Batman: Damned #1 Review – Damn it
Written by: Brian Azzarello
Art by: Lee Bermejo
Pubilshed by: DC Comics
Alright ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to talk about Brian Azzarello. Brian Azzarello is one of those writers I always see everyone praising and I don’t quite get why. He’s not necessarily a bad writer, but I’ve always gotten the feeling that he writes superficially dark and gritty stories and then everyone praises him for it. He reduced the Joker to a generically crazy crime boss in his graphic novel “Joker”, completely misunderstood Superman in “Superman: For Tomorrow”, what I’ve read from “100 Bullets” tells me it’s a cliché crime drama with some more flavorful dialogue and his “Wonder Woman” run had some good designs, but was mostly kind of mediocre. So, as you can see, I’m not a fan. The only thing of his I’ve actually, genuinely liked was the miniseries “Doctor Thirteen: Architecture and Morality” which was mostly just comic book insanity and comedy.
This isn’t to say that I’m trying to denigrate anyone who likes his work or anything. I understand he has a lot of fans, and that a lot of people really find his work to be interesting and transcendent. Far be it from me to try to take that away from you. So the question really becomes, if I dislike Azzarello’s writing why did I choose to review this book this week? My reasoning is twofold: Firstly, it’s the first title to come out of DC’s “Black Label” imprint so this’ll probably help me figure out the type of books I can expect and the content they have; and secondly, I want to try and give Azzarello a fair shake, since it’s extremely possible I may be biased against him, because I generally have a problem with people who do the “Look how dark and gritty everything is” style. So, without further ado, let’s get to the plot.
Joker is dead! And there’s maybe something supernatural involved! Batman isn’t too sure so he gets the help of some of DC’s best magic characters, like John Constantine and Deadman, to see if they can help him solve this mystery. Also, he shows his… uh… fearsome “Bat Weapon”, as it were.
Well, sad to say, this was not the book to get me on Brian Azzarello’s side. It had pretty much all the trademarks I expect from him. It’s gritty and dark, without any thematic weight to back that up; it thinks it’s being really deep when it’s actually incredibly superficial; and it reinterprets a bunch of classic characters in “adult” and gritty ways that feel wholly unnecessary. The idea of Batman being out of his depth with a supernatural mystery, and having to call upon the help of the magical side of DC, is a pretty cool one but it’s kind of bogged down with the book’s overall feel. The best way I can describe this issue is as “bleak nothingness”. It’s very dark and gritty and serious, but it never has a point and it just jumps around between moments with very little in the way of actual plot progression, character moments or meaningful events. The characters feel slightly off so they can fit into whatever Azzarello wants to do, like his weird version of Zatanna, who is literally pointless.
I will at least say that Azzarello knows exactly the type of things comics fans want to see: a mystery about the death of the Joker, Batman interacting with the magical side of the DC Universe, faux profundity that makes them feel more adult and, lest we forget, the magnificent and magical “Bat-Pole”.
Yeah, let’s talk about that. In case you haven’t heard, Azzarello and Bermejo finally decided to show the world what was hidden inside Batman’s biggest belt pocket. That is to say, the weapon with which he defeated Catwoman and Talia on a number of occasions. What I mean by this is, of course, Batman’s ultimate tool of destruction, a weapon so fearsome it- Ok you get the point, they showed his penis. Yup, DC finally decided to show the world Batman’s Bat-Dong for all of us to see, and it was met by such widespread ridicule from the Internet at large, that DC immediately erased the Wayne’s Heirloom from the digital edition of the book and promised that they’d do the same thing on future printings and editions. In all seriousness, this whole penis thing really summarizes the whole book for me: Was the penis absolutely necessary? No. Did the scene it appeared in lead to anything? Not really. Was it just because it’d be shocking and people would talk about it? Definitely.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t much like this book. It was meandering, pretentious, dark in a very juvenile way and, overall, an incredibly mediocre effort.
The art by Lee Bermejo is so good it does most of the heavy lifting in this book. If at any point I felt the mood hitting me right or a moment that worked very well, it was all due to Bermejo. I especially liked the design he came up with for a… I don’t know what it is, honestly, but it’s supernatural and haunts kid Bruce Wayne. It’s like a version of the Enchantress from the Suicide Squad movie that actually looks cool.
On the other hand, there’s his design for Deadman. If you’re not familiar, Deadman is a dead circus daredevil that still exists as a ghost and keeps trying to find what keeps him tied to this world and unable to pass on. The costume he wears is the outfit he wore during his circus days and, generally speaking, he’s a pretty fun character.
Azzarello and Bermejo reinvent the costume as either looking like or actually being his exposed muscles without the skin. Also, whenever he possesses people now, they get really sick and throw up. I hate everything about this, especially the costume. Why take a character that’s generally a bit more lighthearted and make him this grim, depressing and “real” thing?
Apart from that, the book looks great. The art really picks up the writing’s slack and there are some images that wouldn’t hit as strong if it was any other artist drawing it.
Look, Brian Azzarello is a love him or hate him guy. If you’re going to buy Batman: Damned, you were already going to do it, and if you’re not than you weren’t going to do it anyway. This book has great artwork but suffers from the try hard grittiness that plagues almost all of Azzarello’s work. If it looks interesting, buy it but otherwise stay away, because, apart from the infamous Bat-Willy, it’s a pretty dull book.