The new BLACK LABEL imprint at DC Comics begins with a dark story about the Dark Knight and a mystery surrounding the death of the Clown Prince of Crime. 

Batman: Damned 1 
Written by Brian Azzarello 
Art by Lee Bermejo 

Standing separate from regular DC Universe continuity, the first comic from the publisher’s latest imprint is definitely not a Batman story you would expect to read. It’s dark, it’s graphic and it’s unfamiliar territory for the Caped Crusader, forcing him to rely on the magic of rogue John Constantine to help him figure out what’s happening. 

Azzarello isn’t pulling any punches with this story, and he seems determined to give readers a Batman and a Gotham City that’s familiar, though not altogether the same. Introducing Constantine, another character he knows well, helps to upend the status quo. Having the most unreliable of narrators lead the narrative means the story of how the Joker was killed or if Batman was involved at all could go in any direction. Thankfully, Azzarello is a deft storyteller. There are few people I would follow into a story like this, but from his work on darker stories like HELLBLAZER and 100 BULLETS, I’m looking forward to the ride on this. 

Bermejo’s art is perfect for the story. It’s moody and atmospheric, realistic without sacrificing the fantastic elements that make a good comic book great. Given his previous work with Azzarello – on the JOKER graphic novel and the LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL miniseries – the words and the art gel perfectly here. His Gotham City is a dark and gritty as the story Azzarello is telling. And with this story falling far beyond the confines of normal continuity allows the creative team to take some liberties, like the introductions of both Deadman and the magician Zatanna, and the character changes in Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas. 

Batman has never been a character grounded in sanity, and Azzarello and Bermejo are pushing him past the line he’s used to toeing. The pair has kicked off an intriguing story with a new interpretation of the character. Much like Sean Murphy’s WHITE KNIGHT miniseries from last year, BATMAN: DAMNED has the potential to be an iconic chapter in his war against the Joker.