DC’s Black Label has been a bit of an embarrassment from the start. The debut issue was #1 of Damned, which prompted an embarrassing fiasco that exemplified why the Black Label is a stupid idea to begin with. The Black Label is from the same DC executives that thought Before Watchmen and Doomsday Clock were a good idea.
So now we come to the thankful end of this blight. Is it good? Bad? Worse? Well…it’s bad. Really bad. But it’s more confusing than anything else.
Spoilers from here on out, because I have to address the utter confusion regarding the point of this series. Across this series, Batman has had a supposed arc. He started not wanting to admit he could have killed the Joker. But by the end of #3, he goes to the mortuary and checks the body, surrendering himself to death as punishment. While it’s unclear how he got to this point, that’s not the biggest problem. The final nail in the coffin comes in the last two pages.
See, Batman let Joker fall to his death on a bridge. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe until Joker emerges from the water and laughs it off. The end.
So here’s my question: what’s the point of this series, then? We’ve got a couple options. The first is that Batman deserves to be judged. He’s been going out of control for too long, evading death too long, and now that he’s finally killed he deserves to die as well. But…those last few pages deflate that idea. There is no true justice if Batman died for nothing.
Thus, our next option is one of nihilism, which unfortunately seems to be the case. To support this is the corny opening monologue from Constantine about how basically we’re all screwed. “No, in reality, we are surrounded by CHAOS, an eternal hurricane blowing in every INCONCEIVABLE direction that, without warning, can sweep up into our life and PULP us against anything harder than us. Like one another. That’s the truth. There is NO control to BE in.”
According to the ending, somehow the powers that be determined that Batman should be punished for actually not killing the Joker, who now has free reign.
To which I respond–yeah, but do we really need nihilism? Do we really need a Batman story this bleak? Because it’s hollow. Usually when artists talk about nihilism or the futility of life, they insert some hope in there.
Father John Misty on “Pure Comedy” says, “we’re just matter suspended in the dark,” but he follows it with, “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we’ve got.” Watchmen espouses that we’re precariously alone in the cosmos, but once again, we have each other. When the bomb goes off in Manhattan, the newspaper man, however futile, shields the comic-reading kid. True Detective ultimately has the grim Rus Cohle come around in the final scene when he says that the sky is dark, but the twinkling stars are a victory in and of themselves.
There’s beauty in the hopelessness. It’s tragic but inevitable. It’s pure comedy. But for Brian Azzarello and the Black Label–that’s still too much positiveness. They have to prove they’re edgy, so the Joker lives and Batman dies needlessly. Oh, can we talk about Joker’s death for a moment?
Batman doesn’t even outright kill the Joker. He lets Joker die because he was already stabbed to death and feared Joker living on. I’m not one to say Batman should kill like some childish directors, but…this is the same scenario as Batman Begins. Batman refused to save Ras al Gul, and, hey, that’s understandable. Ras al Gul was almost as crazy as Liam Neeson in real life. I think everybody would agree Joker should die. So it’s not even that Batman has snapped and become a monster. I’m not saying it’s totally morally defensible, yet, there’s an argument to be made. Batman’s decision is very understandable. “But that’s the point! The universe chaos and it doesn’t make sense,” I can hear people defending. Yet, that goes back to my point: the nihilism espoused here isn’t clever or profound.
There’s a host of other problems at play. Corny moments and/or panels abound, like a demon saying to Batman, “Why you no remember?” or Batman goofily pointing to Constantine like an angry dad and shouting, “I’ve had just about enough of your snark, Constantine.” He may as well have finished by saying, “young man.”
Swamp Thing shows up just to be another cameo offering little to the narrative. Enchantress, Deadman, and Zatanna pop up briefly as plot devices and little else. Zatanna’s costume is male gaze enough, but because this is edgy Black Label, we gotta put her butt cheeks in the foreground.
In terms of pacing, #3 is a mess. We’re dealing with huge developments, like Batman finding out he was shot in the alley as a boy, the idea that Gotham is some kind of hell, and the death of Batman. But there’s so much time spent on incidental plot cameos, these developments are rushed and have little impact or imagination. If you’re going to tank, at least do it in style.
Lee Bermejo is incredibly talented. Few comic artists can pull off textures like he can and his details and facial expressions are immaculately detailed. Unfortunately, he really skimps on the background details, which are blurry and hazy–a far cry from the incredible double page spread in the first issue.