Situated with eight 10/10 and twelve 9/10 reviews on Comic Book Roundup, Batman: Damned #1 was a smash success for Brian Azzarello and DC’s new Black Label. Unfortunately, I felt supremely left out of the loop by utterly disdaining #1. It was pretentious, shooting us up with enough absurd jabs at maturity to down a field of elephants. So is this follow-up issue any different? Not enough.
Because Batman and Constantine have finally teamed up (if you can call it that), there’s slightly less obnoxious poetic voice-over trumpeting the themes and motifs. This issue is able to get down to the amusing concept of two anti-heroes, both who deal in the muck of evil, uniting over the possible death of the Joker. I say possible because Batman believes he’s still alive, a concept vaguely reminiscent of the classic noir, The Third Man. Unfortunately, this dynamic is spoiled by Constantine physically sitting most of this one out.
But not surprisingly, we’re still blessed with Constantine (or should I say Azzarello) hollering to the back row with voice-over. Every other word is in ALL CAPS and in an edgy font, telling you how nihilistic, like, life is, dude. However, this isn’t quite the most irritating element of this issue, since there are some lines that transcend their silly presentation and actually make you think, namely, “What don’t kill us…eats us alive.” Of course, this is accompanied with the image of a bat baring its fangs and lack of tonsils. Subtle, this is not.
No, the silliest scene has to go to a flashback where Bruce witnesses his parents fight. The scene plays with derivative dialog so the characters can tell the audience exactly what their sentiments are. For example: “You’ll have this house over my dead body!” from Martha and “Dad! We got things to do! Mother wants you! I know she does!” from Bruce when his Dad drives away.
The only semblance of structure in Damned consists of Batman running around, encountering people that only speak in barely veiled metaphors sprinkled with flashbacks. Over and over again. To just name a few cameos, Batman meets a scarred rapper named Blood (yes, really), Deadman, and even Harley Quinn–who’s given an embarrassing moment where she tries to give Batman “le petite morte” for “revenge” (GROAN). None of their appearances add much other than pointing out how miserable Batman is. It’s episodic, and not in a good way.
Thematically, Damned covers ground we’ve all seen and thought before. What if Batman went too far? What if Batman took over Bruce? Any 12 year old has thought of that, although that doesn’t necessarily mean the concept can’t be done. The very recent Batman: White Knight worked well enough in its first issues with that same idea. But Damned doesn’t develop and instead uses the theme to coast on its own supposed import.
Lee Bermejo’s photo-realistic style is towering in its prowess. Everything from textures to facial expressions are given immense detail. Under his pen, Gotham is festering and sickly, a nightmarish carnival made of empty, gothic streets.
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