When DC launched the Black Label imprint, the idea was to give audiences the unique view of their beloved characters in another light from what they were used to. Of course, we already have this with Elseworlds, so the real question is why? Well, its inaugural release, Batman Damned, is all shades of answers as to this decision.
The Batman Damned series represents what makes the Batman character so awesome. DC has put so much focus on Batman that the story is diverse and well developed. There are so many stories and crazy alternate stories that fans never grow bored.
Batman Damned : Synopsis
The official synopsis reads thus:
The Joker is dead.
There is no doubt about that. But whether Batman finally snapped his scrawny neck or some other sinister force in Gotham City did the deed is still a mystery.
The problem is, Batman can’t remember… and the more he digs into this labyrinthine case, the more his mind starts to doubt everything he’s uncovering.
Comic Book Roundup
So who better to set him straight than… John Constantine? The problem with that is as much as John loves a good mystery, he loves messing with people’s heads even more. So with John’s “help,” the pair will delve into the sordid underbelly of Gotham as they race toward the mind-blowing truth of who murdered The Joker.
From the onset, it is clear that where the Elseworlds’ imprint may reimagine certain aspects of different characters and their stories, it is not quite the same with Black Label.
Instead, the series decides to go where no one has gone before, taking away all constraints and just having a bloodbath with the stories. Combining Gotham’s darkness with the Justice League Dark’s appearances is one thing, but simply going crazy with the representations is entire.
Batman Damned Tone
One thing to easily take away from this graphic novel is that it aims to surpass anything mature that has ever been done before. Where Frank Miller may have introduced us to a Batman that was exhausted and worn out and at the end of his tether, we see this Batman in almost the same light – wounded, maybe a little confused, and certainly worn out. The fact that he has to deal with the murder of the Joker is not exactly pleasant either.
Not only does he have to solve the murder, but he also has to contend with the fact that he’s been thought to be responsible for the Clown Prince of Crime’s Death. He has no recollection of such an event, so there is even more pressure to prove his innocence…. or guilt.
Everyone knows Batman refuses to kill, and that is what the Joker wants him to do more than anything. He wants to make Batman break his one rule, but he won’t do it. For Batman to hold tight to this rule for so long and then end up being accused of killing The Joker hurts.
There is also the nostalgic feel we get as we turn the pages, documenting Bruce’s life in stages, childhood to youth, and the events that led him to don the cowl in vengeance. It all points to a circus of feelings; no pun intended.
Overall Review of Batman Damned
At its core, Batman Damned seems to be yet another case-solving adventure for The Dark Knight. However, that is just the driving plot. There is so much more, evident in the fact that this is not about Batman’s innocence or guilt, but really an expose into the heart of the man who seeks to save Gotham and the world by extension.
The art is one of the best seen, and quite frankly, it conveys as much realism and conceptualism as a graphic novel can allow. If the goal was to fill both eyes and heart with unforeseen darkness, then the mission was accomplished.
The writing hits and misses here and then. However, where it needs to establish elements, it does so with dexterity. As said earlier, it is an experiment into the inner workings of a character we have known for decades to be conflicted. And that works.
There is freedom in Batman Damned. NO RESTRAINTS. This leads to a story that is worth reading over and over again, thanks to the unpredictability. It might not be the Batman everyone knows, but it is the Batman everyone needs to see.