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Review: Batman: Damned #1 Has Gorgeous Visuals, Overwrought Narration

Batman: Damned #1 is 50 pages of glorious and sometimes creepy Lee Bermejo as well as 50 pages of John Constantine yapping about theology, heaven and hell, religious things, and the like and occasionally displaying his snarky wit courtesy of writer Brian Azzarello, who returns to the character almost two decades after being the first American to write Hellblazer in 2000. Batman: Damned has the tailor made for an elevator pitch premise of the Joker mysteriously being wounded, and Batman mysteriously having no idea what happened to him and teaming up with John Constantine to get to the bottom of things. It’s equally parts gritty and Gothic thanks to Bermejo’s art and works best when it’s reveling in its spookiness and disorienting atmosphere instead of trying to be deep or give Bruce Wayne a screwed up childhood before his parents were murdered.

At times, Azzarello and Bermejo seem to be working at counter purposes in Batman: Damned #1. The comic is filled with brilliant and sometimes shocking imagery from Bermejo and then kind of ruined with the overwrought narration from Azzarello. Brian Azzarello definitely is having a fun time writing Constantine narration, and the lettering has a nice storybook flow to it, but it undercuts the art sometimes by describing what is on the page instead of creating an interesting juxtaposition or adding layers to characterization like in Watchmen or Kingdom Come, for example. Azzarello and Bermejo do nail Constantine’s character in a single panel when he’s smoking and refers to himself as “the unreliable narrator”, which fits the non-linear, yet non-confusing nature of Batman: Damned’s plot whose supernatural elements keep it from being a cut and dried “What If Batman killed the Joker” story.

Honestly, the most unsettling part of Batman: Damned #1 are the flashbacks to Bruce’s childhood that go beyond the typical Zorro, pearls, Crime Alley, Waynes getting shot, and I’m not talking about Lee Bermejo’s creepy girl from The Ring take on The Enchantress. There’s a scene where young Bruce is out with his father Thomas and his mistress and entertaining himself by spitting off a tall building and counting, and he almost falls off the building when his dad throws a penny for his spit to “race”. A lot of orphan superhero’s parents were at least some kind of moral paragon, like Uncle Ben or Battlin’ Jack Murdock refusing to take a dive for a mob boss, but despite being super rich, Thomas Wayne doesn’t come across as a great dad or husband. Having a near death experience while your dad is cheating on your mom is definitely traumatic and adds more tragedy to the Batman mythos.

Batman: Damned #1 is at its finest when Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo go away from the theological narration and hurl the reader forward in a story about Batman being on the ropes with a gritty, supernatural tinge to it like Zatanna being a street musician or an eerie, invasive take on the body possessing Deadman. The comic’s opening sequence is a perfect example this beginning with a nine panel grid of an EKG and cutting to a full page image of Batman bleeding out before having him beat up cops, EMTS, and random passerbys while being disoriented and falling into the open arms of Alfred, er, John Constantine. There’s a real feeling of peril like the guy who has extensive notes and solutions for each Justice League member’s weaknesses has finally screwed up and could actually die or fail. It reminds me a lot of the Batman: Arkham video games when your health is dwindling, and the world is all cloudy and blood filled.

As shown in a scene where he’s crouching naked in front of a Batsuit (A page or so after the famous full frontal nudity.), Batman is definitely in pain throughout Batman: Damned #1 as he spends the entire comic trying to retrace his steps and figure out if he’s responsible for killing the Joker. Brian Azzarello’s incessant John Constantine is both parts annoying and hilarious, insightful and overbearing, but Lee Bermejo’s gorgeous image composition and aforementioned Gothic grit make the first DC Black Label book worth a read.

Story: Brian Azzarello Art: Lee Bermejo
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

Story: 6 Art: 9.5 Overall: 7.8 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics/Black Label provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Preview: The Wild Storm #17

The Wild Storm #17

(W) Warren Ellis (A/CA) Jon Davis-Hunt
In Shops: Sep 19, 2018
SRP: $3.99

Stephen Rainmaker was the most dangerous man John Lynch knew even before he was inducted into the Thunderbook program. So much so that nobody could quite define how Thunderbook changed him. On his trip around America to warn his old team, Lynch left Rainmaker until last- for a reason. This is the visit that Lynch always knew could kill him. Meanwhile, Marc Slayton is discovering new things about America, IO and Skywatch.

Preview: Teen Titans Go! #30

Teen Titans Go! #30

(W) J. Torres, Amanda Deibert (A) Sandy Jarrell, Erich Owen (CA) Marcelo DiChiara
In Shops: Sep 19, 2018
SRP: $2.99

The Teen Titans are going on a “Picnic”! Well, everyone but Raven, who doesn’t quite understand the invitation/riddle and is about to explode from frustration. Then, Beast Boy stomps off from Fiesta Friday dinner when he discovers his teammates chowed down on every single vegan burrito. Can he make it on his own? It’s “Food for Thought,” if nothing else!

Preview: New Challengers #5

New Challengers #5

(W) Scott Snyder, Aaron Gillespie (A/CA) V Kenneth Marion, Sandu Florea
In Shops: Sep 19, 2018
SRP: $2.99

The team returns to Challengers Mountain, only to find it completely obliterated! And without the mountain to replenish their borrowed time, it looks like they’re out of second chances. But for the Challengers to live to fight another day, they’ll need to use a power with a consequence that spells certain doom!

The Third Giant Batman and Teen Titans is Out Soon at Walmart

On the heels of Tom King and Andy Kubert’s debut in the exclusive-to-Walmart Superman 100-page Giant #3, Batman fans of all stripes will get their own dose of superstar talent as issue #3 of the Batman 100-page Giant ships to stores, featuring part one of an original 12-part story, “Batman Universe,” written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Nick Derington.

Along with colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Josh Reed, Bendis and Derington weave a tale that leads Batman on a wild goose chase spanning the DC universe, tracking down a mysterious artifact that contains the literal key to evolution. But Vandal Savage has his own plans for this artifact and the Dark Knight will have his hands full in stopping the evil immortal before he gains control of both the key and humanity as well.

The Batman Giant also includes chapters from the iconic Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee story Batman: Hush, as well as Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows’ “Welcome to Gotham,” and Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and Chad Hardin’s “Hot in the City,” from the New 52 Nightwing and Harley Quinn.

Arriving with the Batman Giant is issue #3 of the Teen Titans Giant, featuring “Enter… The Disruptor,” a new chapter of the original six-part Teen Titans story by Dan Jurgens and Scot Eaton, plus more from from Geoff Johns’ version of the Teen Titans from The New 52 (with art by Mike McKone), Peter J. Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez’ Super Sons from Rebirth and New Age of Heroes Sideways, by Kenneth Rocafort, Dan DiDio, and Justin Jordan.

Each 100-page Giant sells for $4.99 and should arrive at all participating Walmart locations throughout North America by Sunday, September 23.

Preview: Nightwing #49

Nightwing #49

(W) Ben Percy (A) Amancay Nahuelpan (CA) Mike Perkins
In Shops: Sep 19, 2018
SRP: $3.99

What happens when the race is no longer against each other, but against Leviathan itself? As the head of the snake reappears, and as our heroes are allied against a common enemy, the bike race changes gears and the prize comes into focus-a chance for the winner to sit in the Mobius chair and ask one question.

Preview: Harley Quinn #50

Harley Quinn #50

(W) Sam Humphries (A) John Timms, Others (CA) Amanda Conner
In Shops: Sep 19, 2018
SRP: $4.99

In a special anniversary story, “Harley Saves the Universe!”-no kidding! While reading a mysterious Harley Quinn comic book, H.Q. accidentally breaks all of reality. And you know the saying: if you break it, you bought it! Now it’s up to Harley to travel through both time and space to fix all the continuity errors she created. Luckily, she’ll have a little help, ‘cuz riding shotgun is none other than special guest star Jonni DC, Continuity Cop! Good thing, too, because if Harley fails, it means her own mom will be lost forever. Gulp! That doesn’t sound very funny!

Preview: Injustice 2 #34

Injustice 2 #34

(W) Tom Taylor (A) Daniel Sampere (A/CA) Bruno Redondo
In Shops: Sep 19, 2018
SRP: $2.99

Batman is convinced by his closest allies to do the unthinkable: meet with Ra’s al Ghul and try to negotiate a settlement through which they can save the world together. Meanwhile, Grodd encounters an alien visitor who may render meaningless any agreement between Batman and Ra’s.

Preview: Green Lanterns #55

Green Lanterns #55

(W) Dan Jurgens (A/CA) Mike Perkins
In Shops: Sep 19, 2018
SRP: $3.99

Then, Hank Henshaw, the Ravagers and Eon battle the Green Lantern Corps on Mogo for the fate of the universe! (In other words, it’s Tuesday.) Hal Jordan has had enough of this Man of Steel knockoff, so he’s seeking out the former Cyborg Superman with the sole intention of handing him his butt! However, Henshaw’s ability to hack the Corps’ power rings may give him all the leverage he needs to take over the universe.

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