Review – “Batman: Damned #1”: Welcome to the Black Label

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Batman: Damned #1 cover, credit to DC Comics.

Batman: Damned #1 – Brian Azzarello, Writer; Lee Bermejo, Artist

Ratings Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Truth In Advertising

Ray: The Black Label line is finally here, with Batman: Damned #1, bringing back prestige format miniseries focusing on darker takes on DC’s most iconic characters. Some will be in continuity, some will be stand-alone, and some will be ambiguous. DC has already lined up an all-star line of creators including Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, and Kelly Sue DeConnick.

But to kick the line off, DC is starting with the team behind some of their most iconic mature readers stories of all time, Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. And they’re turning their focus directly on Batman and an unlikely partner in crime – John Constantine. Narrated by Constantine, this pitch-black supernatural Gotham thriller opens with Batman bleeding out in the back of an ambulance. When he’s about to be unmasked, he breaks free and gets loose on the streets of Gotham. Barely conscious, he fights off an army of goons and collapses in an alley – where he’s found by Constantine. This issue splits its attention between the present day and the past, as Bruce remembers moments lost from his childhood – including the implication that Thomas Wayne had been having an affair, and the long-forgotten memories of a spooky demonic girl who visited Bruce frequently, even before his parents were shot.

The concept that Batman: Damned #1 seems to be working with is that Batman has been surrounded by supernatural forces all his life and has not fully confronted them. However, that becomes impossible when Joker is found dead in the Gotham river. This concept is the core of the series, but it oddly doesn’t really play too much into the story. Joker is dead, and Batman is trying to figure out if it’s for real this time. But I found that the least engrossing part of this issue. Instead, I was fascinated by the interplay between Batman and Constantine. Azzarello is perfectly suited to Vertigo-style writing, and this is probably the most authentic Constantine we’ve seen in the DCU. Constantine is not the only DCU magical player in the series, and Lee Bermejo’s depiction of Deadman is horrific – a skinless spectre lurking just out of view. A cameo of Zatanna as a street hustler conning random citizens and lurking around the background of Batman’s story is puzzling but intriguing. There’s a lot of different elements at play here, and this feels more like a slow-burn mystery. As the issue comes to a close, full of horrifying visuals and mysteries, it’s clear that DC has a new line full of promise. If Black Label continues to explore the darker side of its heroes with this style and none of the cheap exploitation associated with many “mature readers” lines, DC could have something special here.

Batman faces his demons. Credit to DC Comics.

Corrina: When DC says “darker” takes, they mean no-light, pitch-black, grim and gritty takes.

Batman: Damned #1 certainly delivers on that promise.

However, whether you’ll enjoy it or not depends on whether these grittier versions are something you enjoy and  whether you enjoy Azzarello’s style of writing. Which means while I can see the quality, especially in Bermejo’s fantastic work in the use of dark and light and shadows and brightness, the story left me cold. (Note: Azzarello’s original run on Batman some years back was not to my taste either.)

Additionally, I’m not quite sure how much grittier this book is than the regular Batman title, which featured the massacre of an entire wedding party just so the Joker could play with Batman and Catwoman’s minds, and thenwas quickly forgotten, except for a one-issue follow-up in Batgirl. Or, you know, Batman #55 today. (which I won’t spoil here.)

Batman: Damned, however, seems to promise that darkness will be explored in full detail, rather than being used for a one-off issue, and that’s potentially interesting. Constantine’s presence also adds something unique.

In short, this series is well-written, gorgeously drawn, and dark as hell. It’s not heroic and there’s a lack of hope. If that’s something you desire in a Batman book, this is for you.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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