Batman: Damned #1
DISCLAIMER: If you’ve come looking for Batawang pictures and jokes, this article is not what you’re looking for.
At its core, Batman: Damned is a multifold mystery. The debut issue of DC’s new “Black Label” is a mature reader, magazine-format comics story set in a non-canonical Gotham City. Because of this fact, there is a quite a bit of latitude to toy with the character in a number of new and interesting ways.
The story opens with a fatally wounded Batman in the back of an ambulance. After Bruce “escapes”, he flees like a wounded animal, eventually to be rescued by none other than John “Con Job” Constantine, who is inexplicably being haunted by Boston Brand, The Deadman. Constantine, with the help of a live news broadcast, informs Bats that a body matching The Joker was found dead in Hobson Bay, sparking the mystery of “Who killed Joker?” Bruce must deal first with his own mysteries, however, as he returns to the Batcave to discover there are no signs of his stab wounds that nearly cost him his life.
Throughout the issue, readers are treated to a number of flashbacks to Bruce’s childhood that paints a less-than-Rockwell portrait of his father, Thomas Wayne, and Thomas’ relationship to Martha Wayne, Bruce’s mother. These sequences strongly hint at the notion that Thomas was cheating on Martha, but also have an odd-inclusion of a Suicide Squad movie version of The Enchantress interacting with Bruce throughout his childhood and up to his pre-Batman moment.
The issue concludes with Batman, after an undercover encounter with a street-magician version of Zatanna, meeting Constantine in a church seeking answers for the Joker murder. In the church, the large center-piece crucifix has been defaced with Joker imagery, prompting the question of whether or not Joker is dead, and perhaps whether or not an idea like the Joker can die.
In any great – and I mean, truly great—mystery, a simple whodunit? is insufficient. While the case at hand often drives the narrative events, the question of what the story is really about always seems to linger. Often these types of mystery narratives employ a tragic hero on a journey to learn more about themselves through working the case, and if there is a better tragic detective in literary history than Batman, I haven’t encountered them yet. Azzarello has often in his career written characters and stories along these lines; he thrives on tales where the big picture stays slightly out of focus until some crucial moment down the road when every dot connects into a twisted piece of modern art. Azzarello even warns readers that the story is not all it seems by having our narrator, Constantine, bluntly announce himself an unreliable narrator.
For these reasons, reading Batman: Damned #1 can present itself as a scattered story, difficult to follow and perhaps even more difficult to predict (although fellow Comic Watcher John Jack and I have a running theory that seems viable). If you aren’t familiar with some of Azzarello’s other work, the writing here can feel somewhat cumbersome, and to an extent, I agree, but I have learned over the years to stick with it because the payoff is usually well worth the price of admission.
Even if you struggled with the writing, however, the absolute stunning quality of Lee Bermejo’s art should propel you through the story with a jaw-dropping pace. From the muscle and sinew details of Deadman to the foreshadowing image of a dead bat, Bermejo’s museum-quality art is something sure to resonate with almost any fan of comics, regardless of any full-frontal exposure.
On that topic, what a curious double-standard we find in comics fandom. While there have been movements regarding the hyper-sexualization of women in comics, the medium still is rife with strangely proportioned female characters placed in obviously provocative poses to prey on the rampant hormones of a fan-base that was dominantly in their early teen years in the early 1990s. The two panels that featured the flaccid cartoon penis were not sexualized other than by their simple existence, and in fact seem to play directly into the narrative, as we progress to see a naked and vulnerable Bruce Wayne afraid of his own Shadow.
Not a perfect book, but an excellent start to a series and an imprint that each contains an infinite amount of potential moving forward. Even if you have to get a censored copy, I highly recommend picking this book up.
Batman: Damned #1: And There Was Also a Story
Writing - 7/10
Storyline - 6/10
Art - 10/10
Color - 9/10
Cover Art - 9/10
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