Welcome to part two—continued from part one—of our look at the history of the Batman of the 666 Future (aka “Batman-666” aka “The Batman of Bethlehem”), an edgy adult Damian Wayne, who will be returning to comics in an upcoming Super Sons arc by Peter Tomasi, Jose Luis, and Scott Hanna. Our retrospective left off at the dawn of the New 52, following the Flashpoint reboot in 2011. Despite the fact that the entire DC line had been rebooted to start over from virtual scratch, Batman made it through less altered than most other characters. However, in order to tell a seamless uninterrupted story (in his ongoing Batman Incorporated arc) that could take place canonically in both the Modern Age AND New 52, Morrison would have to put his creative writing skills to the test. Quite masterfully, Morrison did exactly that.
Admittedly, Morrison’s amazing exercise in making an arc work in TWO SEPARATE continuities at the same time isn’t 100% perfect, meaning it requires a handful of asterisks and caveats—notably Barbara Gordon is shown in a wheelchair in Batman #666, Batman #700, which didn’t have the benefit of hindsight upon their respective releases to know that Babs would recover the use of her legs in the New 52. (Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5—the third part of the 666 trilogy—does have that benefit, but matches its two predecessors anyway, putting Babs in the chair.) In any case, despite the caveats, Morrison’s lengthy Batman Incorporated arc and 666 Future arc both work pretty damn on the money in both continuities. When the Batman Incorporated Absolute Edition came out in 2015, Morrison, Burnham, and Fairbairn even made sure to alter some of the art so that it made sense in the Modern Age, especially the flashbacks. In the Modern Age, Batman wears his yellow-oval costume earlier in his career, so a flashback should have reflected that. However, in the New 52, Batman never wears the yellow oval; and, in fact, only wears one type of black-symbol costume. Thus, in the original New 52 run, Batman, even in flashback, wears the same black symbol costume. Morrison, Burnham, and Fairbairn made the change in the Absolute Edition because they were serious about fitting their story into dual chronologies. There’s even a scene in Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #10 where Batman obtains Man-Bat Serum from Dr. Kirk Langstrom that is brilliantly written in an obscurantist way so that it could exist in two separate timelines—one where Batman has long been comrades with Langstrom and the other where they haven’t even met yet! This sequence is like the Certified Copy (the film by Abbas Kiarostami) of superhero comics. With all these tricks and shenanigans going on in Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 at the time of the reboot, it’s no surprise that the Batman 666 Future could coexist in two separate continuities. It’s also no surprise that there’s no official consensus, a ton of debate, and quite a bit of interesting takes when it comes to figuring out the continuity and canonicity of the 666 Future post-Batman Incorporated Vol. 2.
BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL. 2 #5—”Asylum”
By Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, and Nathan Fairbairn (January 2013)
Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5 is the only part of the 666 Future narrative that is sandwiched between present-day narrative—as a flash-forward that explicitly regards it as a mere dream. Bruce explains this part of the 666 Future to Damian and the rest of the Bat-Family in Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5. Because of this, Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5‘s 666 Future story is technically a dream sequence, falling into a category of questionable canonical status more-so than the other stand-alone parts, which are unattached to any dream sequence or contemporary story narrative. But, as with all of the 666 Future, the canonical status of the Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5 part is open to interpretation (and, therefore, much debate).
In the middle of “Asylum,” we get a recapping of the death of Batman from Batman #666—with the important added “deal with the devil” (aka “deal with Simon Hurt”) scene that gave Damian invulnerability at the cost of his very soul. Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5 continues the 666 Future story with much of North America in chaos (thanks to the actions of Bat-Damian’s rogues). Damian and Commissioner Babs fight off the entire populace of a government-quarantined Gotham, which has been Jokerized with a brand new strain of Joker Venom. Damian and Babs try to hold off the Jokerized citizens from a barricaded Arkham Asylum, but a rescued infant brings the virus within their walls. (Note that the infant shown in here, unlike in the previous Batman #700 story, isn’t Terry McGinnis. We know this because Baby Terry was given a dose of anti-venom and this baby has a natural immunity.) Babs then gets infected and blasts Damian in the spine with a shotgun. (Damian’s “healing factor”/near invulnerability allows him to continue on.) Per Talia’s orders, Simon Hurt (who has ascended to the highest levels of American government) authorizes a US Government nuclear strike on Gotham, killing thousands and wiping-out most of the city. As the trope/saying goes, “No body, no death.” We never see Damian or Babs actually killed. Damian looks worse for wear, but presumably, Damian’s “healing factor”/near invulnerability allows him to survive the nuclear strike, after which he presumably rescues Babs and purges the Joker Juice from her system. Babs appears to succumb to her Jokerization before getting swarmed by a mob. But if we are to take the 666 Future as canon, then Damian and Babs must remain alive—an elder Damian is shown mentoring teenage Terry McGinnis in Batman #700 and Babs features heavily in Batman Beyond. This is comics, though, so clones or resurrections could always be a factor. Even Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 ends with a bunch of Damian clones. But that’s a story for another time!
The next installments to the Batman-666 story occurred in Batman & Robin Vol. 2 Annual #1 and Damian: Son of the Batman #1-4; and both function as prequels, detailing the origins of a younger Damian becoming Batman-666.
BATMAN & ROBIN VOL. 2 ANNUAL #1—”Batman Impossible”
By Peter Tomasi, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, and John Kalisz (March 2013)
In “Batman Impossible,” Bruce Wayne is challenged to a global scavenger hunt by Damian. Bruce agrees and immediately departs with Alfred for London. In Gotham, young Damian dons a self-made Batman costume (a mini version of his costume from the Batman 666 future!) and hits the streets to work a case and bust some random costumed super-villains. In London, Bruce finds Damian’s first “gift,” a picture that Bruce’s mom painted. Damian video chats with Bruce and tells him to get to Spain. While Bruce and Alfred catch up with some heartwarming bonding time, Damian puts on his 666 Bat-costume and kicks some more butt in Gotham. While Bruce goes to Barcelona and Greece, lil’ Bat-Damian-666 defeats a guy in a military mech-suit and the debuting Weasel. Like before, this is a timeline mind-bender since, at the time of publication, we’d only seen the Weasel in Batman #666, which was the future—and technically the future of a previous continuity, to boot! In Greece, Bruce finds the stone tile on which his father wrote a marriage proposal to his mother. Damian flies to London and meets with his pop. Bruce is overjoyed and filled with love in regard to Damian’s wonderful scavenger hunt. Father and son then watch Alfred perform Shakespeare at the Old Globe Theater. Quite a happy sappy start to a hellish and evil future! Tomasi was definitely having fun with this one.
Next up was Damian: Son of Batman #1-4, written solely by the artist creator of Batman-666 and the 666 Future, Andy Kubert.
DAMIAN: SON OF BATMAN #1-4
By Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson (December 2013 to March 2014)
Damian: Son of Batman tried its best to adhere to the small amount of backstory given to the origin of Damian-as-Batman—the key facets being that Batman died, after which Damian (still Robin) made a deal with the devil aka Simon Hurt, which then led to him becoming the semi-invincible cat-whispering Travis Bickle-esque Batman-666. However, Kubert was all about that M Night Shyamalan twist. (For any film buffs keeping score, I’ve compared Morrison’s scripting to Kiarostami and Kubert’s to Shyamalan; and, no offense to fans of M Night, but the comparison is decidedly in Morrison’s favor.) Anyway, the “what a twist!” moment comes as we learn that the Batman who died in the origin flashbacks from Batman #666 and Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5 wasn’t Bruce… it was Dick Grayson! AFTER ALL, Morrison merely showed us that a Batman had been killed to kick-off the 666 Future. He never said who was wearing the cape and cowl! In another odd Kubert bit, we learn what happened to Jim Gordon after he retired from the Force. For some reason he became a Catholic priest. Don’t ask why.
Damian: Son of Batman begins with Batman (Dick) and Robin (Damian) investigating a mass grave about which a bunch of Joker-fish are strewn. When Dick examines the fish, a bomb goes off killing him instantly. (The immediate aftermath of this death scene, which was shown in Batman #666 and Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5, looks quite different in Damian: Son of Batman—another strange decision made by Kubert for unknown reasons.) Soon after, a funeral is held at Wayne Manor, presided over by Father Jim Gordon. In attendance are Bruce, Alfred, Damian, Babs (in a wheelchair), and two other unidentified people.
Weeks after Dick Grayson’s death, Damian visits his mother Talia and grandfather Ra’s al Ghul. Talia and Ra’s al Ghul discuss Damian’s history—although Talia curiously neglects to mention his New 52 death (from Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #8) and New 52 resurrection (from Batman and Robin Vol. 2‘s “Robin Rises”). This omission on the part of Kubert seems like a hard lean into making this arc function in the Modern Age over the New 52, but, again, who really knows what Kubert was trying here? Interestingly, Mom and Grandpa are the ones that encourage Damian to become Batman-666.
Back in Gotham, Damian learns that many super-villains have falsely claimed responsibility for murdering Batman. A pissed-off Robin goes out and murders both Mr. Freeze and Killer Croc and nearly kills Jackanapes. After a chat with Father Gordon, Robin kills rookie villain Chipmunk. Back in the Batcave, Bruce (now older and slightly graying) flips-out and confronts Damian about the murders. Bruce and Damian begin a brutal fistfight with each other, during which Bruce winds up getting accidentally gutted by a grappling hook. Alfred rushes in to stabilize Bruce and orders Damian to leave. After chatting with Father Gordon, Damian dons an adult version of his 666 Bat-costume and heads to the recently abandoned Arkham Asylum. A clue at Arkham leads the debuting Batman-666 downtown into battle with Professor Pyg and his Dollotrons. Pyg kicks Damian’s butt and blows him into the Gotham River. Alfred collects the unconscious Damian and brings him back home. After performing lifesaving surgery on Damian, Alfred slumps over and ingloriously dies. Note that Alfred’s tombstone says 2014 (the date of this arc’s publication), which again, oddly enough, was clearly Kubert demonstrating his strong lean toward Modern Age sensibilities even though this arc was published in the New 52.
Damian soon recovers from injury but begins talking to his pet cat, Alfred II, which he hallucinates as sounding just like Alfred. Talk about a coping mechanism. Damian, as Batman, returns to the streets and takes down newcomer Sharptooth, Jackanapes, and an unnamed simian pal. Later, Bruce, still recovering from his own injury, gets kidnapped by his in-house nurse, who turns out to be a disguised Impostor Joker. This prompts Damian to march into a nest of super-villains to attempt a rescue. The young new Batman fights and defeats Phosphorus Rex, a newbie named Tomahawks, Jackanapes (again), Weasel, and a bunch of ape-men. He then saves his dad and kicks the crap out of Impostor Joker. After Damian and Bruce leave, the real Joker appears and kills Impostor Joker. Damian chats with kitty Alfred and then takes to the streets to make his tenure as the new Batman official, starting with the arrest of weird super-villain Snickers the Cat-Man. There is truly a lot of strange stuff happening in Damian: Son of Batman. It feels like Kubert was trying to do his best Morrison (or Neal Adams) impersonation, but it fell a bit short.
THE MULTIVERSITY: THE JUST #1—”#earthme”
Grant Morrison, Ben Oliver, and Daniel Brown (December 2014)
The next Batman-666 we’d see was a brand new take entirely—an alternate Earth version of Damian-as-Batman delivered by (again) Morrison himself. Welcome to Earth-16, a part of the Gérard Genette theory-inspired arc known as The Multiversity—a world where all the super-villains have been defeated by mom and pop; and the second generation heroes find themselves living complacent reality TV/pop-star lives akin to the Kardashians. Damian is again the trench-coat-wearing 666 version of Batman we know and love, but he is decidedly a part of the pompous and decadent world of Earth-16. The banal domestic dramas between Damian, his lover Alexis Luthor, and his friend Superman (Chris Kent), which overlap with a lackadaisical investigation into suicides related to party invitation snubs, are quickly quashed by a massive metatextual threat as the creeping cosmic Gentry seeps into their world, bringing utter doom and gloom with them.
Following The Multiversity, interest in Batman-666 never waned. Writers clearly have had him (and his future) on their minds quite a bit. While Batman-666 hasn’t appeared outright, he has in the form of hallucinations or visions. These hallucinations or visions of Batman-666 have popped-up here-and-there—in Batman Eternal #46 (April 2015) by a large group of creators, including Tim Seeley, the villain Ebenezer Darrk causes a hallucination of Batman-666 and other possible future Batmen; in Nightwing Vol. 4 #17 (May 2017) by Tim Seeley, Javi Fernandez, and Chris Sotomayor, Simon Hurt uses a cosmic blade that causes visions of alternate realities linked to the ongoing Metal: Dark Nights series—including the 666 Future; and in Superman Vol. 4 #25 (August 2017) by Patrick Gleason, Peter Tomasi, and Doug Mahnke, we are treated to visions of various “alternate arcs of space-time.”
And once again, Batman-666—or at least some version of him—has returned to comics in Super Sons by Peter Tomasi, Jose Luis, and Scott Hanna. This will be the first non-hallucination or non-vision version of Batman-666 to appear in the “Rebirth” Era (i.e. to appear since DC’s latest reboot, which occurred in 2016). In Super Sons #10 (January 2018), Tomasi and company delivered a stark and striking image of Batman-666 crawling out of the burning wreckage of the GCPD HQ building. (In case you hadn’t noticed, Batman-666 emerging from raging hellfire—a part of reoccurring Satanic themes—is a common trope for the character.) Batman #666 ended with Damian declaring, “The Apocalypse is cancelled. Until I say so. Super Sons #10 sees Damian declaring, “The Apocalypse is back on. Because I say so.” Bring it on, I say!
We see Batman-666 in the current Super Sons/Teen Titans/Superman crossover arc entitled “Super Sons of Tomorrow.” Batman-666 returning to the fold falls in line with other recent similar “Rebirth” appearances of alternate future characters. In other titles, we’ve seen Troia, the “Titans Tomorrow” Tim Drake, and the Justice League’s kids from a dystopian Hypertime future, just to name a few. (“Titans Tomorrow” Tim Drake will again factor into the “Super Sons of Tomorrow” arc, along with his Titans of Tomorrow pals, including an alt-Conner Kent! It’s also possible that Doctor Manhattan is somehow tangentially linked to all this Hypertime chicanery, but that’s a speculative article for another time.) In any case, these recent Hypertime-related DCU returns have all majorly impacted the contemporary players involved. The same should ring true for the Super Sons. “Super Sons of Tomorrow” should be one for the ages, especially since Super Sons has already been an exciting ongoing series that hasn’t failed to deliver as one of DC’s current best.