The creative team behind the graphic novel Joker, Brian Azzarello (Wonder Woman and 100 Bullets) and Lee Bermejo (Batman: Noel and Conan the Slayer), kick DC’s Black Label off with a dark and beautiful story of doubts and demons that is Batman: Damned #1. This isn’t just a Batman story, but also a John Constantine story, with appearances by Deadman and Zatanna, as well. This book poses the question, “What would happen if the Joker died?” and answers that question with a supernatural whodunnit mystery that could crack the mythos of Batman.
An early twist in the issue is that Batman isn’t the narrator; Constantine is. At the beginning of this issue, like with any Batman issue, one would assume he’s narrating the issue (courtesy of Jared K. Fletcher’s astonishing letter work), but he’s not. We’re offered no insights into what Batman is thinking, or what he’s going through, just Constantine’s opinion and ramblings; that makes the story all the more interesting. With this unreliable narrator, the reader will be led one way as Batman goes another (making the story less predictable than your average Batman tale).
Lee Bermejo’s art and Fletcher’s lettering remind me of Sam Keith’s work on The Sandman, but grittier and more realistic. Paradoxically, that style only works to compliment the surreal aspects of the story. The flow of the book feels like a dream, or a nightmare, come to life, one where you aren’t sure just what you’ll see next. The new designs on Zatanna (in a street clothes version of her usual look) and Deadman (a mix of a ghost and a corpse) are poignant homages to their classic designs, while still carrying the edge of this more mature book. Then, there’s the awesome Batsuit design; it seems like a mix of the suit from the Christopher Nolan movies and a more classic Batman appearance. The Bat symbol is styled from a metal plate in the center, and the cowl shows only his eyes, so we can still get an idea of how Batman is reacting. In fact, Batman’s body language is practically the only thing that clues us in to what he’s thinking in the entire issue, and Bermejo shows that with each page.
So, I went back and picked up this book, after hearing about the scandal with Batman’s full frontal nudity. Personally, it feels like an overreaction, since this was a mature book under DC’s new Black Label imprint. It is definitely not the first time a penis has been shown in a comic book, with popular examples being Alan Moore’s Watchmen and James Robinson’s Airboy. Truth be told, on my first read-through, I didn’t even notice his penis; the supernatural aspects of the story kept me too engaged. It is a story in which Batman deals with things he usually does not touch, like magic, demons and the unknown. There is beautifully realistic art that is almost unsettling in detail. In all, Batman: Damned #1 is the horror/ superhero/ supernatural/ thriller I didn’t know I needed. It’s a pleasant change of pace from what the other Bat books are doing and I hope the other Black Label series live up to the book.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Oh, is this a bio? I better tell people who I am and what I do, right? Well, that’s easy I’ll just explain that I’m a writer of sorts who goes under the alias of Nobody, but my friends call me Kade, because that’s my name. I’m a student working on a degree in creative writing.