Grant Vance reviews Batman: Damned #1…
Fresh off the press of DC’s new mature-readership-targeting Black Label imprint, the team behind the 2011 Christmas-themed Batman: Noël comes a Batman story a little less jolly.
Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Loveless) and Lee Bermejo (Joker, Before Watchmen: Rorschach) are no strangers to the rogue-ridden streets of Gotham. They’ve written their (previously accounted for) one-offs in the past, not to mention a hand full of in-continuity outings. Batman: Damned is a culmination of their previous Bat-work, providing a dark, desolate psychoanalysis of Batman we didn’t know we wanted.
Narrated by London’s very own occult specialist John Constantine, Batman: Damned immediately opens on an off-kilter tone. Batman, disoriented and running for his life, makes a narrow escape into the Gotham river. In an attempt to make a last ditch call to Alfred, Constantine shows up in his place.
From Constantine on it gets weirder (as it does). Batman starts to regain consciousness, brought back to health by Constantine. While he imbibes in his typical bad habits and watches the news (with a brief, haunting appearance by Deadman), it’s revealed that The Joker was killed. Oh, did I not mention? That’s an important bit to this arc.
It’s revealed that Batman had a hand (or two) in this (spoiler, unless you’ve touched a DC comic in the last month). So incites the newest adventure in Batman’s canon: a supernatural-infused “what if?” Batman kills The Joker.
The storytelling within is as well-crafted as it gets, with Azzarello’s heavy, thought-provoking narration complimented by Bermejo’s striking, hyper-realistic pencils. But we already know they make a fine team.
As far as content goes, Azarello packs Constantine’s unreliable observatory notes with a fun bit of divine parallels. In fact, issue one ends on a religious zinger that’s quite telling of the underlying themes he intends to explore more throughout the three-issue, supersize run. The connotation of Damned and Hell is not haphazard, dear reader.
Another fun aspect of Batman: Damned is the integration of a good handful of DC’s supernatural roster. This includes the previously mentioned Deadman, preview-revealed Zatanna, and a surprise villain brought to life gloriously terrifying in some highly-original, Thomas Wayne-central flashbacks.
The downsides to Batman: Damned are found in the parallels to Scott Snyder’s very recent Metal run. Although Batman: Damned is unique unto itself, its hard not to compare it to the other, canonical Batman-kills-Joker “what if” found in The Batman Who Laughs one-shot. Not to mention Metal’s Batman: Lost one-shot gave us a similar trajectory of broken Batman, albeit more on the abstract, less on the supernatural horror. Timing is everything.
The much referenced Bat-penis aside, there’s a lot more to unpack in Batman: Damned. It hooks you from page one and doesn’t let up until a visual gratifying, perfectly edgy final panel.