Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Batman: Damned #1 by Brian Azzarello - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: The Joker is dead.

There is no doubt about that. But whether Batman finally snapped his scrawny neck or some other sinister force in Gotham City did the deed is still a mystery.

Problem is, Batman can’t remember…and the more he digs into this labyrinthian case, the more his mind starts to doubt everything he’s uncovering.

So who better to set him straight than…John Constantine? 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 bimonthly super-natural horror story told by two of comics’ greatest modern creators—a visceral thrill-ride that proudly puts the “black” in BLACK LABEL.

I love Batman and I've also enjoyed Brian Azzarello's books over the years, so when I saw Batman: Damned #1, I naturally took the opportunity to read it. I was intrigued by the premise: The Joker is dead, and Batman has no memory of how it happened or if he was involved. In the meantime, something mysterious or otherworldly is "haunting" Batman and he can't seem to get his mind straight. Enter John Constantine, the master of the supernatural, who tells Batman he can help him. However, with Constantine there always seems to be a catch. Mixing those two characters together has a lot of potential.

First, the artwork by Lee Bermejo fits this story perfectly. It is atmospheric and moody, and there are little hints of hallucinations around the edges. It really sets the stage for Azzarello's writing. And the writing is pretty good, too. Because this is a limited series, Azzarello drops us right into the story without any explanation, just some mysterious images and a narrator who can't seem to speak in anything but riddles and veiled references. We have to muddle our way through (not a bad thing), much like Batman has to do as he's faced with his past and the apparent death of the Joker. Constantine is his usual smart-mouthed self, always just a little untrustworthy.

I don't feel like Azzarello is trying to do anything new with Batman, in a character sense, but he's definitely putting him through his paces. My initial feeling is that this story is driven by the mystery of what happened to the Joker and whatever Batman's role in that was. And I'm alright with that. If I want more character-focused pieces, I can check out the mainstream Batman books. I'm curious enough about this story that I don't need any of that to keep me reading. In fact, the way this issue ends is enough to get me waiting for the next one.

Two things you should know about Batman: Damned, though. One, it is apparently a sequel (at least of sorts) to a book Azzarello and Bermejo wrote a number of years ago called The Joker. I'm fairly sure I read it, but I don't really remember much of it. It might be beneficial to those wanting some background on this story. Second, this book is the first from DC Comic's new Black Label, which will tell out of continuity stories that are more mature or horror-tinged in nature. If that's not really your thing, this book and imprint might not appeal to you.

I liked Batman: Damned #1 by Brian Azzarello. It was interesting, intriguing, and confusing in a good way. At this point, I'm curious about where he is going to take Batman and just how Constantine fits in with it all. I would recommend it to Batman fans who are looking for something a little different from the norm.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

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