The road to darkness has been mapped and it is currently being engaged…
That may be the feel of late for the DCEU or the Worlds of DC as they would prefer to be called, but the tone of the different titles of the comics have kind of reflected that same grim theme in the films; from their current crisis, Heroes in Crisis, to the upcoming Witching Hour as a 5-part crossover between Wonder Woman and the current incarnation of Justice League Dark, and to the latest offering of the new label called, DC Black Label.
The Black Label, as it certainly purports to everything less than cheery or Pollyanna-ish, is DC’s new publishing imprint that is dedicated to stories that are separate from the DC continuity and aimed at mature readers and those who are most open to the challenge of reading new stories that aim to deviate from the norm. One such title is the first offering called, Batman: Damned.
It is just one of the stories being planned and this salvo of a title is written by Brian Azzarello, a veteran of Vertigo comics, another previous “mature” DC imprint and Lee Bermejo, who was responsible for drawing the popular title, Batman: Noel in 2011. As of this writing, this limited series of which three are planned, is a sequel of sorts to Bermejo’s own graphic novel of the Joker in 2008.
The story opens, bleakly, as it is in most Batman storylines, with our caped crusader in a daze, bloodied and wounded and escaping from an ambulance that is bringing him to a hospital. He collapses in the alley and is shocked to find out two things as he awakes in a hotel room, that his rescuer is none other than the supernatural con-man himself, John Constantine, and that the Joker is dead! Yes, finally Dead!
For the longest time, readers have always known and accepted that the Joker will always be the foil to the Bat, and no matter how cruel, twisted and maniacal the Joker’s schemes are, Batman will never resort to killing him. If this is his need for validation as the hero that Gotham needs, then keeping the Joker alive, no matter the toll is, fuels and cements that very same validation. For how can one be a hero, if there is no one who will serve to oppose that very same sense of heroism and thus perpetuate that same validation? Validation is validation whether it comes from the self or from others.
Finding out the truth in this mystery is top priority. But if Batman’s head is clouded and is beset by visions of his childhood wherein the Enchantress, a evil and powerful sorceress who is known more for her association with the Suicide Squad, has appeared to him more than once, then can his own mental faculties even be counted on to solve the crime of a lifetime? Could he have done it and not remember? Or could a higher and more potent supernatural force have tricked him into performing the one act that will literally damn Bruce Wayne for the rest of his life?
The issue brilliantly uses Constantine as a narrator and observer of the proceedings. It is his vantage point on things and of the supernatural that makes him the best person to drive the story forward and clue in the reader as to what Batman himself has been possibly missing. Batman, or as R’as Al Ghul calls him, The Detective, seems to always have had that “inhuman” quality of always being one step ahead of others, even against members of the Justice League. But what happens if his skills fail him because the supernatural is one mystery that he himself cannot prepare for and cannot comprehend? Just like Dante, he therefore would need his “Virgil”, his guide, into the gothic and paranormal underworld of Gotham City. Take this as the beginning of a journey, one that would both test the mettle of Bruce Wayne, both as the Caped Crusader and as a man dealing with his own past and re-examining his reasons for doing what he is doing and has done.
The artwork by Lee is as real it gets. Gritty with vein-popping realism. The key to appreciating horror or at least understanding it, is to look at it head on, and not to turn away. And the art and penciling, not to mention the inking gives you more reasons to stay on the page, rather than away from it. Yes, dark reads! FTW!
The maiden issue also has drawn flack for showing Batman undressing in his Batcave and not just showing his rear side, but a glimpse of his manhood, flaccid and dangling. Honestly, there is more to the story than just getting incensed about Batman’s “Dark Knight”. The label is for mature readers. And if people can’t look at a male organ without blowing up the internet, then DC should just pack it up and go and admit that this new imprint is a sham and not worth your time. But alas the comic titan has succumbed to pressure and DC has openly acknowledged the backlash and has promised to censor future reprints of the issue. So while, there are still maiden issues being sold, it is advised to quickly grab hold of one or settle for the scaled down version in future reprints. The issue itself has also increased it’s retail price in the US and is being sold at $60!!! You do the math!
As the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” then what more for a man who is in doubt and at the risk of being damned. One step may not all be what is required of him. He is to rise above his doubt, his mortality and learn to accept the horrors of his past and the true horrors that happen alongside reality and live just outside the fringes, looking from the outside, hoping to find a way in.
Issue #2 of Batman: Damned is expected to drop on 11.21.18