Writer(s): Brian Azzarello.
Artist(s): Lee Bermejo.
Letterer(s): Jared K. Fletcher.
Publisher: DC Comics.
Format: Oversized Hardcover.
Release Date: September 10th 2019.
Genre(s): Comics, Science-Fiction.
My Overall Rating: ★★☆☆☆.
The DC Black Label imprint allows world-class authors and artists to write stand-alone stories featuring classic DC characters. To inaugurate this imprint, the first story to embrace the logo features two exciting creators who have accomplished incredible stories on their own and now look to stun the world with a dark and horrifying tale centered around Batman. Unfortunately, a controversy surges from this story and it is nothing more irrelevant as the open portrayal of Bruce Wayne’s penis. While it almost sounds like a joke, this issue has led the company to act quickly, considering this content too mature for its audience. DC thus decided to quickly act upon this revelation and to censor it from any future edition, including this edition. This news has unfortunately tainted the graphic novel and gave this story the burden to try and overcome this obstacle despite the tough start. While fans will hope that the story will speak for itself, it isn’t one that will unanimously please everyone.
What is Batman: Damned about? Gravely injured, Batman looks for help as he crawls his way through Gotham until an unexpected helping hand reaches for him and pulls him out of his despair. It’s none other than John Constantine and he isn’t here to make Batman’s life any easier. Having no memory of the night before, Bruce Wayne now discovers that a man was murdered, one who was considered a monster who has brought terror to Gotham and took so many lives out of pure pleasure: the Joker. As the World’s Greatest Detective, Batman looks to find out who killed the Clown Prince of Gotham but runs into more trouble along the way as he embarks on an internal psychological battle where his purpose is questioned. As they both delve into the sordid underbelly of Gotham, they also encounter a couple of allies who could either lead them in the right direction or right into a truth that Batman is not ready to confront.
This stand-alone story missed its mark and to dissect it would be to overthink it when the final product should’ve had a better foundation and a clearer direction in the first place. While it could easily be seen as a sequel to Brian Azzarello’s Joker, it still remains the first original story arc to launch the DC Black Label imprint, one that is as dark and supernatural as it could ever get in Gotham. Split into three issues, this miniseries allows writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo to utilize characters often associated with the Justice League Dark while mooring them around Batman. Sadly, none of the characters that are shoehorned into the story know any form of character development and solely relish from an elegant artistic portrayal by Lee Bermejo.
Throughout the story, readers are subjugated to Batman’s inner turmoil as he plunges into madness and loses control on reality—which leads the reader to often wonder if they’re in front of hallucinations or not. While it is a treat to watch supernatural elements being infused into Batman’s existence, it struggles to find relevance as it dissolves with the dreams, hallucinations and abstract imagery that is intended to bring him to reflect on his purpose as the Dark Knight. In fact, the whole story tries to help him ponder on his control over fear by thus looking at his lack of control on it. While the idea is interesting, the execution is lackluster.
It is indeed fascinating to watch Bruce Wayne go through some of the strongest emotions he has had to suppress throughout his legacy, especially fear. However, we’re also confronted with tangent issues within the plot where hypersexualized female characters make brief appearances with no real purpose, where heroes that delve in magical and mythical lore appear and disappear to only remind us of their existence and nothing more, and where a narrator (John Constantine) who speaks in puns and disorienting maxims steers the reader away from any possibility of understanding what is going on.
Fortunately, the artwork is the driving force of this graphic novel and it is no surprise. Artist Lee Bermejo is one of the best at what he does as he draws an astonishingly realistic and grim Gotham, drenched in a colour scheme that is beyond impressive, as well as some of the best character designs in the industry—although the hypersexualization is unnecessary. How he successfully blends the supernatural with Gotham’s landscape is stunning. One conveys the natural menace of criminals while the other illustrates the intangible oddity from the realm of magic. There’s a compact colouring that occurs for either Batman’s shadow or blood that feels like a juxtaposition on the general art, seeming a bit too radical of a contrast. Some of the lettering done is also questionable, especially when directly integrated with the art, making it a bit less appealing. However, the tone throughout the volume remains constant and marvelous.
Batman: Damned is a visually-dazzling supernatural horror story that attempts to grope its way to some form of cohesion without any guideline as it delves deeps into the mind of the Dark Knight.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!
I usually don’t share book trailers but I thought it would be fun to share this one! I usually find misleading as non-readers end up thinking that there’s a new show or movie in the work. Ha!