Batman: Damned #3 review

It took a while for the finale of Batman: Damned to come out, but it’s here at last. Elena reviewed issues #1 and #2, but since she’s, unfortunately, no longer on the Batman-News review team, I’m reviewing this third issue to wrap up the run. And by the way, we are still looking for new writers to join our review team, so if you’re interested, click here to check out Josh’s post and follow the instructions. In the meantime, let’s have a look at this comic book.

This has been a somewhat convoluted yet intriguing story, even though the premise sounds rather simple: Joker is dead, and Batman and has to solve the murder while putting up with Constantine’s snark. Along the way, we see the likes of Deadman, Zatanna, Etrigan the Demon, and even Enchantress, who has a darkly mysterious connection to Bruce. What’s more, as Elena pointed out in her reviews, there’s even a chance that Batman himself is actually dead but he just doesn’t realize that yet. This is the kind of book that doesn’t provide straight-forward answers, but likes to maintain the mystery all the way through to the last page. On reading the story’s ending, I found myself turning back to issue #1 and starting over from the beginning and reading through until the end again, and I still feel like there are things in this story that I missed. Little details that might reveal a bit more about what’s really going on beneath the surface of the narrative.

This book is like a puzzle. Throughout the miniseries—including this issue, of course—we have seen peculiar transitions from scene to scene. Sometimes these are smooth transitions: for example, Constantine looking at a discarded Zorro-style mask on the ground, which sets up a flashback scene where we see young Bruce and his parents leaving the theater after having watched Zorro. Other times these transitions are rather abrupt: for example, the transition from issue #2’s cliffhanger, where we saw Batman and Harley up on the GCPD rooftop, to issue #3’s opening, where we see Batman in a coffin in the ground. It’s never entirely clear how Batman ends up in that coffin, let alone how exactly his confrontation with Harley ends, or what happens to Harley at all. While Batman warping from the one location to the other could be seen as a technical narrative problem, I think that this is actually on purpose. After all, the question of what’s real and what’s illusion has been a part of this series from the start, and it’s even explicitly addressed in this issue when Batman and Constantine go to see Zatanna: “Illusion. Reality. What’s the difference? You are. Your perception.” So, there’s a chance that Elena’s point about Batman possibly being dead is correct. Or maybe he’s caught in a kind of head trip, getting thrown across various locations within his own mind. Or perhaps something else is going on. I think it would be best if you read this issue and decide for yourself.

Furthermore, Azzarello’s writing is on point. I’ll admit that I had to get used to Constantine’s voice, especially with him being the narrator of this story, but Azzarello keeps the character’s voice consistent throughout the series and I’ve come to enjoy the narration a lot. Constantine’s voice is also very unique in this book, which adds to the idea, introduced in #1, that Constantine is the unreliable narrator. His voice is anything but neutral. There’s judgment in his narration. And at times he sounds playful, which is an interesting contrast to this book’s otherwise dark tone. That said, I do wonder how exactly Constantine is able to narrate all these details about Batman’s life? How does Constantine know all these things? This never becomes clear in the story, and it’s perhaps one of the book’s few shortcomings. But, that said, with Constantine indeed being an unreliable narrator, perhaps we shouldn’t believe everything that he says in the first place, which once again adds to the question of what’s real and what’s illusion.

Another theme that this issue introduces on page 1 is that of being controlled. Batman, who’s the formidable warrior that we all know and love in the regular Batman comics, seems to be more of a victim in this miniseries. That’s not to say that he doesn’t get anything done, or that he doesn’t stand up for himself, or that he’s easily defeated; however, of everything that Batman goes through, there are more things happening to him, than that he sets things in motion. Examples of this are Enchantress’ scary visits which overpower him and potentially make him cry; the sudden transitions from one location to another; and even Harley trying to have her way with him at the end of issue #2. While this might have been problematic in another story—seeing as it means that the main protagonist lacks a degree of agency—I think it works here. At the start of the story, in issue #1, the theme of falling is introduced, and this is a theme that’s revisited throughout the series. The way in which Batman moves through space and time, almost having no control over what’s happening or where he’s going, makes me think of falling: you can’t really do anything about it until you hit the ground, or until you are caught. That said, the story’s conclusion can only happen because of Batman’s decision to go to the morgue to see Joker’s body, seeing as Constantine has mostly been trying to keep him away from that place.

Moving on the art, Bermejo is outdoing himself, as this book looks beautiful. For example, the opening scene where we see Batman in a coffin in the ground, invokes strong feelings of claustrophobia and fear. Not only is the coffin barely large enough for Batman, but there are also closeups on Batman’s tense and frightened face when he realizes he is trapped. Batman’s body language and reactions are believable and realistic, especially when suddenly the roots of a tree come crashing through his coffin and Batman starts panicking as he, initially, has no idea what’s going on.

Additionally, Bermejo’s renditions of Swamp Thing are fantastic. Swamp Thing looks menacing and demonic as he towers over the other characters in the scene and absolutely dominates during a battle. I love the details, too, all the branches that run like exposed veins across his body, and the many leaves that grow out of him, and his glowing red eyes that stare into one’s soul.

But my favorite thing about the art is how Bermejo renders Enchantress. At the start of the story, we saw Enchantress looking young. However, as the story continues, she’s looking older and older, until she appears skeletal. At no point is she not recognizable, despite her body undergoing great transformations. Most of all, I love how Enchantress moves: she’s a blur as she runs in the background from panel to panel, and her expressions and body language are creepy as she constantly hides in the shadows, luring Bruce deeper into her trap.

Lastly, Bermejo’s colors are out of this world. The only thing that I dislike is how he renders blood. Elena touched on this in her reviews as well. Where the entire book looks very realistic, and there are certainly panels where Bermejo blends the blood well with the rest of the image, there are also panels where the blood stands out because it’s very static, flat, and basically just a splash of all-red. There’s no nuance to it. No detail. I suppose it’s a stylistic choice that the creative team must have liked, but I, for one, wish that Bermejo had made the blood just as realistic as the rest of his art.

His other colors, though, are fantastic. There is so much depth to the colors, so many layers, and I love how the colors blend into one another seamlessly. There are panels that are more colorful than others, but overall the colors set a moody tone that fits this horror story perfectly. There are even panels that look like old occult photographs that are supposed to prove that ghosts exist. Check out the image above for a good example of this. The blur, the colors, the scratches across the illustration—sometimes Bermejo makes me forget I’m looking at a drawing, and for the briefest of moments I believe that it is, in fact, a digitally enhanced photograph. Seriously, this book is worth it for the art alone.

Recommended if…

  • You are a fan of Azzarello and Bermejo’s Joker graphic novel.
  • You are into occult horror stories featuring Batman.
  • You want to know what happened to Joker.
  • You want to find out what’s real and what’s illusion.

Overall: I’ll admit that I was very skeptical when this book was first announced. I didn’t even like the first issue all that much. But having read the entire story a couple times now, I can safely say that my opinion on the story has changed as I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this. The writing is solid and makes me ask a lot of questions, and subsequently makes me want to reread the story to find answers to those questions; the artwork is out of this world with amazing colors, great characters, and great action; and, lastly, the conclusion to this story feels like it should be clear enough, and yet it makes me wonder if I did miss something. The final page prompting me to reread the story from the start doesn’t make it easy for me to put this comic away. It’s a true page turner, and I highly recommend it.

Score: 9/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.