DC launches its Black Label with a startling new take on the Batman…
Written by: Brian Azzarello / art by: Lee Bermejo
What’s it about?
Discovering that the Joker is dead, an amnesiac Batman recruits John Constantine as he searches for the truth…
The first release from DC’s adult-orientated ‘Black Label’ imprint, Book One of Batman: Damned is the first instalment of a three book Prestige Format series (released on a bi-monthly schedule) that reunites the writer and artist team of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, who previously worked together on the fan favourite villain-focused stories Joker and Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, of which this title is said to be a ‘spiritual successor’.
A standalone story set outside regular DC Universe continuity, Damned is a bleak, stark and visceral tale that’s not for the timid. Against the backdrop of the grimy, decaying streets of a hellish Gotham City, Azzarello and Bermejo present a Batman who is the darkest of Dark Knights, a vigilante persona driven by a man whose emotional scars cut deep. Its narrative carried by the narration of John Constantine, Azzarello’s script has a poetic, literary quality to it that elevates Damned above the average superhero comic. Not that there’s anything wrong with Tom King’s Batman, this is just a different kind of approach that fully earns its ‘mature readers’ label via it’s grittier than gritty tone and startling, stylish visuals.
Damned opens with an injured Batman, dazed and confused as he learns that the Joker is dead and is unable to recall the events that have lead him onto an ambulance stretcher. Making a brutal escape from the clutches of medics and the police, the Dark Knight Detective flees like a wounded animal and ultimately crosses paths with John Constantine who may be the only one who can help him piece things together.
Damned paints a Gotham City that truly is a Gothic nightmare and gives readers a Bruce Wayne who’s trauma runs deeper and more hopelessly than in the regular iteration and flashbacks to Wayne’s less than perfect childhood adds texture to an established origin and Brian Azzarello’s writing really provides a tangible sense of his pain. The inclusion of Constantine, together with fresh takes on Zatanna, Deadman and the Enchantress, thickens the black, wintry atmosphere of the story with a strong dose of the supernatural which only increases its appeal.
The true power of Damned though lies in the haunting art of Lee Bermejo, rich with detail and vast in its storytelling this is one visually incredible comic book (it somehow feels like disservice to even call this a comic book) and it’d be a fair argument to say that Bermejo’s talents exceed Azzarello’s here and could carry the story with a minimum of dialogue – as good as it can be, Constantine’s narration does become a little too heavy and overbearing by the end of this fifty page opening chapter. But that’s one miniscule criticism and in the grand scheme of things, Batman: Damned looks set to be a special story in the Batman mythos.
The bottom line: In its first book, Batman: Damned shows great promise with a visually arresting and narratively gripping story that offers an alternative take on an iconic character.
Batman: Damned Book One is published by DC Black Label and is available in print and digital formats now.