Batman: Damned #1

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover Artist: Lee Bermejo
Publisher: DC Comics

Review by Nico Sprezzatura

If you’ve ever wanted to see what Batman’s dick officially looks like, then this week’s Batman: Damned #1 is the comic for you!

All jokes aside, the Batdick in this comic is pretty good shorthand for what to expect from the (newly-minted) Black Label imprint at DC. Announced earlier this year, Black Label will be an outlet for more adult-oriented titles that exist in their own worlds, separate from main DC continuity. Batman: Damned (from Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo) is, effectively, Black Label’s mission statement.

But what’s it about? The quick answer is this: when the Joker seemingly turns up dead in Gotham, it’s up to Batman (and our narrator, John Constantine) to investigate the murder. But this version of Bruce Wayne is a bit… off. He’s not the stoic, collected Batman we all know. This one is frazzled, paranoid (well, even more than usual) and worst of all, he’s seeing things. Bad things. As we learn throughout the issue, his upbringing wasn’t all roses, and that’s only partly due to his parents’ fraught marriage. Needless to say, this isn’t your daddy’s Batman. It’s not even your Batman!

Because Batman’s whole deal is well-trodden ground by now, you can have countless elseworlds like the one depicted here, which presents a unique challenge: how do you differentiate this Batman from all the Batmen who exist? By going full, psychological horror, Azzarello and Bermejo might have found their answer. Batman: Damned #1 isn’t an easy read, and I’d hardly even call it an enjoyable one at that. Which isn’t to say it’s bad — it’s just a lot to process, before and after reading.

I think I’m more invested in Bermejo’s art than Azzarello’s script here. Batman: Damned looks beautiful, in all its bloody, grotesque glory. Bermejo manages to strike a balance between “gross” and “pretty” that really suits the book’s premise. I particularly love his rendering of Deadman, whose usual red, high-collared garb is replaced by exposed musculature here. It’s just all very upsetting visuals across the board, and I mean that as a good thing. Bermejo and Azzarello previously worked together on the 2008 Joker graphic novel, and you can tell they’re very much in-sync with the book’s vision.

I also like letterer Jared K. Fletcher’s approach to Constantine’s narration, set plainly (and unboxed) above panels in serif typeface. It gets a little hard to read in spots where the contrast isn’t very dark, but it works more often than not, and it adds a lot to Bermejo’s art when placed together. If anything else, Batman: Damned has a look.

But as I mentioned, the story itself is kind of hard to parse this early into the game, and I’m not always the biggest fan of deluging this darkly with characters just because you can. A character like Batman’s darkness is certainly earned —especially in comparison to the likes of Superman, or The Flash— but sometimes it can feel like a bit much. Whether or not that applies to Batman: Damned #1 remains to be seen.

The Verdict: Wait and see.

Boasting fantastic art and an intriguing premise, Batman: Damned #1 suggests a spooky Dark Knight tale that may be worth following.

Nico Sprezzatura
Nico Frank Sprezzatura, middle name optional. 24. Schrödinger's writer.

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