FROM THE PUBLISHER: The Joker has been murdered. His killer is a mystery. Batman is the World's Greatest Detective. But what happens when the person he is searching for is the man staring back at him in the mirror?
With no memory of the events of the previous night, Batman is going to need some help. So who better to set him straight than John Constantine? The problem with that is as much as John loves a good mystery, he loves messing with people's heads even more. So with John's "help," the pair will delve into the sordid underbelly of Gotham as they race toward the mind-blowing truth of who murdered The Joker.
Batman: Damned is a visceral thrill-ride and supernatural horror story told by two of comics' greatest modern creators, Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo.
Well... I’ll be...
wait for it...Damned!
The highly controversial and much anticipated story from brilliant writer Brian Azzarello and equally fantastic artist Lee Bermejo has come to an end with the release of its third and final issue. This is their fifth collaboration and easily their most “out there” offering. It’s part of DC’s newer Black Label line of books which are meant to be stand-alone stories and more mature in tone. Damned was the first book in this new line and you’ve likely only heard about Batman’s shadowy anatomy when someone talks about it. However, if it were Selina Kyle or Harley Quinn’s body being shown off even without shadows no one would’ve blinked an eye. But, that’s a conversation for another time. Onto the review!
The book is comprised of three issues like I mentioned, Batman spends each one seemingly going crazier and crazier as he tries to solve the murder of the Joker. There’s a semi-large cast of characters here making some appearances to help flesh everything out like Constantine, Swamp Thing, and Harley Quinn to name a few. This isn’t your typical version Batman tale though as per the spirit of Black Label. We are treated to some truly dark moments and seeing him so vulnerable is kinda new. We are transported from location to location trying to figure out what happened to his nemesis. I feel like it’s written in a way to draw the reader into the madness too, you’re right there with him as things make less and less sense.
That said, the basic plot of the book is fine. It does the job. However, it’s everything around it that I have problems with. The first issue flows well enough and is paced all right I guess. The story features a very heavy narration and it isn’t from Batman, he’s fairly quiet in comparison. Constantine, however, never shuts up. He is the narrator of the book and it really is a lot to process. I actually found it distracting and just too much at times. I would’ve rather just enjoyed the gorgeous art without a lot of the dialogue. It’s also hard to actually see the text properly in some spots which didn’t help my enjoyment of the book. There isn’t even a ton that happens in the first issue, it’s purely set up. The big take away from issue #1, for me anyway, is that Constantine takes getting used to and that’s if you do get used to it at all. I sorta did. I use the word “sorta” lightly by the way.
Azzarello and Bermejo usually take characters, well known or lesser, and make them their own. I’m usually cool with that. Then in the second issue, we meet Etrigan the Demon rapping on a stage as Batman ventures into an underground club. If I had to compare this version to something or someone, I’d say it was like an evil and demented version of Eminem. Yes, the same rapper of “My Name Is” and “Stan” fame. So, there’s that. If you hated Jared Leto’s Joker, wait until you get a load of this. There’s also a background story featuring Bruce’s childhood and the relationship his parents had. That’s another interesting choice made by Azzarello.
The second issue establishes that Bruce and the Enchantress have a very strange relationship of their own too. I actually thought these bits were interesting and kind of fun in a way. They were fairly bizarre but it’s Enchantress so it’s fine. Really, I’d like to see a book that explores the ideas that are presented there. It could be a very cool story! Actually, that’s sums up a lot of stuff in Damned. I’ll elaborate later. Harley makes an appearance too, initially it’s awesome and then it’s weird...yeah, it’s just weird.
The third and final issue starts with a puzzling opening and doesn’t let up from there. It’s by far the issue that’ll have you scratching your head the most. It tries to tie up all the loose ends while Batman does his best to crack the case. Its brought down though by all the extra stuff going on around him when all you really care about is the mystery at hand. This will contradict what I just said but it should be mentioned anyway. Swamp Thing is unquestionably the highlight of the third book, he’s in great form and is familiar which I was really happy to see.
The conclusion to the story as a whole is a bit vague which I believe was the intention. I think they wanted you to think about the ending and discuss your theories with other people. It’s not a bad strategy really but it isn’t one I see really paying off with Damned. I believe there’s a reason you didn’t hear much about this book from DC, I don’t think it has anything to do with the shadowy Bat nudity. If anything, that helped sell it better than it would’ve without. It was near impossible to get a copy of #1 at a local comic store after the first day it was released. But, I don’t think that was the reason for the radio silence from DC.
It just isn’t a very good book. It’s overstuffed with all these ideas ranging from good to awful and some unnecessary use of characters thrown in to make matters worse, there’s more cameos I didn’t even mention by the way. This, in my opinion, would’ve been better as a solo Batman story without so many extra characters popping in and out. Maybe just Batman, Harley, and Gordon or something. Like I mentioned before, I would read a Batman & Enchantress story. I’d also read something where Batman teams up with any one of these characters or has a run-in with them in this continuity. But this packed mess just doesn’t work for me. There’s just too much going on and it doesn’t come together well enough or at all. I read the first book and they had my interest but I was hoping it’d get better. It actually got worse with every following issue.
There is a redeeming aspect to Damned though. The art is jaw dropping, it’s gorgeous. Lee Bermejo is my favorite artist working today and he was the reason I even wanted this book. He definitely didn’t drop the ball in his department. Every page is beautiful. I may have not liked the characterization of Etrigan but damn(ed) he looked awesome. He even made Enchantress look cool using her meth addict look from Suicide Squad. I love the level of detail he works into every page, he’s such a consistently great artist. The failures of this book aren’t Lee’s fault when it comes to his art. He completely delivered there.
Overall though, this is a book that’s extremely hard to recommend. If you’ve read Joker or Lex Luthor, you know these two make an amazing team. The writing and art go together so well in both of those. This outing is extremely one sided though. You’re basically buying an art book. Is that worth the price? Up to you. It really pains me to give it this rating because I love their previous works together and I’m such a huge fan of Lee, I wanted to love it. I really wanted to give this an enthusiastic Gotta Go! rating.
But, it is what it is.
RATING: DON’T GO!
One of my earliest memories is watching Tim Burton’s Batman and absolutely loving it. I was instantly hooked on anything Batman and later other comic related stuff too especially the X-Men. As a kid, I was already trying to fancast my own X-Men film. Y'know...now that l think about it, not much has really changed.