me with Dick. There’s never been a moment when I didn’t want Bruce back. Bruce Wayne is far more than just the man who puts on that cape and cowl to me and has been for some time. Even so, there’s this creeping anxiety that intensifies the closer it gets to his return because now not only do I like Damian and want him to stay where he is, I want the same for Dick.

STEPHANIE BROWN [BATGIRL]

I should preface this one with the fact that I haven’t actually read any of Steph’s appearances as Batgirl yet and I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve adored her since she was Spoiler and was outraged when she “died” during War Games. I’ll definitely be picking up the first trade of her current series this weekend. What’s interesting about Steph is that despite the fact that she’s the button cute blonde, she’s also the most self made of the current Batfamily and has had the toughest journey to taking on her current mantle. I would never think of devaluing Kate’s hardships because they’re so integral to why I am madly in love with her, but let’s be real here. She was already a hardened soldier and self confident woman when she accepted her discharge, say nothing about when she first stole her father’s equipment to begin her vigilante career.

Steph became Spoiler in part to undermine her father who was a two bit sidekick of the Riddler’s. As Spoiler she had no support, no safety net, and about the same chance of success but her irrepressible spirit- which is probably her greatest attribute- always saw her through. Throughout her career, Steph has without fail done everything on her own terms from accepting training from Black Canary to demanding that she be allowed to take on the Robin mantle. While I’ve said before that Carrie Kelly was an incredibly important character in the Batman mythos and the advancement of female characters within the Batfamily, Steph demands recognition both for becoming the first mainstream continuity female Robin and for the terms under which she became Robin. It’s also interesting to note that Steph is the only superhero other than Dick Grayson to have held more than one of the four core Bat-legacy titles.

It’s no accident from either a fictional or metafictional perspective that Barbara Gordon is Steph’s current mentor. Seen in a certain light, Steph is Barbara reborn. Not only is she a young woman who defied everyone including Bruce to wear the most coveted symbol in the universe, but she’s already had her Killing Joke and come back from it stronger than ever. Steph was unceremoniously killed and cast aside during War Games, which was one of the most regrettable Batman comics to ever see print (All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder inclusive). However, that was recently retconned into Leslie Thompkins having faked her death and taken her to Africa. It’s incredibly heartening that you can’t just cast aside a budding female hero anymore without someone like Brian Q. Miller scooping her back up almost immediately. That Steph would even consider coming back to Gotham is fairly incredible and the fact that she rejoined the family that nearly killed her is a massive testament to her spirit and her stubbornness. Steph might just actually embody everything that the Batfamily symbolizes better than anyone else, Bruce included.

KATHERINE KANE [BATWOMAN]

And so we return to the ever present Batwoman, that incredible creature who haunts my every thought. What more is there after the incredible growth of Damian, the revitalization of Dick, and the irrepressibility of Steph? We might as well pick up where we left off on day one; her self possession. The sense that she is uncompromisingly proud and comfortable of who she is. The thing about Kate is that she needs the Batfamily the least out of any of it’s members. She came into the game with everything she needed and only got stronger. Kate never peed herself. She doesn’t just laugh in the face of danger, she shrugs off death like a common cold. Kate is the iron will of the Batfamily. Printing error or not, she well and truly is The New Batman.

There was for a very long time the sense that female superheroes had to justify their existence and fight harder than anyone to prove their worthiness. Power Girl came out swinging in her time, working double time to show up her male counterparts. Even the original Supergirl flew out of her rocket ship declaring that she had all the same powers as her cousin but hand to hide away from the public as his “secret weapon.” I could go on all day, and it’s been a reoccurring theme of my entries in this meme so far. Kate is one of the first female superheroes in history to have completely sidestepped that notion. There was never any question of her worth as a function of her gender because she left no room for it. Did we wonder and scoff at the idea of her when she was nothing more than a sexist headline? Of course. But as soon as we saw her in the flesh it was quickly forgotten. Her ascendancy from gimmick to headliner was dizzyingly fast, especially for being both female and queer.

Greg Rucka is owed much for that. He’s gifted us with several strong and memorable portrayals of women in both his company owned and original work but Kate is certainly his grandest gift to comics and the pop culture landscape in general. As he revealed in San Diego this year, Rucka went so far as to not only watch Rachel Maddow to research the character but met with Lt. Dan Choi to discuss and understand the human cost of the DADT policy out of which was born the definitive narrative on the subject.

Kate may not be the cleverest, perkiest, or brooding of the Batfamily, but she certainly is the most confident, the strongest, and the most dangerous. If there’s anyone who could make Bruce redundant upon his return it’s not Dick, it’s Kate. She’s going to be the first one of the new generation to punch a god, take down a half dozen White Martians solo, or incapacitate the entire JLA. She- like Bruce before her- is the unstoppable force, there is no immovable object.

Taken together Damian, Dick, Steph, and Kate are far more than just variations on a theme. They represent the evolution of the Batman mythos beyond being the story of Bruce Wayne and the lives he changes in the wake of his passing into an independent, viral entity that compresses the pain and anguish of tragedy and hardship into diamonds that reflect the greatness of humanity. The four of them, each for their own unique reasons, are the four greatest superheroes in print today. None of them were born on far away planets, subject to lab experiments, or born with bizarre mutations. Instead they all, in their own ways, took something ugly inside themselves and turned it into something beautiful in the shape of a bat.

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