It's enough to drive Batman fans half insane: Bruce Wayne's dead-but-fan-adored son Damian is coming back in July. Or… maybe not.
The game of "is he or isn't he" is one that most Batman fans have been playing ever since Damian died over a year ago — particularly after it was revealed last year that the graves of Damian and his mother Talia were empty, their bodies being stolen by Ra's Al Ghul.
Now DC has announced a one-shot in July called Robin Rises: Omega, and the subsequent return of the original name on the ongoing series Batman and Robin (which has been called Batman and… since Damian's demise).
When Damian Wayne was introduced in 2006 by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert, he was a publicly despised little brat who was trained to kill without second thought. Yes, he was Bruce Wayne's own son, but he'd been raised by villains, and everyone from fans to the comic characters themselves wondered if he'd ever fit in.
Then in February 2013, the character died at what many consider to be the peak of his popularity.
Since the character died — after several months of grieving by Batman — the Batman and… series has been slowly hinting more and more about the possible return of Damian Wayne, as Batman tracks down the missing bodies of Damian and Talia.
Now, we look at the clues in this latest announcement (and other hints) to try to discern an answer to the question everyone is asking now — will they?
Bringing "Back" Robin
Peter Tomasi, the writer on Robin Rising: Omega and Batman and Robin, is definitely using language that makes it seem like a character is returning to the role of Robin in the upcoming story — even hinting that it's someone returning from the dead.
In an interview with Hero Complex, Tomasi specifically said that DC is "definitely bringing back a Robin for Batman's 75th anniversary" this year.
The use of the words "bringing back" doesn't point toward someone new, but instead implies that the story will feature the return of a character who's been missing from the DCU.
Tomasi also defended the possibility of bring a character back from the dead — even listing past resurrection stories that he thought did it well.
And these latest hints were preceded by the "Happy Batsgiving" teaser, which featured Damian's dog, Titus, with a Robin on his back. As any reader of Batman and Robin knows, just including Titus, the boy's canine best friend, is enough to make readers sentimental for Damian's return, but a robin too? It's an in-your-face hint of Damian's importance in upcoming stories.
It's possible that DC and Tomasi are using misleading symbols and language on purpose. It wouldn't be the first time that DC has led readers astray for the sake of a story (remember the fake solicitations for Flash: The Fastest Man Alive in 2007, fibbing to retailers and readers to hide the secret of Bart Allen's death?).
There's also a chance that the Robin who's coming "back" is someone else — after all, Damian isn't the only character who's worn the Robin costume. We already know where Dick Grayson will be in July (playing super-spy in Grayson), and it's doubtful that the very-much-an-independent-adult-now Jason Todd would put back on a Robin costume.
But what about Tim Drake? Although Tim Drake isn't gone from the DCU, the word "back" could be implying that he's returning to the role of Robin. In a teaser image DC released in this week's comics, a Robin wearing Tim Drake's earliest costume is shown, indicating that Tim Drake Robin is going to be part of the series.
Because Futures End takes place five years in the future, the teaser supports the idea of Tim Drake coming back into the role sometime in the next five years. (Although, to be fair, the image also shows him next to a character that looks like Booster Gold, who's well known for time travel, so that could be a Robin from the future, past or even an alternate earth).
And lest we forget, Stephanie Brown will be back in the DC Universe by July, after debuting in the weekly Batman Eternal series. The character wore the Robin costume for awhile before the DCU rebooted in 2011, and if DC really wants to honor her character, might they re-establish her title of being the first female Robin?
Kubert's Back Too
Tomasi told Newsarama a couple months ago that a couple "very special, extra sized issues by a very special artist" were coming to the Batman and… title.
We swear we were only guessing earlier this month when we wishfully said that maybe the "special artist" was Andy Kubert, the co-creator of Damian Wayne, coming back to revive the character.
With the new announcement about Kubert returning for Robin Rising: Omega, it points toward the revival of Damian. Not only did Kubert draw his initial story arc for writer Grant Morrison, but Kubert wrote and drew the recent mini-series Damian: Son of Batman, which imagined a grown Damian Wayne taking the role of Batman.
If Kubert being part of the "bringing back Robin" story points toward Damian, then Kubert's cover for the one-shot makes it even more obvious. While Batman's image dominates the cover, it also features a child in a coffin, providing even further evidence for it being a Damian-focused story.
Because the one-shot will most certainly deal with the idea of resurrecting Damian — after all, that's what Ra's Al Ghul says he wants to do in the current Batman and… story — then it makes sense for Kubert to return to draw the resolution of the story. After all, Batman's currently on a quest for Damian's body, so the decision about the boy's resurrection will probably be made around the time of Omega, and that deals with Damian in a big way.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that Damian will come back to life. Bruce could resolve to leave his son's body alone and try to start anew. And what better artist to start that new chapter than the one who started the last one?
Although Damian's co-creator, Grant Morrison, has previously voiced a hope that a new Robin wouldn't appear soon, he's also indicated a respect for the way Tomasi has handled the character. After all, Tomasi was Morrison's editor when he initially introduced Damian.
"Peter Tomasi's stuff was amazing," Morrison told Newsarama. "His last few issues especially."
Morrison also indicated he wouldn't mind seeing Damian come back eventually. “[A resurrection] wouldn’t bother me at all, if it was done well and if someone really had a good idea for it," he told Newsarama. “I don’t imagine that’s going to happen for awhile… It’s certainly not going to happen in my story… But other writers? That kind of thing is beyond my control and beyond the scope of my story. There are always possibilities."
For most fans who've been reading Batman and Robin since Tomasi and artist Pat Gleason have taken over, the idea of anyone else handling a resurrection of Damian Wayne wouldn't feel right. The two helped guide the character's evolution into a fan-favorite character, so it would make sense for them to be the ones who brought him back.
Tomasi and Gleason have proven over the months since Damian's death that they're skilled at portraying just about anyone as a sidekick for Batman. It makes sense that they re-establish "and Robin" part of their title — it even seems wrong for someone else to introduce a new Robin — but it doesn't necessarily have to be Damian. It could even be a…
While DC has introduced several new, young characters into the Bat-universe, none of them seem to be prepping for the role of Robin. DC has had more than a year to "sell" readers on a new Robin, but very few characters have emerged that seem primed for the role.
The closest is Harper Row, but she's already been confirmed as taking on the new crime-fighting identity of Bluebird (in the future-peek shown in Batman #28), so she's not the new Robin.
The next best candidate, Carrie Kelley, hasn't been seen for months, and even when she was hanging around Wayne Mansion, Bruce didn't like her being there.
Sure, sure, we realize Tomasi talked about bringing "back" Robin. But wouldn't the act of allowing anyone to put on a Robin costume be… bringing back Robin?
There's actually really good evidence that someone new will be in the role — Batman #28. Co-written by Batman-office go-to writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, the issue not only spoils some of what's coming in Batman, but also teases some of the changes to the Bat-universe that are happening during the current, year-long weekly series Batman Eternal.
In the issue, Batman calls back to the Batcave, where readers are shown a small-looking girl answering him. The scene lasts less than half a page gives very few clues to her identity. (Snyder would only tell Newsarama, "it definitely looks like a girl.)
She seems small (next to the computer) and appears to have short hair (although long on top and possibly two-toned) — but most importantly, she calls herself "new at this."
Obviously, her appearance in the Batcave doesn't mean she's automatically the new Robin. But the teaser was certainly leaning that way.
The latest? Earlier this month, DC publicized a new character introduced in Detective Comics #30 by new creative team Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato — Annie Aguila, a risk-taking, high-flying motorbike rider whose mother appeared to die by the end of the issue. A young, apparent orphan who's acrobatic and takes risks? And was recently befriended by Bruce Wayne? That already sounds like a new Robin candidate, and she's only been around for one issue.
Although we're already seeing solicitations for July, a lot can happen between now and then, particularly with Bat-books coming out at a rapid rate during the Eternal run. Any Robin is possible.
As we've said in the past, it's worth noting that Damian Wayne has not only already appeared in video games and animated stories about DC characters, but he's featured in the May 6th release by DC Entertainment of Son of Batman, the 20th DC Universe Animated Original Movie.
The success of the Son of Batman animated release has yet to be seen, and wouldn't the story of Damian within DC's animated universe be perhaps stronger — and more loyal to the source material — if Damian eventually died there too?
Alpha and Omega
The title, Omega, likely has two meanings. The first probably refers to the conclusion of the title's theme since is began.
In the announcement of Robin Rising: Omega, Tomasi said that "anyone following the book from our first issue will see that this has all been an organic, uber-story, and that all the moments they've spent with the characters will pay off." That implies that the story has built since the first issue — the story's alpha — until this Omega issue.
As the article pointed out, Batman and Robin #1 featured Damian talking about death, as Bruce takes him to see where Martha and Thomas Wayne were killed. And the idea of the elder Waynes' death played a key role in the Batman and Robin story, as Damian came to understand the grief that his father felt.
As a result, it might be the end of this grief — the resurrection of Damian — that serves as the Omega, or ending, to the story.
But then "Omega" has another meaning within DC lore, particularly with the revelation that Darkseid plays a part in Tomasi's story. Darkseid wears the Omega symbol, and he's been associated in the past with things like "Omega Beams" and "Omega Sanction."
So how much of a role does Darkseid play in the "bringing back" of Robin? In previous incarnations, Darkseid possessed the power to resurrect the dead at will. And that's hard to ignore when the title talks about Robin "rising" juxtaposed with the word "Omega."
The themes explored since the beginning of Batman and Robin do indeed involve the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne, as Damian learned the role their life and death played in forming his father's character. However, the story has always emphasized the respect and honor that Bruce pays toward his deceased parents.
Keeping that in mind, it's just as likely that this "Omega" chapter of Tomasi's story is about Bruce coming to the realization that he cannot disrespect the body of his dead son by forcing the boy back to life — honoring his son in a way that's similar to the respect he gives his parents.
As for the involvement of Darkseid and his "Omega"-ness, the truth is that we were surprised to see this villain associated with Batman and Robin — before Damian's death, the comic had its share of action and intrigue, but was really more focused on the relationship between Bruce and his son.
But the departure of Robin has forced the book to change its focus a bit, and we assume the addition of a new Robin in the title will serve as a relaunch of sort. Tomasi's announcement was filled with references to new readers — that they can "easily jump on board" with this issue — so this high-profile issue and its Justice League-filled follow-up Batman and Robin #33 may be an attempt to bring some new eyes to the book.
And in the end, Darkseid's exciting presence may have more to do with that goal than it does the choice of who will be the next Robin.