The Joker is dead and Batman killed him. That’s the story the local news is running with but Commissioner Gordon doesn’t believe it. Partly because the one witness is a crazed homeless man who is either off his medication or too heavily medicated. But mostly because he believes in Batman.
Batman, for his part, isn’t sure what to believe. It’s all a blur before he woke up in an ambulance as an EMT was trying to pull off his cowl. He was wounded. He was delirious. He was wanted. And just when the night couldn’t possibly get any worse, John Constantine showed up.
There’s more to this murder than meets the eye, and like it or not, The Dark Knight Detective needs help. But can he afford the rather questionable assistance that comes from dealing with The Laughing Magician? And even if he can’t, does he have any other choice?
When it was announced that DC Comics would be starting a new imprint – Black Label – exclusively for superhero stories set outside of the main continuity that could deal with more mature themes, I was a little bit skeptical. For every work like Watchmen or The Sandman that has pushed the boundaries of the comic book medium and proven that “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!”, there have been roughly 100 graphic novels published by creators for whom “mature content” means “blood, cursing and naked people.”
Brian Azzarello is one these creators, but that is not why I find most of his work distasteful. Azzarello is also one of those writers who bends established characters to fit the stories be wants to tell rather than writing stories to suit the characters. And while a writer could potentially tell some interesting stories by subverting expectations, Azzarello only seems to do it for shock value. Like a stage-magician, Azzarello uses distraction to keep your attention where he wants it. In this case, sudden curse words, surprise cameos and the shadowy outline of Bat-wang serve to distract you from the stunning secret of Batman: Damned #1 – nothing really happens in this book.
Oh. events occur, but there’s nothing that happens which seems to have anything to do with the plot as described on DC Comics’ website. Weird things happen, but there’s no indication what any of it has to do with anything, especially John Constantine’s rambling narration. The whole thing comes off like a rejected script from Azzarello’s run on Hellblazer, which centered on John Constantine wandering the United States as weird things happened and John just observed them happening, when he wasn’t using magic to troll the Muggles.
This ran completely counter to John’s previous portrayals, where what power he had was used sparingly and he was much more inclined to use his wits than a spell to get out of a jam. Come to think of it, I recall that Azzarello’s Batman stories were far more interested in the villains than The Dark Knight, with Batman coming off as something of an empty suit. I mention this because Batman: Damned has a scene where a naked Bruce Wayne literally fights an empty Bat-suit.
The damnable thing (see what I did there?) is that the artwork of this comic is as fantastic as the story is non-existent. Lee Bermejo is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Batman artists ever and he also did a great two-issue story for Hellblazer when Mike Carey was writing it. Unfortunately, his most famous works are his collaborations with Azzarello.
It is a rare thing for me, as a writer, to recommend a comic but say you should only look at the pictures. Yet that is how I suggest you handle Batman: Damned. Beremejo’s gift for storytelling is such that you can follow along with all the plot relevant portions of the story without reading the dialogue. Even the random bits seem to make a good deal more sense if you ignore the text. I’d also suggest tracking down a graphic novel called Batman: Noel – a Christmas special which Lee Bermejo wrote and painted, which is far better on every level than this Damned book.
Batman: Damned #1 releases on September 19, 2018!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.