I'm a younger sibling and a younger cousin, and as a result, I've played numerous sidekicks in make-believe stories. I absolutely hated pretending to be characters like Alpha 5 or Virgil from Mighty Max; it was degrading in the most appropriate sense, especially because these characters almost never went on the adventures with the heroes.
This feeling was never the case when I was allowed to pretend as Robin. Naturally, I would pretend to be the Dick Grayson Robin, perching over rooftop couch arms as I watched over the living room Gotham City. The role was perfect for me at the time; I was a hero, naturally gifted yet constantly learning, but no one could deny that I was still a hero. Being a successful Robin required humility, strength, and (most importantly!) an incredible sense of childhood whimsy. I feel that this is the root of the problem when I don't fully enjoy stories like Son of Batman.
Andrea Romano once again placed together a star-studded cast of stage and film actors, however, their voice acting left something to be desired. Personally, Stuart Allan as Damian Wayne had a nasally tone that took me out of the immersion of the story, which was only worsened by a few cringe-worthy lines. Jason O’Mara as Batman, while solid in his performance, is still perfecting his gravelly undertones; I can see him becoming a Batman voice staple, but his delivery is not there as of yet. A pleasant surprise from the voice casting though, came from David McCallum as Alfred. If anyone is an NCIS fan, McCallum plays Ducky on the show, and his British deadpan and humor definitely shine with each interaction with the Batman family.
I would assume that the appeal of Batman still exists for children, but I feel that this movie definitely had the adult fan base in mind when it was scripted and drawn. This can definitely be felt in the film’s execution of, well, execution. Son of Batman is incredibly violent, and while I don’t personally shun violence in media (I’m someone who strategically enjoys two people beating each other into submission), many parents will be purchasing this for young children on the grounds of “Oh, look! Batman has settled down and has children now!”. Take, for example, a scene in which Batman and Damian are defending themselves against Deathstroke’s ninja-henchmen. Damian straight-up murders at least three of them before Batman has to sternly tell him not to use swords. So, naturally, Batman lends Damian one of Robin’s natural fighting tools, like escrima sticks or a staff, once he dons the red-green-yellows.
Actually, nope, I’m just kidding. Damian is given no traditional Robin weapons and just keeps picking up swords to stab people with.
Besides the fact that we see a child thoughtfully give Deathstroke a reason to have an eyepatch (read: you seriously see an eye socket stabbed in the first few minutes), there are some very dark ideas that are swept under the rug. The idea of Batman being drugged and sexually assaulted for his genetic seed immediately comes to mind. The fact is glossed over in the brief few minutes that Talia and Batman interact, but the implication is there: the last time that Talia and Batman saw each other, she drugged him through a drink, sexually took advantage of him, and hid a child from him for at least a decade. This is an extremely interesting adult theme that Morrison fleshed out in a thought-provoking way, but the key word here is adult; meaning that many parents, some of whom I experienced myself during the screening at WonderCon, had to sit there and explain to their children how Batman and Talia had a baby if Bruce didn’t want to or even know about it.
For all of its triumphs and misgivings, the WonderCon panel that was held by the voice direction and cast made efficient child-murderers and sexual assault even more awkward to talk about. No doubt there were children in the panel, but there was even a child on the freaking dais, and most of the comments centered around semi-naughty in-jokes and cleavage. To top this off, the question/answer portion with the audience (which I personally dread every time I have to experience it) was rife with fans that were incredibly defensive (read: “butthurt”) of all of the changes to Batman in the last few years, on top of tearing apart every miniscule item about the movie. I can honestly say that I’m no friend to the New 52, but I understand what DC is trying to accomplish on a conceptual level, which is updating their time-tested characters in a way that makes them relevant in the next few decades. There was absolutely no middle ground to speak of in that trainwreck of a panel, and both fans and actors who behave like this should at least feel a portion of shame.
I do have to commend Stuart Allan, though: many people have complained about how his enthusiasm was forced and fake, all the while spouting answers that the studio placed in his mind. I don’t think that’s entirely fair; this is a minor that handled himself better than most of the adults did in that entire arena, and to keep his cool when stuff was hitting the fan while making sure to hit all of his marks was incredible on his part. Your only real job as a child is to listen to what the people in charge of you say, and to act in a way that is reflective of this; fans should have no gripe in this, unless they forgot how it is to be a child, which is concerning in itself. I may not have appreciated his voice, but because of this experience I’m excited to see what other roles he will inevitably be involved with.
For all of its misfires, Son of Batman is worth the watch, placing a story into motion that contained an amazing amount of depth and some groundbreaking Batman history. Although the childhood whimsy is incredibly lacking, adults will enjoy the fight scenes and artwork for the most part, while experiencing an interesting and fan-splitting take on a character almost all of us have, at one point or another, imagined ourselves to be.
To end this article, my appeal to fans is this: try and loosen up on your views of recent Batman mythos, remember to check on how appropriate some of these stories are for the children around you, and try and perch on some rooftop couch arms more. With more and more stories taking a grittier turn for children that are younger and younger, it would be comforting to know that we’re not foregoing both our children’s and our own whimsy as well.