Let’s talk about the current Robin, Damian Wayne, and how people draw him. The little prepubescent ball of angst, anger and “ttt” grade arrogance (dare you to not imagine him having a soft international British-English influenced accent) who also has a startling vulnerability, has won over a lot of fans since his introduction. He has sky rocketed into popularity following his donning of the Robin mantle in 2008/2009 through his endearing relationship with Dick and surprisingly, Stephanie Brown as Batgirl (truly one of the worst of the reboot losses, their Batgirl/Robin dynamic was too good and his relationship with Babs is nonexistent and bland at best). A mixed-race child taking the mantle of a well-known and ‘iconic’ character should be a big deal; however, this fact isn’t emphasized as much as it should be. He is constantly portrayed by DC Comics’ artists as yet another Bruce Wayne clone: Caucasian, pale, blue eyed and black haired. People generally wouldn’t know he was of mixed heritage at all unless they know the history of his character and the al Ghul family.
Genetics are a funny thing and many children of mixed marriages can either favor one parent over the other or be a strong mix of both. Bruce’s extreme WASP/ possibly Ashkenazi Jewish (if Martha Kane, his mother is related to the same Kanes as Kate Kane, Batwoman, then she was most likely Jewish or partially Jewish herself) heritage is the whitest of the white. There’s no skirting around that. So yes, Damian could very well favor his father. The problem isn’t if he favors his father, it’s just that many elements of his mixed heritage from his mother’s side are promptly ignored by DC artists completely. That’s the problem.
Fan artists seem to understand him a bit more and give him more distinguishable features. In a lot of fan-art online, you see subtle inclusion of Damian’s true heritage; whether its eye-shape or facial structure that suggest he is not white, or he simply has tanned skin, these artists identify him as multi-ethnic. What’s the deal DC? Why can’t you do the same?
One thing that is a hot button issue and I feel I need to get out of the way are his blue eyes. As shown by the Shortpacked comic, most people argue that because he has Chinese and Arab heritage he must have dark eyes. That’s just not true. Many fancasts for live action “Batman” often cast him with young 100% Iranian actor Arsalan Ghasemi specifically because of Arsalan’s vivid blue-green eyes.
Arsalan sadly is much too old now to play Damian, as you can see. Additionally, no one knows of his acting abilities or English speaking, but the sentiment of casting Damian or basing his look off of someone actually from the Middle East is quite admirable. That’s where most of Damian comes from! He could look like that! But just because Arsalan has blue eyes does not mean he is particularly special or worthy of being a good face cast. Many people of various ethnic groups from the Middle East and even Muslim peoples and other communities in China have fair eyes, skin and hair, and many, many different skin tones and features. All are people of color, all are nationally Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani or Chinese. Arsalan Ghasemi’s looks are not that unusual at all for the Middle East. People look like that from there! It’s the same all the way to communities into India as well. So yes, Damian can very well have blue, blue-green or hazel eyes, especially since Bruce can only genetically offer shades of blue and possibly green. Good chance Damian wouldn’t have them? Yes, most certainly. But those features are much more common in in the Middle East than people here in the States would like to believe, as it goes against the stereotypes we are taught about race and how people in those countries look. China is a huge country with many peoples. So is the region of the Middle East.
There are many boys and most likely actors from those areas of the world that look just like him. They are Damian.
The problem with Damian also comes from an inherited and continued problem from his mother’s family and their portrayal. Talia al Ghul herself has a very mixed heritage and how she is portrayed is very problematic. Her canon mother, Melisande, was of explicit mixed Chinese and Arab ancestry. Talia, when portrayed as good, is often drawn and colored as white. When placed in the role of villain, she sadly is often drawn or colored with darker skin and more “foreign” features. There is no excuse to not keep a consistent, and respectful look for her that keeps her looking like the multi-ethnic person that she is and not be deemed dangerous or ‘exotic’.
Her father, the over 600 year old skunk haired Ra’s al Ghul, is problematic and ambiguous himself. Touting an Arab name and hailing from a “a city whose inhabitants’ ancestors have journeyed to the Arabian Peninsula from China”, his race has always been hotly debated but drawn as more or less as Caucasian. He was, like his daughter, played by white actors in Nolan’s Batman trilogy; Liam Neeson and Marion Cotillard respectively. At best, I would put him as being very mixed himself, with an ancestry much like Melisande. Ra’s green eyes are not improbable either, influence of the Lazarus Pit or not, it’s the same as Damian’s blue eyes. Regardless, Ra’s should look mixed, Talia could appear even more so herself.
With Damian, colorists at routinely at fault, coloring Damian as lily-white when they could feasibly choose to do a darker skin tone. That doesn’t excuse artists who draw his features as anything but Caucasian most of the time either. Now, they could keep the Caucasian face structure, he looks a lot like Bruce, but color him with more of an olive or tan skin tone and a slightly different eye shape. Many fan artists seem to go that route, giving Damian simply a noticeably different complexion than the other former Robins. On the flip side, he could be drawn with more traditionally Asian or Arab facial structure and features but be colored as being pale, like Bruce. There is room for easy compromise to show what he truly is. There are many different possibilities. All don’t look exclusively white, blue eyes or not. Why is that so difficult?
Out of any of the current artists at DC Comics, I find Patrick Gleason is the only one who draws Damian as consistently more mixed looking. His Damian actually looks like he has a lot of Asian heritage, from the nose and face structure and in particular, his eye shape, especially as a child. His inking or the inking on his work never leaves room for the colorist to color the irises blue as others do, so they are mainly blacked out and dark. This is not to say that it’s good that he is shown with dark eyes, as I explained Damian can have very blue eyes and it’s perfectly fine, but Gleason gives Damian a very different look which you normally don’t see. The colorist colors him as very pale, but he actually looks mixed.
Despite Damian’s ambiguous appearance or DC’s inability to portraying him accurately, the reason why I think it is important that he be drawn as mixed is all about representation. There are many girls and boys of mixed heritage similar to Damian, or who are Asian or Iranian, Afghan or Pakistani; any of these particularly ignored groups aren’t portrayed often in Western pop media often in roles that are not bad guys or terrible stereotypes, particularly in the world of superheroes. And they need to see themselves. Entertainment in the US is very, very white, and to see a mixed child in a big pop-culture role as Robin is huge. It’s akin to having Miles Morales take over as Spider-Man in the Ultimate universe, and DC should be making more of an effort with Damian in that regard. He could be sold as such a benchmark, but they choose to ignore it instead. They’ve already wiped away Cassandra Cain from the Bat family, with no visible intention to bring her back (having deaged her mother, Lady Shiva, thus making it impossible for her to actually be Cassandra’s mother, a rather passive aggressive blow to Cassandra fans while they fret her existence and relationship to the Batfamily), it really wouldn’t hurt to emphasize the actual diversity that is present in the Batfamily with Damian, considering what little is left now. The fact that DC overlooks this opportunity is really sad.