Update: Batman writer James Tynion IV didn't mince words.
"(No, he isn't)" was his direct response to our story speculating that the new Batman character Clownhunter could be Damian Wayne in disguise.
We took our shot. Moving on.
(No, he isn't) https://t.co/T0xdK91nfGSeptember 14, 2020
Original story follows
'The Joker War' hits its penultimate chapter on September 15 with Batman #99 teaming Batman with the original Robin, Dick Grayson, and other members of the Bat-family, with a notable exception.
But is he actually just hiding in plain sight?
Writer James Tynion IV has introduced plenty of new characters during his time on the flagship title, including Punchline, The Designer, and Clownhunter, who made his first appearance in Batman #96. But who is the still-enigmatic Clownhunter? We here at Newsarama have a theory brewing – and it may involve a bit of misdirection on the part of the creative team.
Clownhunter has been referenced as a new character, but does that mean the secret identity of the person underneath the mohawk mask is also new to us? Tynion and company have already pulled this trick once with the villainous Designer who was billed as a new character but was eventually revealed as the Joker, who had taken over the Designer's identity.
This leads us right to our theory…
Is Damian Wayne actually Clownhunter?
The effects of Damian's decision to leave the mantle have already been seen in Young Justice #18. In a team up with his girlfriend, Stephanie Brown, Tim Drake decides to change his name from Drake back to Robin. Does this mean Tim Drake is the new … um, old … Robin again? Could this be a reason why Damian Wayne would take up the identity of Clownhunter, in a sort of Nightwing-esque move to differentiate himself from his mentor?
In Batman's current arc, 'The Joker War,' Bruce Wayne's psyche is unraveling as he deals with the guilt of losing his father figure, Alfred. But Bruce isn't the only Bat-family member who's been struggling.
In the pages of Teen Titans, we see Bruce's son Damian Wayne also deeply affected by Alfred's death. This pain comes along with Damian still reeling from the KGBeast's attack on Dick Grayson, causing Grayson to lose his memories for months as he took on a new name, Ric Grayson.
These traumatic events have pushed Damian to his limit, and in Teen Titans Annual #2 he finally breaks.
Damian is tired of seeing the people he cares about getting hurt. He believes what happened to both Dick and Alfred could have been prevented if Batman took action. He thinks Bruce's rule of "no killing" is ridiculous, which leads him to hunt down the KGBeast on his own. Though the rest of his teammates, who are making up for their own sins, try to stop Damian from doing something he may later regret, the confrontation leads to Damian ripping his 'R' emblem off his chest, renouncing the Robin name.
Robin no more
In an interview with ScreenRant (opens in new tab), James Tynion IV describes the new Batman supporting character in greater detail.
"Clownhunter exists to give voice to the man on the streets in the midst of 'Joker War.' Joker has broken a bunch of people in Gotham City, and those people are angry, and they're sick of Batman not doing anything about it," Tynion explains. "So, they're going to take it into their own hands."
Those motivations sound very similar to Damian's character beats in Teen Titans.
What's more, Damian's Robin resignation is already seeping into the Batman flagship title with his noticeable absence in the Batman #99 preview pages, which include a group shot of Harley Quinn, Batgirl, Signal, Orphan, Dick Grayson, Red Hood, Tim Drake, and Spoiler – but no Damian.
In the already released Batman #98, after a pep talk with "Alfred," Bruce realizes he can't defeat the Joker alone. His family is what makes Batman and his arch-nemesis stand apart. He asks the Bat computer for his family's locations. The computer responds with, "Designate, which family members?" Bruce concludes with "I need everyone."
But the team assembled isn't everyone. Why didn't Damian show? Is he absent because of his fight with Batman - or is it because he's too busy masquerading as Clownhunter on the other side of town?
On Jorge Jimenez's Batman #100 cover, Damian Wayne is present in his Robin costume, but could this be a decoy to a potential Clownhunter reveal in that very issue? If you look closely at Jimenez's cover, there's a villain side for the Joker and a Batman side for the heroes.
Neither the villain nor hero sections have the Clownhunter present, even though the cover highlights many of Tynion's new villains, including the Designer and Punchline.
Maybe Clownhunter isn't actually absent, he's just using his other alter ego.
Is it all a ruse?
Damian is no stranger to elaborate ruses, being the grandson of Ra's al Ghul and raised under the League of Assassins. Damian has spent his whole life training to fight in the shadows – what better way to do this than taking on a whole new identity?
Damian could be using Wayne technology as some sort of disguise to fool all of Gotham, including his own family, to take on a new vigilante path, similar to what the second Robin, Jason Todd, did when he became Red Hood.
Every Robin finds their path away from Batman – this could be Damian's new chapter in finding his own identity separate from his father, and even the other Robins. This would explain Clownhunter's use of a mask and his punk rock aesthetic - it all plays a part in Damian Wayne's newfound rebellion against the ideologies of the Bat-Family.
In the recently released DC December solicits (opens in new tab), Damian Wayne does make an appearance in Peter J. Tomasi's Detective Comics #1032. He's dressed up in a similar version of his Robin costume with his 'R' emblem covered by Batman and/or absent altogether. The solicits make the conflict between Batman and Robin evident, with the solicit text stating Damian's love for the rest of his family leading him back to the Bat-Family.
Let's play devil's advocate for a second and examine the other side of the evidence…
Looking at the Clownhunter's physique, and playing off of the idea that he actually is a new character, it could also be plausible that Damian Wayne is teaming up with Clownhunter.
The December solicits also reveal that Clownhunter will be making a more prominent appearance in the Bat titles. Just like many of the other Robins and Bat-Family members, Clownhunter has a traumatic past and has a similar look to many of the Robins that have come before.
Is this an indicator that he'll take Damian Wayne's place as a new Robin if they are indeed different characters?
These are, of course, only theories – Tynion could have an even more nuanced story about Clownhunter's identity in the wings. Be sure to follow Newsarama for more news on 'The Joker War,' and the future of Damian Wayne's role in the Bat-Family.
Where does Damian rank on the list of the 10 best Robins of all time (opens in new tab)? Check out our countdown to find out.