Batman: Damned is out now from DC Comics and if this first issue is anything to go by, this is a dark, psychological and often horrific look at the dark knight and the world around him. This is the book that launches DC’s new Black Label, which focuses on self-contained stories that aren’t bogged down by the main continuity, whatever shape that is in at this point in time. Batman: Damned absolutely stands on its own, but at the same time, it is very recognizably Batman. This story is set just after the apparent death of an iconic character within that world, leaving Batman to try and figure out what might have happened to one of his worst enemies. The most exciting thing about this story, though, is that to find out what’s going on around him, he needs the help of the DC’s Universe’s foremost paranormal expert, John Constantine.

Constantine and Batman have an interesting relationship because they come from completely different worlds. They deal with people and their own inner struggles in polar opposite ways. While they’ve occasionally teamed up in the past, those instances are still pretty rare, and it’s always exciting to see them actually share the spotlight as they always butt heads in ways that Batman tends not to do with other characters. With someone like Superman, the tension comes from the two of them being so ideologically different. But with Constantine, there are similarities, they both operate in the shadows and they’re both haunted by personal demons. The ways they handle those situations are always what ultimately separate them.

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While Batman and Constantine are the two main characters, there are familiar faces from other core members of the Batman and larger DC world as well. Comissioner Gordon appears to be the most “classic” character without too many changes to what we normally think of when we bring him to mind, and there are several truly unexpected flashbacks to Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, that promise a bold new direction for Batman’s origin. A few darker-themed DC heroes make exciting appearances as well. Zatanna is a fan favorite, so seeing her show up definitely promises some intriguing possibilities for where this story could go from here. Dead Man also appears in the book and while he has a strong place within the story, it’s the visual redesign that looks stunning, providing what could easily be the perfect template for the character should he ever make the leap to live action.

In general, the art is a huge selling point for this book. Batman: Damned looks absolutely gorgeous. Lee Bermejo’s visuals are breathtaking. This book looks and feels like a film, from the cinematic style to the pitch perfect gothic atmosphere. This is a gritty and hard edged take on Batman and it leans into that grit, into the seediness of this version of Gotham, but at the same time, it’s truly beautiful to look at.

Brian Azzarello is a talented writer so it’s no surprise that he crafted a very engaging, horror-noir story with Batman: Damned, one that draws from the larger Batman lore but easily manages to stand on its own and exist firmly within its own continuity. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman was, I think, a definitive run on the character and his now-classic Joker fits the tone of what Batman: Damned is going for very well, to the point that it almost feels like a precursor to this book.

Batman: Damned is a must for fans of the character and should be especially exciting for those who maybe haven’t picked up a Batman book in a while, as this isn’t bogged down by any current continuity and is clearly doing its own thing. There are a few unexpected twists and turns and, if this first issue is anything to go by, this story is only going to get more unsettling from here.

WICKED RATING: 8/10