The Joker had to die some time, but his comic book death begins Bruce Wayne’s descent into total madness in BATMAN: DAMNED. The comic series was announced today as part of DC Black Label, the comic publisher’s newest imprint reserved for all-star creators and characters. In the case of the Clown Prince of Crime, that includes the likes of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo – the creative team behind the landmark JOKER graphic novel. Now, they’re putting their talents to work on a spiritual sequel.

That’s what BATMAN: DAMNED sure sounds like, at least. Early details are scarce, but with their Batman-centric story beginning in the same location where JOKER ended, the thematic connections are obvious. So, how does Batman’s investigation into the death of Joker qualify as a “prestige” graphic novel on the same level as their previous work? Let’s just say that the case will require Batman bring in some help. From DC’s resident “outlaw magician,” John Constantine himself.

RELATED: DC Black Label Starts The New Age of Comics

From the official synopsis released as part of the full DC Black Label slate, it sounds like Joker showing up dead is only the very first step in one mysterious investigation (that’s a popular theme, especially where Wonder Woman’s daughter is concerned). DC isn’t revealing what it is about the death that brings Constantine into the story, but it will sure end up in some dark, dark places:

BATMAN: DAMNED from Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, the creative team behind JOKER On a deserted Gotham City bridge, a body is found. Whispers spread the news: Joker is dead. But is this a dream come true or a nightmare being born? Now Batman and DC’s outlaw magician John Constantine must hunt the truth through a Gotham City hellscape. The city’s supernatural recesses are laced with hints about a killer’s identity, but the Dark Knight’s descent into horror will test his sanity and the limits of rationality, as he must face a horror that doesn’t wear a mask.

The combination of Batman and Constantine holds serious promise from a story perspective, since it’s hard to find anyone who can tell Batman something he doesn’t already know. But when it comes to the supernatural haunts of Gotham City, John Constantine is the expert. And when it comes to illustrating the magician with overwhelming levels of moodiness, brooding, and all-around personality, Bermejo happens to be one of the best. Fans will have to be content with his cover art to date, since the first artwork of BATMAN: DAMNED puts the emphasis on the title hero.

And the smoking “Gotham City hellscape,” of course:

Batman Damned Comic Cover Art The Joker FINALLY Dies in New Batman Comic

BATMAN: DAMNED is a perfect example of the kind of story DC Black Label is intended to make possible. Ordinarily, a writer wanting to put Batman on the case of Joker’s murder would be shot down immediately (Joker is kind of an important character to keep around). The closest in recent memory would be Joker getting cured in Batman: White Knight (a comic whose runaway success likely convinced DC that this new, out of continuity imprint was a wise move). But killing Joker, recruiting Constantine, and having Batman “descend into horror?” That’s a lot to ask of a hero with a twice-monthly comic.

As DC Publisher Jim Lee explains, that’s exactly the freedom DC Black Label is meant to encourage:

“Many of our perennially best-selling, critically acclaimed books were produced when we unleashed our top talent on standalone, often out-of-continuity projects featuring our most iconic characters, a prime example being Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Creating DC Black Label doubles down on our commitment to working with all-star talent and trusting them to tell epic, moving stories that only they can tell with the highest levels of creative freedom.”

We’ll continue to keep you updated as the future of DC Black Label becomes clearer, and if his past work is any indication, every panel of Bermejo’s art will be a hot commodity. Given the legacy of Azzarello and Bermejo’s previous Joker comic, do you think it’s possible for Damned to reach the same heights? Is the team-up of Batman and John Constantine the main draw, or the talent behind the scenes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we’ll keep you posted as DC continues its rollout of black Label details.

MORE: Frank Miller’s Superman: Year One Launches DC Black Label

Source: DC Comics

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