There’s a new preview for the upcoming DC Comics animated movie Son of Batman on the internet. I was thrilled when the teaser trailer debuted a few weeks ago because Damian is one of my favorite characters. This nine-minute preview, uploaded by a YouTube user named JaeRoar (who doesn’t seem to have official ties to DC Comics), features interviews with the movie’s creators about the source material–primarily the graphic novel Batman and Son by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert. There’s a lot to be excited about–but this preview also reveals that Son of Batman will include one of the most problematic and disturbing aspects of Morrison’s graphic novel: the portrayal of Damian’s conception as Talia drugging and raping Bruce. Worse, Son of Batman seems to not acknowledge this as rape, instead glamorizing it as “sexy” and “edgy.”
The preview clearly states that, in accordance with Grant Morrison’s version of Talia (and not, it should be noted, earlier depictions of the character), Talia drugs Bruce and coerces him into having sex with her. This rape–yes, it absolutely is rape–leads to Damian’s birth. The decision to use this plot point means Son of Batman will have fun scenes like the one at 5:03 of the above video–and by fun I mean “triggering” and “actually sexual harassment”:
Talia: “It made you romantic.”
Bruce: “It made me do what you wanted.”
Talia: “Was it all bad, beloved?”
In this scene Talia tries to make Bruce remember their sexual past by referencing the drug she used to “make him romantic.” Bruce immediately counters that he was not being “romantic,” he was being forced. Worse, this scene in the preview is contextualized within a section about how “sexy” and “cool” the movie’s version of Talia al-Ghul is.
These three lines, and the backstory they reference, are not sexy. They refer to what is undeniably a rape, and attempt to glamorize that fact by using the same logic rapists themselves use to justify their actions: “he wanted it.” This is deeply disturbing to me as a fan of the Batman universe, as a media critic, and as a human being. Why is it preferable to normalize and even sexualize rape than to show Bruce as a sexually active, flawed human being capable of both love and regret, particularly for a movie whose target audience presumably includes children? If you want to have a story about rape, at least call it like it is.
Why would it have been so hard to portray Damian’s conception as a moment of passion in Bruce’s youth? Why not show that Bruce has desires and is capable of making mistakes? Why not show that he loved Talia once? That makes Bruce a far more compelling character, in my opinion. Apparently some part of DC thinks so too. Later in the preview, voice director Andrea Romano says that Bruce does have an attraction to Talia. And some of the images shown during this section depict, not Morrison’s graphic novel, but the 1987 graphic novel by Mike W. Barr called Batman: Son of the Demon on which Morrison’s Batman and Son is based and which portrays Bruce and Talia’s relationship as a flight of passion between two consenting adults.
DC wants to have a grim and gritty, emotionally distant Batman who makes it clear that he did not consent to sex with Talia, but it also doesn’t want to use the R-word. Well guess what? You can’t have it both ways. If Talia drugged Batman into having sex with her, that is rape. It is not sexy. It is not “realistic.” It is not “cool.” It is rape.