Batman: Damned, the inaugural series in DC Black Label, the publisher's creator-driven, mature reader-oriented imprint, has been a complicated read. The out-of-continuity miniseries by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, in which the Dark Knight delves into the supernatural underbelly of the DC Universe after the apparent murder of the Joker, has been a murky, atmospheric read, seemingly more style than substance. Fortunately, the third and final issue of Damned not only ties everything together, with the creative team unveiling the mission statement of the story, but also neatly addresses most of its pressing questions in an excellent, gorgeously rendered conclusion.
Picking up from the cliffhanger ending of the previous issue, Batman finds himself buried alive in a cemetery outside of Gotham City. Rescued by a surprise, familiar character, Bruce Wayne continues to find himself haunted as John Constantine helps him confront shocking revelations about himself with a little help from his occult friends. In doing so, the creative team presents a conclusion that not only features fresh but recognizable reimaginings of several prominent supernatural figures in the DCU but provide the closure that had eluded Bruce for much of the miniseries.
In a way, the Joker's murder was only ever the inciting incident and not necessarily the central drive of the story itself. Azzarello has crafted Batman's own divine comedy as Bruce Wayne delves deeper and deeper into his own personal Inferno to confront his mortality head-on, with John Constantine as his guide through this nightmarish vision of Gotham. That is especially apparent here with the classical narrative opening and imagery right down to its choice in choice in calligraphy by letterer Jared K. Fletcher.
What has elevated the miniseries since its debut has been Lee Bermejo's hauntingly moody painted artwork. Bermejo and Azzarello have brought out the best in each other creatively through their acclaimed past collaborations and this miniseries has been no different, with both having completely synced their chemistry and delivering some of the best work of their careers. Azzarello gives Bermejo plenty of room to breathe in this issue, with some jaw-droppingly beautiful visuals and spreads, with Bermejo delivering both sprawling action sequences and more intimate, emotional moments with equal aplomb here.
Damned has been hit by behind-the-scenes delays since its launch last year but with craftsmanship this solid, the final issue is more than worth the wait. Azzarello and Bermejo have created a meditation on mortality starring DC Comics' flagship character in a relatively uncensored, self-contained adventure utilizing the DCU's colorful library of supernatural characters to shepherd the Dark Knight through his own personal hell that's more of a journey into Bruce Wayne's heart of darkness than a traditional murder mystery.
While the miniseries overall is perhaps better paced to read in a single, concentrated dose, the third and final issue is where all those seemingly disparate plot threads finally weave together to form a satisfying conclusion culminating in one hell of a cliffhanger, hinting at a possible future direction for Azzarello and Bermejo to go next. With evocative, atmospheric artwork from Bermejo and searing, self-explorative scripting from Azzarello, Batman: Damned #3 more than delivers on the promise of the miniseries and closes out the debut title for DC Black Label offering a bold, new vision of the Dark Knight.