Batman: Damned #2
We return to the twisted world of Batman: Damned in this second installment to find Bruce and John Constantine still hot on the case of the "death" of The Joker. Their search takes them deep into the Gotham underground where Bruce encounters the enigmatic Jason Blood, aka MC Etrigan. Escaping the Demon with no new information, Gotham erupts in a wave of explosions and violence seemingly signed by the Clown Prince of Crime. Diving into a burning building to save bystanders, Bruce has a curious encounter with The Spectre before being rescued by Etrigan, leading to yet another mysterious encounter with Enchantress. Finally, the final confrontation with The Joker proves to actually be a fight with a lost and mourning Harley Quinn begging to be put out of her misery over the loss of her Puddin'.
The spiral into darkness with this series marks it clearly as “not your father’s Batman” but not in a bad way, necessarily, although quite odd and somewhat unsettling. As the marquee title for DC’s new Black Label, Azzarello and Bermejo manage to harness all of the Dark in Dark Knight to include a bevy of magical characters, slightly twisted, to suit the line’s mature themes.
Two sequences were particularly jarring to this effect. First, the continuation of the disgrace of Thomas Wayne takes something of a “sacred calf” in DC canon and contorts it into a unique plot device for the World’s Greatest Detective, establishing a characterized and nuanced relationship between young Bruce and his soon-to-be departed parents in a way never imagined by most. This dark turn for Bruce’s childhood, to include an apparently long-standing relationship with Enchantress, includes Thomas and Martha as complicit in shaping the darkness that surrounds Batman rather than merely catalyst for the transformation.
A later sequence involving Harley Quinn evokes a deeply disturbing pyscho-analytical look at psychosis and the relationship between Batman and The Joker. Mourning the death of The Joker, Quinn goes on a rampage that culminates in her briefly besting Bruce on a rooftop and beginning to engage in a transposed rape fantasy rooted in what appears to be a past trauma with The Joker’s refusal to accept ‘no’ as an answer. The “Black Mirror”/two sides of the same coin comparisons between Batman and The Joker extend back decades, but here in seeing Harley in the throes of a pure, uncut deathwish attempting to take Bruce as a surrogate for her lover/father/creator marks the relationship between the two even more disturbing.
Finally, the book goes to great lengths to take known and established characters in the “Dark” line of DC mysticism and tweak them to fit the tone of the title in various fascinating ways. How it is that nobody before thought to turn Etrigan, a rhyming-class demon, into a rapper, is completely beyond me. We see a street magician version of Zatanna, a Boston Brand/Deadman who is addicted to possession because he is addicted to feeling, and an unhinged Spectre thriving in flames in this series so far with likely more appearances to come. Each of these interpretations is a deviation from classic renditions yet still frightfully true to the essence of the characters. Moreover, many of the liberties taken in Batman: Damned seem to revolve around notions of addiction, be it feel, touch, power– something I look forward to looking at more in depth upon the series conclusion with issue #3.
Batman: Damned is not a book for everybody, but with stunning art and provocative themes, it is sure to delight many long-time readers, particularly those who grew up in the Vertigo heyday.
Batman: Damned #2: We All Float Down Here
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 7/107/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 9/109/10
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