After dropping shocker of a plot twist like Damian becoming Ra’s Al Ghul, naturally every reader is clamouring to know why–I’m no exception. What sent the former Robin back into the League of Assassins? Batman Beyond #9 both tells us and doesn’t, revealing what happened the last time that Bruce and Damian met without revealing what actually happened, leaving the true nature of the conflict between Bruce and Damian ambiguous but ready to come to a head.
Oh, and Terry’s there too.
Batman Beyond #9: The Demon Lives, Or, Everybody Gets Fleshed Out Except The Main Character
The issue opens on the continuing fight between Damian and Terry, who tries to needle the new Demon’s Head with suggestions of why Damian never got to be Batman. He fails to get under Damian’s skin, though, because as Damian reveals, he did get the suit–but he doesn’t need it to be dangerous. This is amply demonstrated in how the fight scenes are drawn, showing Damian skillfully and easily handing Terry’s ass to him on a silver platter, culminating in him literally looking down on who he persistently refers to as the “Pretender.”
Meanwhile, Matt and Max manage to very briefly get into contact with Bruce before losing him again, then manage to get through to the sensors in Terry’s suit… before being cut off. They’re left completely in the dark about what’s happening aside from that it involves Damian, who Max apparently knows enough about to recognize on sight while Matt has no idea Bruce had a son. I have to admit that I’m a little lost on how involved Matt and Max have been to Terry’s Batman prior to this comic; in issue #1, Matt had to lead Max into the Batcave blindfolded, suggesting that he actually knew more than she did, but now Max is not only going in and out of the Cave comfortably but knows more about its previous inhabitants than Matt does.
While Bruce tries to hike up to the frozen peak where Damian and Terry are fighting, he has a flashback that confirms that, yes, Damian was the other person who wore the X-7, and donned it exactly once–to deal with the League of Assassins when Ra’s Al-Ghul launched an attack on Gotham while Bruce was still recovering from spinal surgery (three of them, according to Damian). Damian believed himself capable of overcoming the X-7’s AI, but according to Bruce, he destroyed the LoA over an unimaginably brutal four-hour fight before cutting off communications with his father entirely. By the time Bruce physically made it to the scene, Damian was gone, leaving behind “the tattered remains of the suit”. Bruce believes that Ra’s Al-Ghul somehow found out about the X-7’s dangerous AI and took advantage of a situation that would drive Damian to fight in it, using that situation to re-recruit Damian to the LoA. It seems as if the X-7 doesn’t just physically force its wearer to fight to extremes, but actually affects their thought processes–Terry isn’t shown to fight against the X-7’s suggestions at all in this chapter, instead agreeing instantly to the suit’s suggestion that lethal force will be necessary to defeat Damian.
I might have been distracted for a little too long trying to figure out just how old Damian is supposed to be in the flashback. BBR tends to avoid specific timelines, but he looks like a teenager when he put on the X-7–somewhat shorter and distinctly slimmer than his appearance when he’s fighting in the prese–“decades from now.” Possibly he just grew to be a much slimmer adult than Mount Bruce and then hit the protein and weights when he rejoined the LoA. If he was in his late teens or early twenties when he donned the X-7, then Bruce fought his last fight as Batman barely a decade after the “present-day” comics (given that Damian turned 13 at the start of Teen Titans), which also means that aging is gonna Bruce him like a train if he’s less than ten years away from pure white hair and deep-set wrinkles.
Post-flashback, Bruce finds himself in a fight with Koru, who mentions that he is Ubu’s son before laying into Bruce. This is a surprise to nobody, including Bruce, who berates himself for not noticing the resemblance before getting strangled off a cliff.
Meanwhile, Damian continues to thoroughly leather Terry without breaking a sweat, first stealing and using explosives from Terry’s own belt against him and then trapping Terry in a pit with speakers broadcasting a frequency that jam his suit’s systems. Damian reveals that he manipulated Curare so that she’d bring Terry to him, and seems, like his grandfather, to have been specifically aiming to bring Terry out wearing the X-7. On top of that, he reveals that his target isn’t even really Terry–the whole thing’s a trap for Bruce.
This trap might be slightly more effective if he’d let Bruce into it instead of sending Koru to fight Bruce first, as the gigantic henchman throws Bruce off of a few more cliffs before drawing a sword. During the fight, Bruce internally monologues about how much weaker he is, how much age and imprisonment have ruined his ability to fight. He defeats Koru by hitting him at near point-blank range with his grapple gun, then keeps hiking, trying to figure out Damian’s motives. He makes it to the pit where Damian and Terry are fighting just in time to see Damian poised to behead Terry.
Visually, this issue has some beautiful fights and a lot of panel layouts designed to mirror Terry’s fight with Damian against Bruce’s fight with Koru. Plot-wise, it gives us some interesting information but nothing that the reader probably hadn’t already deduced, such as that Damian was indeed the other person who wore the X-7. Thematically, it’s… kind of a mess.
The moment with the grapple gun kinda sums up what kind of mess it is. Bruce compensates for his weaknesses by, well, using the same equipment he’s always used. This could be representing how he makes the same mistakes over and over–going off alone to a fight that he’s in no shape for and over-relying on technology to compensate instead of reaching out to other people for help led to the creation of the X-7, which this arc has repeatedly hammered in was a terrible mistake. But in this instance, going off alone with just his bat-gadgets still leads him to victory over Koru, and it’s framed as a triumphant moment. This goddamn septuagenarian climbs a frozen mountain while internally monologuing about how weak and out of shape he is. Matt and Max are very pointedly left out of the loop of what’s going on, cut off from both the present and former Batmen while they hash out their issues–or rather, Bruce and Damian hash out their issues while Terry just fights. Aside from hints that the X-7 is warping his thought processes, very little actually happens with Terry in this chapter. Instead, it’s all about what’s happened between Bruce and Damian. And what happened was… unclear.
In the flashback, Damian mentions returning from Europe because he believes Ra’s Al-Ghul intends to take advantage of Bruce’s injuries to make a move. Damian and Bruce seem to be on good terms–Damian mentions that he “put aside Robin’s cloak long ago,” but there’s no ill will in it. This scene implies that Bruce was without help in other old fights that we’ve been shown not because others wouldn’t help him, but because he wouldn’t ask for help from people who would’ve happily come to his aid. This casts Bruce’s implied severe interpersonal problems in a different light, implying that he’s actually quite capable of maintaining decent relationships, but his own stubborn isolationist streak is what causes him problems.
That, and his AI suits that warp people’s minds. The flashback also implies that Damian becoming Ra’s Al-Ghul was nothing to do with any long-term flaws in his relationship with Bruce, but that it was entirely the result of his grandfather manipulating him while he was wearing a mind-altering suit. This somewhat simplifies the nature of Damian’s defection, but by doing so, it also removes Damian and Bruce’s problems from Terry’s struggle over whether or not he can have good relationships with his friends and family while being Batman. Their problem wasn’t their relationship as father and son; it was a violent bat suit AI.
That said, the flashback is very explicitly from Bruce’s perspective, and we see nothing of what happened between Damian cutting off communications with the Batcave and Bruce finding the remains of the suit. How Ra’s brought Damian back to the LoA is entirely conjecture on Bruce’s part, and I have to assume that there was a lot going on back there that we haven’t been shown yet. Possibly Damian will earn one of his Supervillain Merit Badges by embarking on a monologue about the subject sometime in the near future. In the flashback, Damian spoke about Ra’s goals to cleanse the earth of overpopulation in a way that had Bruce accuse Damian of defending his grandfather, so I think it’s highly likely that, while Damian was traveling away from Gotham, he’d had contact with the LoA. He also seemed to be already aware of his grandfather planning to attack Gotham and “embracing technology in a way he hasn’t before” to cause more widespread destruction. While Bruce perceives Damian leaving to be entirely down to the X-7, it seems likely that Damian had been drifting away for a long time beforehand and Bruce had no idea. Which does lead back to the idea that Bruce is terrible at personal relationships and Terry has to do better, but…
The problem is that this is mostly conjecture on my part. There’s nothing actually in the text of this chapter to link Bruce and Damian, at this time, to Terry’s personal themes or struggles, which themselves are near-nonexistent here in favour of dedicating page time almost entirely to Damian and Bruce. This is all necessary setup–expositional flashbacks, moving characters into place–but it comes at the expense of making Terry a secondary character in his own comic. Matt and Max are literally shoved into the background by old Batsuits in several panels, and once again Dana has completely vanished. Given how Escaping the Grave ended, I’m leery of Batman Beyond continuing to sideline Terry in favour of Bruce’s past, especially with more flashbacks in the pipeline.
Random Extra Thoughts
–At least whoever decided that Terry should persistently address Damian as “Junior” truly understands who Terry McGinnis is as a person.
–I have to laugh at Bruce wondering “why the theatrics?” when trying to figure out Damian’s motives. Bruce, mate, pal… he’s your son.
–I’m not sure if Koru confirming that he’s Ubu’s son is going to mean anything to the story aside from just confirming what most readers probably already assumed. He also confirms that Ubu is dead. For that matter, what actually happened to Damian’s grandfather hasn’t been clarified, other than that he’s been out of sight for so long that he’s been presumed dead. I suppose we’ll find out when we see Damian’s perspective on what happened when he left all those years ago. Some people have theorized that this Damian isn’t Damian, but Ra’s having transferred his consciousness to Damian’s body, as he transferred himself into Talia’s in one episode of the original cartoon. It’s not impossible, although his familiarity with the X-7 would be out of place if Ra’s replaced Damian after the fight in Gotham. There is a possibility that Ra’s replaced Damian prior to his return and Bruce simply didn’t notice–Ra’s himself is entirely unseen during the flashback–and that he intended to steal the X-7 but abandoned it when he found out how overwhelming the AI is. I still personally feel that this is Damian, there’s just a lot that we don’t know about what happened to him way back when. What do you think?
Batman Beyond #9
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Bernard Chang
Inks: Bernard Chang
Colours: Marcelo Maiolo