Batman Damned by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
DC Black Label, hb, £19.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
The Joker is dead, and all the signs point to Batman being the murderer. But Batman has no recollection of this, and he has no help uncovering the truth other than John Constantine who can no more be trusted than the Joker. The further Batman delves into the blanks in his memory, the less anything makes sense until the only thing he is certain of is that he wishes the Joker was still alive.
I should start by warning this is not a book for young readers. Continuing in the Jokerverse that began with Joker published in 2008. This is dark, with graphic violence and bloodshed, bad language and nudity. Not one for the kids DC are aiming their Justice League at, but more at the older teens the new Joker movie is aimed at.
If you’re not familiar with the Jokerverse then you may spend a few minutes wondering what is going on. The Jokerverse takes familiar characters and reinterprets their stories with a dark, mature twist. Batman is plagued with flashbacks of his childhood, his less-than-happily married parents and a young Enchantress, ageing as Bruce Wayne does. This is a horror story with Batman and his origin story at the centre in a supernatural world which can’t be trusted. It is a gripping story with twists and turns that keep you turning the page right till the end and wondering when the next instalment comes out.
As excellent as the storyline is, the real star is the artwork. Gritty and realistic, Bermejo’s style fits the story perfectly. It makes the grotesque beautiful. The colouring is muted, as you would expect, black, red and shades of grey. Unlike other graphic novels where the art falls behind the words so you can almost miss the pictures and just focus on the text, it’s impossible to ignore pictures. Using either white framed panels or full-page spreads, each picture is stunning, dark in theme and colour, rich in detail and symbolism. There is a series of panels where Batman’s empty mask bears a strong resemblance to the Joker’s grin, and the mask leers over the man, Bruce Wayne. An interesting take on Bruce’s relationship with his persona and the depths it has forced him to descend to. Batman Damned is a visually stunning and intelligent reimagination of Batman’s origins and his relationship with Joker. Some background knowledge of Batman and other DC characters is necessary, but you don’t need to have read every book between Joker and Batman Damned to understand what is happening, and to enjoy it.