Batman: Damned by Brian Azzarello

details
Title: Batman.
Story-arc: Damned.
Writer(s): Brian Azzarello.
Artist(s): Lee Bermejo.
Letterer(s): Jared K. Fletcher.
Publisher: DC Comics.
Format: Oversized Hardcover.
Release Date: September 10th 2019.
Pages: 176.
Genre(s): Comics, Science-Fiction.
ISBN13: 9781401291402.
My Overall Rating: ★★☆☆☆.

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The DC Black Label imprint allows world-class authors and artists to write stand-alone stories featuring classic DC characters. To inaugurate this imprint, the first story to embrace the logo features two exciting creators who have accomplished incredible stories on their own and now look to stun the world with a dark and horrifying tale centered around Batman. Unfortunately, a controversy surges from this story and it is nothing more irrelevant as the open portrayal of Bruce Wayne’s penis. While it almost sounds like a joke, this issue has led the company to act quickly, considering this content too mature for its audience. DC thus decided to quickly act upon this revelation and to censor it from any future edition, including this edition. This news has unfortunately tainted the graphic novel and gave this story the burden to try and overcome this obstacle despite the tough start. While fans will hope that the story will speak for itself, it isn’t one that will unanimously please everyone.

What is Batman: Damned about? Gravely injured, Batman looks for help as he crawls his way through Gotham until an unexpected helping hand reaches for him and pulls him out of his despair. It’s none other than John Constantine and he isn’t here to make Batman’s life any easier. Having no memory of the night before, Bruce Wayne now discovers that a man was murdered, one who was considered a monster who has brought terror to Gotham and took so many lives out of pure pleasure: the Joker. As the World’s Greatest Detective, Batman looks to find out who killed the Clown Prince of Gotham but runs into more trouble along the way as he embarks on an internal psychological battle where his purpose is questioned. As they both delve into the sordid underbelly of Gotham, they also encounter a couple of allies who could either lead them in the right direction or right into a truth that Batman is not ready to confront.

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This stand-alone story missed its mark and to dissect it would be to overthink it when the final product should’ve had a better foundation and a clearer direction in the first place. While it could easily be seen as a sequel to Brian Azzarello’s Joker, it still remains the first original story arc to launch the DC Black Label imprint, one that is as dark and supernatural as it could ever get in Gotham. Split into three issues, this miniseries allows writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo to utilize characters often associated with the Justice League Dark while mooring them around Batman. Sadly, none of the characters that are shoehorned into the story know any form of character development and solely relish from an elegant artistic portrayal by Lee Bermejo.

Throughout the story, readers are subjugated to Batman’s inner turmoil as he plunges into madness and loses control on reality—which leads the reader to often wonder if they’re in front of hallucinations or not. While it is a treat to watch supernatural elements being infused into Batman’s existence, it struggles to find relevance as it dissolves with the dreams, hallucinations and abstract imagery that is intended to bring him to reflect on his purpose as the Dark Knight. In fact, the whole story tries to help him ponder on his control over fear by thus looking at his lack of control on it. While the idea is interesting, the execution is lackluster.

It is indeed fascinating to watch Bruce Wayne go through some of the strongest emotions he has had to suppress throughout his legacy, especially fear. However, we’re also confronted with tangent issues within the plot where hypersexualized female characters make brief appearances with no real purpose, where heroes that delve in magical and mythical lore appear and disappear to only remind us of their existence and nothing more, and where a narrator (John Constantine) who speaks in puns and disorienting maxims steers the reader away from any possibility of understanding what is going on.

Fortunately, the artwork is the driving force of this graphic novel and it is no surprise. Artist Lee Bermejo is one of the best at what he does as he draws an astonishingly realistic and grim Gotham, drenched in a colour scheme that is beyond impressive, as well as some of the best character designs in the industry—although the hypersexualization is unnecessary. How he successfully blends the supernatural with Gotham’s landscape is stunning. One conveys the natural menace of criminals while the other illustrates the intangible oddity from the realm of magic. There’s a compact colouring that occurs for either Batman’s shadow or blood that feels like a juxtaposition on the general art, seeming a bit too radical of a contrast. Some of the lettering done is also questionable, especially when directly integrated with the art, making it a bit less appealing. However, the tone throughout the volume remains constant and marvelous.

Batman: Damned is a visually-dazzling supernatural horror story that attempts to grope its way to some form of cohesion without any guideline as it delves deeps into the mind of the Dark Knight.


EXHIBITA

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!

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I usually don’t share book trailers but I thought it would be fun to share this one! I usually find misleading as non-readers end up thinking that there’s a new show or movie in the work. Ha!

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29 thoughts on “Batman: Damned by Brian Azzarello

  1. WOW, the art is killer. I’m pretty shocked that this didn’t work so well. The art is totally spot on for the premise of a dark look at why the Dark Knight is the Dark Knight. Still if it doesn’t work then its a total waste. I’m not sure why they went the hyper sexualized route either as it seems to have tainted the purpose of the story in its entirety. I also like the idea of other heroes coming in and giving Batman their own perspective, but it seems they missed the boat on that too,.Great review Lashaan!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep. If anything, people should check out Batman: Noel where Lee Bermejo’s artwork is paired with an excellent story! I do like the idea but I feel like it missed its target here and should’ve taken more time into building it up. The hypersexualization was super unnecessary but hey… it’ll please some crowds… The other heroes who are integrated into the story are interesting but they aren’t developed enough to make it all worthwhile… Hopefully the next Azzarello story will be much better. Thank you so much for reading, Dani!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha damn! I loved the idea of Batman being conflicted and lost but when you comment on the execution and all that I get that it missed its mark! And that’s a real pity!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Coincidence: I downloaded this one right before I read your review. I’m going to see how I feel about it keeping to a plotline, but one of my pet peeves is dream sequences and how authors/ artists try to draw them.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I can totally see why people get confused when they see a trailer. Back in the day it used to be only reserved for movies; however, now, there’s a trailer for everything (a book, a game, a meeting).

    I clicked on your hyperlink regarding the controversy and went from there. If this label is meant for “adult content”, then why are they banning frontal nudity? They say it didn’t add to the story and I understand that, but did it deduct from it? I don’t think so? It’s just the messed up way of censoring nowadays. There will be no more smoking featured in Stranger Things, unless it advances the story. We know that smoking is not essential for the plot, but c’mon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly. It’s even more disappointing for superhero stuff since we have so many movies/shows for them that any trailer featuring them is quickly assocaited to movies/shows.

      And I’m totally with you. See that’s why it’s such a ridiculous controversy that had the company panicking for no good reason. Especially when you female characters showing 90% of their skin in so many comics, it makes no sense that a little bit of men nudity triggers this much of a reaction. I didn’t know about the Stranger Things and smocking thing. I’ll have to look that up now.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Uh oh and here was me thinking you’d probably love Damned…how wrong! I enjoyed it quite a bit more (you might recall my review of the first issue a while back) but it’s still great to read your thoughts on this my friend. You make some evocative points that I hadn’t really considered (i.e. the element of hypersexulization) and you really do qualify those arguments in a manner I can’t disagree with – but I did find myself engaged with “Damned” overall.

    I do wonder about the ongoing success of DC’s Black Label though as Superman: Year One sounds terrible. Maybe the forthcoming Harley Quinn mini might turn things around – and “Three Jokers” as well, whenever that eventually surfaces (Geoff Johns is every the busy man!), I’ve been looking forward to that since it was announced (Jason Fabok’s art is always a…draw).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, I remember your review for book 1 of 3. I was pretty hyped about it back then too. But man, I’m not entirely sold by the result with this compilation. I do wonder if we’ll get a “third” part to Azzarello’s stories, like something that would explore the Joker’s arc after that revelation in the story, for example.

      Same… They have been republishing some classics under the Black Label imprint too but I wonder if it’ll survive long term or die along the way. At least those you mention here sound promising and I hope they pull it off.

      Like

  6. Yeah, no. I’m not touching anything by Azzarello after that horrible money grab that was Watchmen prequels. Bermejo’s art is unique indeed, though not my favorite, by a long shot. Too dirty, in all meanings of the word 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahahaha I still need to try some of those prequels but first a reread of Watchmen is due soon, especially with the TV series coming out in October. And.. I can definitely understand for Bermejo. Did you try Batman: Noel though? I don’t remember the hypersexualization in that one though and I greatly enjoyed it for a retelling of A Christmas Carol within the Batman universe.

      Liked by 1 person

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