Sean Murphy delivers one of the greatest Batman stories ever told as DC Comics releases the final installment of “Batman: White Knight”
I have been reading Batman ever since I was a kid. I grew up on re-runs of Adam West’s series with my grandmother and sat front row for Nolan’s “Dark Knight” Trilogy.
That being said; I believe Sean Murphy has created the final word in the relationship between Batman and the Joker that started with Batman #1 in April of 1940.
‘Batman: White Knight’ details the fall of the Batman from the good graces of Gotham and the rise of the Joker as the true savor of the city. This series challenges the philosophical roles of the Joker and the Bat that have been classically presented for many decades. While Batman has always been depicted as the embodiment of Order and Justice, ‘White Knight’ shows his darker side, and the strangely logical side of the Joker.
Issue #1 begins with a psychologically cured Joker, referred to as ‘Mr. Napier’, visiting the Batman who is chained up in a cell in Arkham. This is the first glimpse of the Bat and the Joker having their roles reversed in a juxtaposition that will be reiterated through the whole series, beginning with Bats beating the Joker to a pulp and force feeding him medication to cure him of his mental illness.
Not only does the medication work, turning the Joker in Jack Napier, but the vicious beating delivered by the Batman puts the Dark Knight at odds with the GCPD and the public of Gotham.
This turn of events sends the Batman on the run, while Napier becomes a Jesse Jackson-style civil rights leader of Gotham’s downtrodden. Away from the public eye though, Napier gathers together the Rogues Gallery of Batman foes. Using Mad Hatter’s technology, Napier hypnotizes the Rogues Gallery to begin attacking Gotham. Keeping the Bat Family busy in the streets, this violence enables him to create his own task force called the GTO to dispense justice with the full backing of the GCPD and the public at large.
As the chaos boils over, it is revealed the Bruce Wayne’s parents were not the martyrs that everyone previous thought.
Their deaths were the result of the Thomas Wayne’s shady deals with the father of Mr. Freeze, a former Nazi who escaped justice in the 1940’s. It’s these shady deals that cemented the Wayne Corporation, and also allowed for the extensive tunneling used to create the Bat Cave. Napier then reveals that the upper class of Gotham have been using Batman’s destructive tactics to buy up destroyed property in the slums to make a profit in corrupt real estate deals. With this, Bruce discovers that his career was literally built by crime and has been fostering crime every since.
The moral lesson that is showcased in this series shows that Batman’s heavy handed, vigilante tactics have been doing more harm than good for the citizens of Gotham. All the while, the Joker’s career of antagonizing the Dark Knight has been attempting to get Batman to realize the futility of his black and white morality, that vigilante justice is just as destructive as criminal enterprise. Chaos and Order are two sides of the same coin, to the point that Batman needed to break the law in order to bolster his own morality. It seems that a reckless, costumed martial artist performing serial assault on small time criminals is not the noble cause that will cure crime in Gotham City.
With Gotham in upheaval, Jack Napier becomes the White Knight of criminal justice, and the Batman gets locked up in Arkham Asylum.
Sean Murphy has effectively turned the classic Batman tale completely upside-down with a masterful pen-stroke. Even his conceptual artwork gives Batman a gritty Frank Miller-esque costume, which is unlike the sleek version of the Batsuit in DC Rebirth. The Joker is given a new look, loosing his classical white face and green hair, and turning into a cleaned-up politician in a three-piece suit.
Matt Holingsworth’s color treatment of Gotham gives the cityscape a classic, black-ink saturated look, showing that the shadows of the city are just as important as the colorful characters. Even the designs for the Batmobile leave every fan boy in shock. We see every iteration of the Batmobile, from 1960s to present, including Jack Napier’s GTO task force creating a fleet of Batmobiles to help spread law and order in Gotham. Keep an eye out for a great Easter Egg in issue #4; a garage scene shows different classic cars being refit with Batmobile technology, one of which is an obvious homage to the Back-on-Black Falcon GT from the original ‘Mad Max’ film series.
By the final chapter we witness Batman and the Joker teaming-up to stop a Neo-Joker and the Rogues Gallery from using Mr. Freeze’s technology to destroy Gotham. It’s an ending too good to spoil.
To see the dramatic conclusion of ‘White Knight’ go to your local comic store, or DCcomics.com, to grab the final issue in Sean Murphy’s masterful series on two of the most iconic figures in comic history. ‘Batman: White Knight’ #8 drops May 9th.