Sean Gordon Murphy is a busy dude these days.
I used to follow his DeviantArt page for the super-slick commissions he’d post, as well as his indie works like ‘Punk Rock Jesus’ and ‘Tokyo Ghost’, both MAJORLY awesome comics that you should also definitely find time to read. But now I find, in place of his old fan-art of the Batmobile or a sumi painting of Mr. Freeze, I’m finding that I don’t need the internet to check out his latest. You need look no further than any comic shop’s DC shelves, where ‘Batman: White Knight’ has not only nestled comfortably between the ongoing main title and Kurt Busiek’s ‘Batman: Creature of the Night’, but seems to be steadily overshadowing it in consistent triumph with each released issue. This week, we’re at number 4, only just halfway through the entirety of the run, but every page is a grounded, insightful look into the madness inflicted on Gotham, both by the Joker AND by Batman.
This series is heavily political in its observations and applications which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I daresay this series might be just the thing to get an apolitical geek into the fray of fighting corruption; sometimes it takes your ‘heroes’ being placed in a similar reality to jar that kind of thinking, but even if you don’t feel like being forced into that, I think ‘White Knight’ will give you a great reading experience regardless. The series has a way of blending concepts of the observant, empathetic mind, with the world that Batman was born in, and ultimately molded. It takes those hypotheticals people like to ask about ‘just how much that building damage set back jobs’, or ‘are all those people dead or homeless because their homes were crushed’, and answers them in a real way that reflects our modern American cities, and the flawed systems they operate under.
Issue 4 gives us our first look at the Joker–err, Jack Napier–as a potential politician, and it’s every bit as fascinating and unsettling as it sounds. Murphy has not only done the art for this series with stellar edge and grit and raw emotional struggle, but has also WRITTEN a story that is so timely that it’s deeply concerning. If ever a book made you secretly root for a villain, and a SUPER villain like the Joker at that, this really nails it.
I have to commend him for taking on the challenge of humanizing the Joker, because holy hell, that tiny phrase alone doesn’t compute, but Sean Gordon Murphy succeeds with every issue to continue doing so, including some creative reasoning behind Harley’s position as his side-kick and lover, the ‘other’ Harley that seemed to appear in the DC fandom so suddenly, and then also the concerns that must be shouldered by Commissioner Gordon and the Bat-Family. You’re given a sense of the world as they thought they knew it, and watching it crumble with them, especially in issue 4’s protest scenery.
If I have to lament anything at all, it would be two small details, one of which is unchangeable, and one which will hopefully be addressed in the future: first, the ‘other’ Harley taking up the mantle of the Joker was a smooth move, one that I hadn’t guessed when we were introduced to the concept of two seperate women being two seperate Joker-companions, but it did seem just a touch cheesy for her to title HERSELF as Neo-Joker. A little too much edge in the edgy, but this is a super small, personal gripe that could easily be ignored. The second bit seems like it will inevitably be dug into more, as it’s the core title of this book, but the idea of Jack Napier being a ‘White Knight’ to Backport should be explored from the perspective of the people.
We had a small slice of that with Duke’s introduction, though he just as quickly handed off the mantle to Jack and it felt a little insulting to the character, who was meant to be ex-GCPD, a smart, ethical, community-driven Black man. Maybe those reasons will be given more context, though I will say that the reaction of the crowds to the savior councilor felt all too real. It isn’t to say that protesting groups are at fault or follow blindly at all, but often the downfall of organized resistance is due to lack of unified scale, in which case it is very easy to fall prey to the spell of the not-yet-revealed-corrupt, which despite Napier’s attempts to hide, I feel he’s still to be linked to his old evils. But then, there are scenes of such tenderness with both Harley’s for different, dark, complex reasons? Or is this perhaps another part of Napier that will show its ugly face as the Joker again, destroying the couple’s personal growth as well as their individuality, and revealing the same abusive relationship they’ve always had and were fated to end? Sadly, Murphy admitted that he had never known of the Harley/Ivy fandom, but subsequently tried to draw some homage panels to it in certain issues. As much as I love the direction Harley has been taking getting the hell away from the Joker and into better relationships of her own volition, the awkward-yet-confident innocence of her proposal and Jack’s ‘I do.’ is some kind of endearing I’ve never seen before with these characters.
That all being said, if you asked me to guess how ‘Batman: White Knight’ was going to end, I could NOT even begin to imagine. Is the Joker actually gone, with Napier here to stay and perhaps become a martyr for Gotham and Backport? Where are both of the Harley’s going, what are their ambitions and their fates? What is Batman’s actual part in all of this, but to lose a fight that he kinda-sorta-started with the victims of his recklessness? All these questions, and they’ve got me really loving and anticipating more; this one’s got me hooked to the very end.
Too long, didn’t read? I rate Batman: White Knight #4 at 8/10 stars!
Honorable mentions: The Walking Dead #175, X-Men: Grand Design #2, and Star Wars: Forces of Destiny LEIA.