WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Batman: Damned #2 by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, on sale now.
Earlier this year, Batman: Damned #1 made headlines for featuring a brief scene of Bruce Wayne walking around the Batcave without any clothes. While that moment garnered international attention, the issue also kicked off DC's mature readers Black Label imprint with a mystery surrounding the apparent death of the Joker.
In that story's especially bleak version of Gotham City, Batman recovered from mysterious wounds with help from the mystical antihero John Constantine, met the ghoulish Deadman and a street-hustling Zatanna and had visions of a spirit that was tied to memories of his father's infidelity.
Batman: Damned #2 expands on those ideas and introduces some more ultra-dark takes on the Batman mythos that firmly establish its gritty world as the darkest reality in DC's massive multiverse.
BRUCE WAYNE'S FIRST GUN
After the events surrounding Thomas Wayne's affair were covered in the last issue, this issue highlights the costly emotional toll Thomas' apparent affair had on a young Bruce Wayne and his mom, Martha.
One early flashback sequence finds a young Bruce dressed up like a cowboy and getting ready to play with a real horse when an argument between his parents spills out onto the front lawn of Wayne Manor.
When Thomas drives off, Bruce runs inside to check on his mother. As tears stream down his face, he points a toy revolver at the back of Martha's head and fires the cap gun with a loud pop. The sound startles Martha, who's already crying over her husband's apparent affair, and she makes Bruce promise to never point a gun at anyone again.
Considering his parents famous deaths in Crime Alley, the image of a young Bruce holding a gun to the back of his mom's head is a macabre bit of foreshadowing that becomes genuinely unnerving when she tearfully turns to confront Bruce.
THE DARK SIDE OF DC'S MYSTICAL HEROES
In the present day, Batman continues investigating the apparent death of the Joker after getting some help from John Constantine and Deadman, the relatively friendly ghost of Boston Brand, in the last issue.
On the advice of Constantine, Batman tracks down the rapper J. Blood. As his name, lyrics and appearance indicate, this rapper is a version of Etrigan the Demon and his human host, Jason Blood. Like the classic Etrigan, J. Blood always speaks in rhyme, which he does in private and while performing on stage. While he eventually saves Batman from a burning building, he also tricks a crowd into "exalting" him by chanting his name, briefly forcing them to hold each other at gunpoint while under his thrall.
Although he seems eager to help Batman, Deadman shows a much darker side to himself, too. Batman: Damned #1 already established that living bodies don't respond well to being possessed by the ghostly Deadman, but this issue shows how little he thinks about the people he's taking over. After possessing a random person, Brand runs into a burning building with Batman. As flames begin to singe his human host, Deadman seems overjoyed to be feeling anything, even pain, and seemingly lets his host burn to death in the inferno.
While Deadman and J. Blood are still ostensibly heroes, they both display a callous disregard for human life that undercuts their heroic intentions in this issue.