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How the Batman: Damned controversy damned Brian Azzarello's relationship with DC, according to the writer himself

Brian Azzarello reveals how Batman: Damned fractured his relationship with DC, and showed him what the company was becoming

Batman: Damned
Image credit: Lee Bermejo (DC)

Brian Azzarello was once one of DC's key architects and trusted comic book creators. After having co-created the successful series 100 Bullets in the 1990s, he led the charge in redefining the Joker in a way that directly influenced Heath Ledger's live-action Joker and future comics interpretions, and was also was chosen to write a revitalization of Superman for DC's defacto lead artist Jim Lee as the flagship for a planned line of books. Beyond that, he was entrusted to co-write sequels and prequels to the publisher's two biggest sellers of all time: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.

Here and now in 2024, however, he's no longer with the publisher, and has revealed to Popverse what he feels was the turning point - not in his own career, but in DC's goals - that led to him no longer having a place at the company.

Brian Azzarello
Image credit: DC

In an interview with Popverse's Dave Buesing, Azzarello spoke out over what he believes was a mishandling of the 2018 mini-series Batman: Damned by DC in terms of its promotion, and the company's response over the controversy about the first issue depicting Batman's penis in shadow. At the time, DC said it was a mistake and revised the art in the digital edition, future reprintings, and collected editions.

"Am I mad? Yeah, I think DC handled it… they couldn't have handled it any poorer," says the writer today.

"Batman: Damned became about one thing. You know?" Azzarello continues. "And we worked on that story for - that was like two years of our lives. And then it's one thing. And that's the story. All the other art, nobody talks about."

When asked if that was a turning point in his relationship with DC, Azzarello dodged the question but did say it "definitely was"for Batman: Damned artist (and Azzarello's longtime collaborator) Lee Bermejo. The artist had been working for DC almost exclusively since 2001, but following Batman: Damned he did one additional series (Batman: Dear Detective) but has since focused on work for other publishers.

When asked about in 2023, Bermejo told Popverse "Ultimately, it taught me a few very important lessons, namely to remember that it's still a comic about a guy in a silly costume and therefore will never be high art, and that the comic book business and larger [companies] are not there to allow you to do art. They are there to keep [making] sure the brand isn't damaged, and they aren't beholden to the talent."

For Azzarello, he believes that DC's response to Batman: Damned's controversy was a bellwether for changes that have since happened at the company.

"What DC is now? There's no room for me there," Azzarello tells Popverse. "I just think that the kind of books that they want to publish, and how they want to treat those characters, that's not me anymore."

Azzarello says that prior to 2018's Batman: Damned, DC had a habit of asking the writer to bring his style of storytelling and characterization to their characters, but no more.

"It used to be - for years, thank God - 'Well, we want your take on this.' They don't want anybody's take on anything," says Azzarello. "Things are pretty homogenous. The characters are more important than the creators that're working on them. There's nothing wrong with that. Just the way it is."

As for why, Azzarello says that the rise in popularlty in DC's characters, particularly through adaptations and merchandising, has made DC risk-adverse.

"With the amount of money those characters are generating now, they're more important than they were," says Azzarello. "So their box that they're stuck in, they're really stuck."

Read Brian Azzarello's full interview with Popverse here.

He is vengeance, he is the night, he is... one of Popverse's favorite subjects. Learn how to do a Dark Knight movie marathon right with our Batman movie guide, and for the true World's Greatest Detectives out there, dive deep into the heart of Gotham City by getting to know Batman with Popverse.

Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant: Chris Arrant is the Popverse's Editor-in-Chief. He has written about pop culture for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel, Newsarama, CBR, and more. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. (He/him)


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