Batman: Damned
Medium: comic
Year: 2018
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Keywords: Black Label, superhero
Format: 3-issue DC Black Label mini-series
Series: << Batman >>
Website category: Batman
Review date: 12 July 2023
batman damned
I found it pretty, but boring. Bermejo's painted art is gorgeous (even if his Constantine doesn't resemble the one in my head), but I don't rate its narrative highly enough to even call this a story. Batman meanders around Gotham, meeting supernatural DC characters (John Constantine, the Spectre, Etrigan, Deadman, Zatanna, Swamp Thing and the Enchantress). Also, briefly, what looks like a Weeping Angel.
The Joker's dead. (Azzarello calls this a "quasi-sequel to Joker", his 2008 Joker-centric graphic novel.) Theoretically, Batman's trying to find out why... but in practice he's just doing the rounds of DC's oddballs, like a mildly horror-themed take on Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic. Constantine doesn't really seem to be doing anything until the end. An undead-looking Enchantress follows Batman around as if she's haunting him. Etrigan is actually somewhat sinister. The Spectre is barely recognisable, if that is really him. (That might just as easily be some random homeless guy in a hood.) Swamp Thing is cool, but again doesn't really do anything.
We learn that Bruce Wayne's father was cheating on his mother and that their marriage was in trouble. Uh-huh. Not sure what that really adds. I'm certainly not familiar with it from other Batman stories.
The ending is bollocks. (The kind word is "ambiguous".) Our heroes time-travel back to the past and Constantine shoots someone who can't die, but does. Maybe. If you choose to interpret it that way. Apparently this is "killing your past". Batman is either dead, or alive, or a dissipating ghost, or whatever the hell you want. The Joker is either ditto or a homage to The Killing Joke or... look, I don't care.
The book was massively controversial. Was it the trying-so-hard-that-nobody-cares end of the first issue? (Jesus on the cross has been made up to look like the Joker.) No, of course not. Was it the scene where Batman's naked and you see his penis? Yup, that's the one. There will always be fans who need to get a life, but it would be nice to hope that a stronger book could have made people talk about something meaningful. DC didn't take this well and the Bat-schlong is censored in all reprints, including the graphic collection I bought.
This book lost me. It barely has a story. It's just a bunch of stuff that happens, which is mostly "Batman meets another cameo character". That said, though, the artwork's so spectacular that you could easily lose yourself in the book on a page-by-page level and just try to enjoy it for the atmosphere. Bermejo was genuinely trying to create art, not a commercial product, and he's since said this about it:
"Still, I am proud that we tried something a bit risky with the story and the structure of the book. While it's very divisive as a project, I think it does things no other Batman comic [does]. It certainly deserves a place in the greater pantheon of that character."
I'd agree that this is a brave piece of work. I could imagine someone rereading it repeatedly and teasing forth whatever interpretation they chose to find. It's rich and strange enough for that. Batman-Joker as a tragic love story? Yup, sure. (Harley's here too.) Batman's relationship with death and the afterlife? Absolutely. Possibly even extending that to his de facto real-life immortality as one of DC's most valuable intellectual properties, contrasted with often-distorted portrayals of other DC intellectual properties? You could probably find a reading about that too. This isn't so much a narrative as a Rorschach blot.