Last week, Batman: The Damned #1 hit shelves, garnering a lot of media attention. However, little of that attention was focused on Brian Azzarello’s inability to write a decent Batman story, nor did it bring notice to the amazing artwork by Lee Bermejo. Instead, everyone was talking about Bruce Wayne’s reproductive organs, and how they were visible for one panel in the issue. It caused an uproar on social media, other comic news sites, and even made its way to late-night television.
DC wasn’t too happy with the reception that Bruce’s wang received, and swiftly announced that it would be edited out of future printings of the issue and digital editions. Once again, we see that corporate publishers are willing to make a reactionary decision, no matter how much it flies in the face of either logic or the mission statement they’ve set out for themselves, as the censorship of Bat-penis goes completely against the spirit of the Black Label imprint.
The announcement of Black Label was met with a pretty warm reception from readers. As DC themselves put it:
DC Black Label is a brand-new publishing imprint dedicated to giving premier writers and artists the chance to expand on DC’s unrivaled characters with unique, standalone stories set outside DC continuity. The imprint will be DC’s home for classy, collectible superhero stories aimed at mature readers looking to be challenged and surprised as they’re entertained, with an eye for the unique and remarkable. In that regard, each DC Black Label series will have a unique format and a release schedule designed to best serve the story and creative vision.
Look at the words DC chose to use in their own press release. Mature readers. Challenged and surprised. Unique and remarkable. These are not the words to describe your typical superhero universe. From that statement, it looked as if DC was looking to give creators the opportunity to tell stories using their characters with the creative freedom that Image, Dark Horse, or even their own Vertigo imprint offers. If this is what they were aiming for, Batman: The Damned #1 certainly delivered.
The concept behind Batman: The Damned is pretty straightforward. The Joker is dead, and Batman can’t remember how he died. It’s a murder mystery, with the titular hero being a prime suspect. With a cloudy memory, the Dark Knight is experiencing something he rarely has – uncertainty. This has left Batman exposed and vulnerable, which never happens. Even when readers think Batman is going to be emotionally broken, he’s prepared for it (e.g. Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel’s Batman R.I.P.) because… he’s Batman. That is not the case with this story. For all the shortcomings of Brian Azzarello’s script, the concept behind this idea is not one of them.
To provide a visual representation of this, artist Lee Bermejo opted to give Bruce Wayne the Full Monty treatment. Though this may shock some, the use of nudity in an entertainment medium does not automatically make it pornographic or obscene. In many instances, such an artistic choice is done so to convey vulnerability, or a lack of security. And make no mistake about it, this was a conscious choice made by Bermejo. Batman is not the first major comic character to be naked on the page. But in those moments, there is usually a conveniently placed shadow or pottery or something to keep the book at a “T” or “T+” rating. Bermejo wanted to remove any doubt that could be cast, and now DC has retroactively robbed him of that decision.
At the end of the day, I don’t give a shit about what Bat-appendages are visible in a comic. However, I do care about creators having the opportunity to tell the stories that they want without unnecessary or heavy-handed bureaucracy getting in the way. DC, Marvel, or any other publisher shouldn’t be trying to bend over backwards to appease the people that are up-in-arms about this, because chances are they aren’t going to be buying Batman: The Damned anyways. If it means that comic readers – the majority of whom are mid-30s white guys – have to endure the horror of seeing the penis of a mid-30s white guy, then so be it.
Also, here it is.