Writer/Artist: Sean Murphy
Publisher: DC Comics
The world of comics have long been filled with different versions of Batman. He is basically the Madonna of comics reinventing himself for each new generation from Adam West’s campy portrayal to Frank Millers’ Dark Knight to Christopher Nolan’s Batman in the real world. Comics have also been filled with infamous Elseworld versions of the character like Gotham by Gaslight and more recently DC’s mega-event Dark Night’s Metal.
I am not sure what it says about our current culture but the recent trend is to take the Caped Crusader and turn him evil. Metal has been filled with some twisted versions of the character and now Batman – White Knight flips the iconic rivalry of Batman and Joker on its head. Showing that old dogs can infact learn new tricks.
Comic creator Sean Murphy has been relatively quiet in the comic book world as of late so it is a welcome event to see him launch such a major title. One issue in and this appears to be building to something special. Murphy is taking the gimmicks that are usually the lynchpin for Elseworld or alternate dimension stories and diving much deeper. This is not Superman going evil because someone killed Lois Lane or Captain America becoming a Nazi due to the Cosmic Cube. Murphy is developing a much more nuanced approach that seeps into the cracks of Batman’s psyche and asks what happens when those cracks begin to break.
The story begins with a flash forward as we see Joker, now preferably referred to as Jack Napier, visiting Batman in the infamous Arkham Asylum. Of course, the question becomes how exactly did we get there and why does Napier now need Batman’s help. That question begins to be answered as we move back in time a year where Batman is chasing down a fully crazed Joker in all his insane glory.
From the start, this Batman seems off. His actions are more reckless than usual and even lean towards unhinged. Racing through a construction zone he nearly takes out some innocent bystanders, and even Batwoman indicates he is becoming worse and worse as of late. Joker is clearly aware of this as he taunts Batman and pushes him to the limit, making him attack Joker with a furious anger that leaves him nearly dead.
There have been countless Joker and Batman stories that hypothesized how they were two individuals who in a way needed one another or at least two very different sides of the same coin. Murphy is certainly playing on that in his own way. We all can look at the Joker and clearly see the psychotic nature of his actions and his pure evilness. What Murphy is saying is just because the Joker is a villain does not mean Batman is truly a hero.
Something like the relationship between Batman and the Gotham police is something comic fans just plainly accept. I mean he’s Batman. Why wouldn’t Commissioner Gordon use his help? Murphy takes a step back and looks at in a truer to life situation. Would the public want a vigilante who is prone to violence working with the police? Especially in today’s media culture? Goes back to that classic line, “Is Batman the hero we need, or is he the hero we deserve?”.
Often the response is the world needs Batman to stop people like the Joker. Well, what if the Joker is no longer the Joker? Can Batman stop being Batman? Is he saving Gotham or is he using Gotham to save himself? Obviously, there are different answers to those questions depending on who you are asking, and what is intriguing about Batman: White Knight is that it gives us one specific response to explore.
As both writer and artist, Sean Murphy has complete control over this book. We are seeing one man construct his vision piece by piece. Murphy’s art is as good as advertised. Full of emotion, depth, and the gothic feel that is synonymous with classic Batman stories. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors are a big reason for that as well. His use of muted tones set the atmosphere that he then punctuates at the right moments with sharp reds to heighten the violence and energy. Whether it is used in contrasting backgrounds or bloody faces when it appears it is effective.
There is a lot to love about Murphy’s art in general and it starts right away. The opening image is a splash page of the Batmobile making its way up to the Asylum. It looks like it was taken straight out of a classic horror film and is just begging to be an amazing poster for any Batman fan’s wall. Our opening look of both Batman and Joker and Jack Napier also say so much with so little. Murphy sets up his panels perfectly showing us a slouching Batman with a look a look of disdain and distrust echoing in his posture. That is then contrasted with the sleeked up version of Napier that has just the right hint of smugness. He almost resembles a more put together version of Sherlock Holmes. Within the first few pages it is clear things are different.
When it comes to characters like Batman some ask what more can be done with them? If a character has been around for seventy-five years are there any good stories left to tell? Well in the case of Batman we have been getting a lot of yes answers to that question recently. We have had Tom King’s stellar run on Batman, the launch of Metal, and now added to the mix Batman – White Knight. A book that has already become a must-read for any Batman fan.