I ain’t joking. Also major spoilers inbound.
The events of Batman Incorporated follow the Bat family and Bruce Wayne’s announcement that Wayne Enterprises will formally be funding Batman. This will allow Batman to “franchise” heroes around the globe for a crime fighting initiative.
Read the comic if you want the full story. What I want to focus on is Damian Wayne and Bat-cow.
Damian Wayne is Bruce Wayne’s son. His conception depends heavily on what comic you are reading: a non-canon appearance takes place in Batman: Son of the Demon, while Damian’s official unveiling was in the Batman and Son arc. Bruce did not know about Damian until Damian was approximately 10 years old. He was raised by the League of Assassins and trained to kill people in the name of justice.
Damian’s biological mother is Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul. She brings Damian to Bruce for what was the pairs first meeting. Damian famously quips to Bruce (who is in full Batman getup no less), “I imagined you taller.”
An interesting duality has always existed between Batman and the League of Assassins. They both want justice in the world. They identify what is and is not just in similar manners. The main difference is: Batman believes in the criminal justice system, while the League of Assassins believes in killing criminals.
The events of Batman and Son have Damian dawning a makeshift Robin outfit and fleeing into the city to fight crime. This was the birth of the 5th canon Robin. A Robin that kills villains.
Shortly thereafter, Batman dies during the events of Final Crisis when he solo-tanks Darkseid’s Omega Beams and is thrown backwards in time. Damian Wayne becomes Robin to Dick Graysons Batman during the events of Battle for the Cowl.
When Bruce Wayne returns we finally see Batman and Robin as father and son. We also see that grinding of philosophies. Bruce Wayne not only has to be Batman, but he also has to be a father. Controlling Damian is difficult because Damian is very skilled at what he does and he is impulsive in the beginning. He is too arrogant to admit he is wrong about anything, but his eternal struggle will always be to reject what he was trained to do.
During the events of Batman Incorporated, while on the trail of a group called Leviathan they end up having a conflict in a slaughterhouse. Coincidentally, they save the life of a cow. They go to leave but Damian declares they will save this cow instead. They deliver Bat-cow to the Batcave, and to a bemused Alfred.
Many fans that I’ve talked to play Bat-cow off as a joke. But when you think about it- writing a comic isn’t something you frequently improvise on the fly. Grant Morrison wrote this beast into the story for a reason, even if it is amusing.
When Damian saved Bat-cow in that slaughterhouse, he didn’t surreptitiously pluck the cow from the jaws of death. He saw himself in that cow and rejected its life’s purpose as preordained. Damian wants to believe that he more than how he was raised.
Damian was raised in a laboratory; in a false womb. He was birthed in a cold, calculated environment. He was carefully bred from what Talia considered the highest pedigree. His life’s purpose was selected for him. Damian was trained to become a bloodthirsty assassin.
Then he met his father. A paragon of justice the world over. He loves his father and wants his father to be proud of him. So how do you reconcile your life up to that point? How do you just change who you are? How do you reject what your life’s entire purpose was?
Damian saved Bat-cow because he wanted, no, he needed to believe that things can be different. This cow was raised on a farm, for a purpose it had no choice in. Its entire life was preordained from birth and Damian needed to know that these threads could be cut.
The events of Batman Incorporated end in Gotham City. It is revealed that Damian’s mother was the one behind Leviathan. Her great warrior Heretic, who had been hounding the heroes throughout the volume, was revealed to be another clone of Damian. A genetically modified one.
We see it one more time, that duality between the Bat-family and the League of Assassins. Damian Wayne goes to fight Heretic. Heretic was another child that was bred to kill in the name of justice, and Damian- who has realized the good there is in believing in justice. Damian faces the monster he could have become had he not met his father.
At the end we see what Damian believes in, and he dies for it.
Damian rejected his upbringing. He rejected his mother. Talia al Ghul saw him as useless at that moment. A son that had been raised with a purpose, refusing to become what he was raised to become.
So she had him slaughtered. Slaughtered like cattle.
Damian Wayne is my favorite Robin, and he is high on the list of my favorite comic book characters. His arc is a complex and subtle one. Over the course of the comics we learn so much about who he is and who he wants to be. Damian talks a big game about being the next Batman, but inside he is a scared child. Scared of disappointing his father, and scared of failing in his role.
There are a ton of poignant moments in the New 52 run of Batman and Robin. We see him balancing being a hero, being a son, and being a kid. He is young. And for his age he has to deal with some hard shit. Rejecting who he was before Batman is a continuous thing Damian deals with. Throughout volumes of comics. Is he doing the right thing? Will he ever live up to the Bat-families standards?
Or was he just cattle?
He chose not to be.