I came upon this graphic novel absolutely cold. The only thing I knew was it was Batman adjacent and that Grant Morrison wrote it, and that was enough to be interested. Turns out I was only 3/4 right. Most of this collection, the part that collects Damian: Son of Batman #1-4 is written and drawn by Andy Kubert. Only the stand-alone story, Batman #666, is written by Morrison.
So I also read it without any back story–just jumped right in like an idiot. After doing some research, I find that Morrison’s issue predates the Kubert issues by 5 years or so. In fact, it appears Kubert is filling in the storyline that Morrison touches on in flashback. That could have been useful to know. It also makes me wonder why the Kubert issues are published first in the collection.
The whole Damian story arc is an alternate Batman timeline. Damian is the genetically-perfected spawn of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul–and he has the ambiguous morality to go with the genetics. His internal conflict comes from not wanting to fall in line with either of his fates–to kill Batman or become Batman–but it seems his fates have a way of falling in line with him.
The Kubert story fills in the early history of Damian taking on the cape and cowl. He fails to prevent the death of the Batman, Dick Grayson, and in his guilt goes on a vengeance spree to find the killer. Damian has put himself in a dangerous place–somewhere between villain and hero. He must work out for himself how to take on the cowl and fight the scum of Gotham in his own way.
The art throughout the book is strong, and it masked some of the weaknesses in Kubert’s writing for a while. But Kubert doesn’t always trust the story is being told graphically and inserts redundant or hammy dialogue. The electronic journal that gives us Damian’s thoughts is a mediocre vehicle, and I found myself wanting to be rid of it. All in all, the Kubert storyline was simply okay. My biggest problem with it was some oddball character decisions. Wouldn’t Bruce Wayne first try to talk it out with Damian? After all, he also knows the drive for revenge when loved ones are murdered.
My engagement and enjoyment ramped up considerably when I got to Morrison’s issue. Suddenly the story had depth. There were literary and religious references structuring the plot and artwork. Morrison gives us Damian 15 years into the future. His backstory (worked out by Kubert) is only hinted at in flashback. The writing is crisp, the dialogue flows, and the stakes are high. If you read this collection, it will be for this issue.