BATMAN: DAMNED #1 by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
BATMAN: DAMNED #1 is an incredible opening salvo for DC's Black Label. While some of its nightmarish plot gets a bit confusing, the overall atmosphere, pacing, and art are absolutely incredible.
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Many things define the Dark Knight. The symbol, the cape, the “ears” of his mask, and the eternal brooding. However, very few things define Batman more than his villains. What happens, then, when his greatest enemy dies? Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo set out to answer that question in BATMAN: DAMNED #1. In this dark and gritty introduction to DC’s Black Label, the Joker has perished. Signs point to the Dark Knight, but with no memory of the night, Batman has to investigate the cause of his archenemy’s death. Quickly, though, Batman discovers that dark forces are at work within the city. He will need the help of John Constantine and Deadman if he ever wants to survive this nightmare.

Into Darkness

BATMAN: DAMNED #1 page 1. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

BATMAN: DAMNED #1 is an absolute nightmare. A brilliantly creepy, twisted, and psychologically demented nightmare, and I absolutely loved every second of it. From page one, Azzarello had me on the edge of my seat with this narrative. The investigation itself still has some room to grow. With the nightmarish, dream-like quality of this story, it has a few moments where confusion sets in. It almost feels like Azzarello wanted to craft a supernatural version of the 2000 film MEMENTO. He gets close to that same trippy, psychological feel, but he does miss the mark on a few occasions. Some of the transitions aren’t wholly clear but, in the end, none of this really mattered.

I loved BATMAN: DAMNED #1. It was such an excitingly dark and interesting narrative. Azzarello fascinated me with this story’s atmosphere. So many writers don’t quite capture the right feel for Gotham. It should feel like a grungy, rat-infested hellhole. Azzarello and Bermejo do this immediately with their story and art. From page one, Constantine’s narration adds a unique tongue and cheek nature to the proceedings and, through his lens, we truly get to see how horrifying Gotham really is. In this city, every nightmare becomes possible. When John Constantine is disgusted with a place, you know for a fact not to spend your vacation there. More importantly, this story unfolds at a tense, rapid-fire pace that truly expresses the intense drama of this situation.

A Tormented Hero

BATMAN: DAMNED #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

BATMAN: DAMNED #1 doesn’t exist in the DC Universe proper. This means that, in terms of character, Azzarello is starting from square one. He has a lot of room to experiment, but he also has a lot of ground to make up. What separates this version of Bruce Wayne from his mainstream counterpart? Azzarello mostly succeeds in establishing this. Glimpsing into Bruce’s nightmares, viewing his twisted childhood memories, definitely helps with this characterization. Still, I never felt like I truly got to know this version of Bruce Wayne. This will likely change in future issues, but I just couldn’t quite connect with this character. I appreciated the way Azzarello captured his emotions. Seeing this typically unbeatable character so vulnerable is really cool. However, I just needed a touch more on his personality.

I can’t say the same thing for John Constantine. I loved Azzarello’s choice to have Constantine narrate this entire installment. For one, the London sorcerer has a bit more in-depth knowledge of what’s currently happening in Gotham. He provides a great deal of perspective and world-building throughout the issue. More importantly, though, Constantine simply has a massive personality. He has an interesting voice that adds a lot to this story. Also, Constantine largely saves the characterization of this story. While we don’t learn a lot about Batman from specific moments throughout, it’s incredible to hear that outside perspective. Getting to know what Constantine thinks about the big, bad Bat gives this story a whole new incredible dimension.

Bermejo Paints the Damned

BATMAN: DAMNED #1 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The true star of BATMAN: DAMNED #1, though, isn’t Azzarello’s incredible writing. Rather, that honor belongs to artist Lee Bermejo. Bermejo’s artwork is simply incredible. The utter gritty realism that he creates is simply astounding. He absolutely nails the horror and atmosphere necessary for this story.

I especially enjoyed the new character designs that he brought to this Elseworlds narrative. This Batman suit design is incredibly complex and realistic, and I loved Bermejo’s take on Deadman. He almost stepped away from a straight costume for Boston Brand and instead made him a skinless amalgamation of white bones and red muscle. It’s horrifying in absolutely the best ways.

BATMAN: DAMNED #1: Final Thoughts

I was both excited and skeptical when DC first announced its Black Label initiative. It seemed like a potential money grabbing scheme at first, a way to use their biggest names to draw in readership. How wrong I was. BATMAN: DAMNED #1 shows the incredible potential of this new line of Elseworlds tales. The passion and energy Azzarello and Bermejo put into this story is palpable. It may have a few issues in its characterization and narrative but overall this is an awesome, creepy, and dramatic story wholly worth your attention. With this release, I cannot wait to see what else the Black Label has in store!

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