“It’s about a fall”
The Joker is dead. A body has been pulled from the river, and Batman is bleeding out in the back of an ambulance, suffering from massive head trauma. This is not your usual Batman, this is Black Label Batman.
In the inaugural issue of the brand-new imprint from DC Comics, one of their holy trinity is left at his most vulnerable. The world of the supernatural has invaded Gotham City, and there is only one man that can help the Bat; John Constantine.
The team of writer, Brian Azzarello, and artist, Lee Bermejo, are not strangers to the Batman universe, having collaborated on the excellent Joker graphic novel some years ago, and it’s this world we dip back into, or one very much like it.
Azamejo’s Batman is one grounded in hard realism on steroids. Bermejo has spent years fine-tuning his craft, bringing a stylised realism and lived-in feel to each of his panels. His framing and composition is straight out of a Scorsese picture, and were someone to bring their books to life it would only be this man that could do the pair justice.
Azzarello also likes to keep his distance when telling tales in the Batman universe. Batman is never our narrator, he is always seen from a third-person perspective. This was used to glorious effort when Jonny Frost told the story of the Clown Prince of Crime in Joker, and it’s here that Azarello uses John Constantine.
With Bruce being so near death, he flits in and out of hallucinations of his parents coming to him. Bruce’s memories are at odds with what we know about Batman’s past. Firstly, the Enchantress haunts his memories, as does the memory of his father and his mistress, and a sinister child that could or couldn’t be everyone’s favourite clown. Only that’s not all, also in the mix is the Dead Man, a vengeful spirit that can possess the bodies of the living for a short amount of time. And if you thought that was it for DC’s supernatural cast, Zatanna is also in town to spread a little magickal chaos in the Bat’s realm.
The book is truly stunning. There are few combinations of a team better than Azzarello and Bermejo. They were the one good thing to come out of Before Watchmen, a series most people considered a blasphemy for existing, but their four-issue Rorschach series was worth it just to have those two dabble in the Watchmen universe.
It’s books like Batman: Damned that make comics still one of the greatest forms of media in the market. Each panel is gorgeous to look at, just being able to pause and take in each snapshot of this world is one of the pleasures of the book.
Azzarello is never an easy read for page skimmers. Each line, each action has been meticulously crafted and this is not a book to just flick through. This book deserves time, and it’s worth it. The larger format of Black Label do the book justice, as does the perfect binding finish on each copy.
This is a perfect launch to the Black Label, and one I hope continues. If the books are all of this quality then comic fans are in for a treat.
Batman: Damned #1 is out now in all good comic book stores priced $6.99