WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman: Damned #1 by Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo and Jared K. Fletcher, on sale now.
DC Comics launched its Black Label imprint with the release of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Batman: Damned #1. Set outside of established DC continuity, the issue features Batman teaming up with some unlikely heroes to investigate the death of the Joker. The horror-centric introduction makes it clear that this isn’t the DC Universe readers have come to know, with some unfamiliar approaches to otherwise familiar characters. Some, in fact, seem like they might have come straight out of DC’s newly-explored Dark Multiverse.
The Darker Knight
Batman himself is among them. The character isn’t necessarily any darker than the Batman sometimes seen in alternate incarnations, but darkness certainly nonetheless surrounds him. When first seen, wounded and tended to by paramedics, he awakens demonstrating an almost mindless and animalistic survival instinct. He calms down once he’s found — and magically healed — by none other than John Constantine.
Whatever demons might plague Constantine, the one haunting Bruce Wayne in Batman: Damned is far more sinister. Even as a child, Bruce is visited by an unknown, grisly spirit of a girl who seems to be the embodiment of his secrets — secrets unknown, and perhaps buried within him. This ghastly form plays an early role in his eventual decision to embrace the symbol of the bat, and its voices continue to pester him in the wake of the Joker’s murder. The unspoken implication is that Batman, who has no recollection of the Joker’s fate, might somehow be involved in his death.
This spirit is seen visiting young Bruce while his parents fight — yes, Thomas and Martha Wayne don’t seem to be part of an idyllic union in this reality. In fact, the apparition is first seen by Bruce while his father is making eyes at another woman — a woman who readers have seen before.
Thomas Wayne – Philanderer
The other woman in question is the mother of Bruce’s best friend, Tommy Elliott — aka the future Hush, at least in mainstream continuity. Thomas is seen taking notice of Mrs. Elliott as the families attempt to enjoy an afternoon in the park — that is, seen by Martha. Unseen by anyone, save for Bruce, is the mysterious girl spirit calling to him from a distance. Martha later confronts Thomas about his potential infidelity and an argument ensues — one that both Bruce and his ghostly pest overhear.
If this undead personification is some kind of manifestation of Bruce’s secrets, could one of those secrets involve his father? Was Bruce aware of his father’s infidelity, and unfairly asked to keep it from his mother? Tommy’s mom is shown getting rather cozy with Thomas during a rooftop rendezvous, with Bruce in plain sight, so it’s likely that Bruce wouldn’t have been completely ignorant of his father’s extramarital affair.
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