I have never read a Batman comic. I’m not even sure I’ve ever read a DC comic! It’s nothing against them, I’m just not much into superheros that are “gods among men.” That said, I love Batman The Animated Series, which I consider a timeless classic, and the story of th game Batman Arkham Asylum, what I believe to be the perfect balance between camp and darkness for Batman. Dark Knight was awesome, so on and so forth.
At the time, when I happened to be working in a tiny 5th Avenue comic shop, Batman White Knight was first being published in single issues. The covers stood out to me among all of the other releases each week, though they didn’t really tell me what the story was and I don’t collect or buy singles. But that intrigue stuck with me; upon obtaining the trade from my editor roughly two months prior to this article, I was absolutely enthralled; Sean Murphy has a beautiful, fluid, gritty art style that is matched by his witty, heartfelt writing.
Batman White Knight is the story of Jack “Joker” Napier regaining his sanity and rising to become a hero through public office, while Batman grows ever more aggressive and reckless with each passing day- for Bruce Wayne’s dear Alfred, his guardian and stability, is terminally ill.
Without wishing to spoil, the highlight for me was the use of Harley Quinn’s character. I was absolutely thrilled at how this story highlights her intelligence, cleverness, and truly heroic heart. Additionally, as many Animated Series fans know, the relationship between Quinzel and the Joker was largely one-sided. Abusive. An imbalance of power. White Knight handles this beautifully through themes shown throughout the entire story: duality, guilt, redemption, and sacrifice. Bruce Wayne, Batgirl, and Nightwing all receive character development, individually and as the bat family, as Bruce Wayne grows more desperate and enraged.
The struggle between his stubborn sense of justice and uncovering the truth, it becomes a test of how severe his destructive behavior will become before he realizes he may not be a hero. Hell, commissioner Gordon and the GCPD have a conflict that arises between their gratitude to Batman and their reliance on a vigilante. So many interesting moral quandaries appear in White Knight and I adore that.
A lot for the references in this version of Batman suggests that it stays very close to the continuity of the timeline and events of Batman The Animated Series, which is probably part of why I like it. Dark, but fun and well-woven.
By contrast, even though one could argue it also follows the Animated Series’ universe, I found the storytelling of the Batman Arkham game series really went off the rails, probably in part because Arkham Asylum was a surprise smash hit and “big” (yet fairly unimaginative) boss fights were prioritized for the climaxes (not to mention the downright lazy, hamfisted choices for the big reveal in Arkham Knight… no spoilers, but it spoils itself pretty quickly for most Batman fans.) this comic is what I WISH the Arkham story became. I’d want this comic to be adapted, FAITHFULLY, as a DC animated film. Don’t cut anything out, (don’t add weird romantic pseudo-incest, yes I’m calling you out, The Killing Joke animated,) bring back the fantastic Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne, get Mark Hamill to be Napier/Joker with his unparalleled, classic, maniacal jester to contrast against a more composed, righteous, charismatic Jack Napier. It would probably become one of my favorite films ever.
Now, I do have some small hang ups with White Knight, a couple small ones, but one or two could turn some people off to this story. Small quibble first: the title gives a lot of people pause, given “white knight” is commonly used as a slang term for, to borrow a portion of the UrbanDictionary submission, “a man who stands up for a women’s right to be an absolute equal, but then steps up like a white knight to rescue her.” No, that’s not what this story is, but Jack Napier is a white knight because a big theme in this story is racial inequality. To gain the good will of the public and emphasize Batman as a threat, Napier turns to Backport (once called “Blackport” by rich 1% prick,) where Gotham’s large population of poor and black people live. “Race riots” ar mentioned. Police brutality and distrust, the push for body cameras. All of this immediately reminded me of Baltimore, Maryland. But to me, the leveraging of good will with marginalized people is at least a little problematic, even before Napier’s motivation and methods are displayed.
The comparisons between the racial tension and police neglect/corruption are a touch on the nose, but what really messes with my immersion is the news anchors; They’re nearly perfect artistic interpretations of Charlie Rose and Gayle King. The not-Charlie, more than once, remarks on “SJWs” and I mean yes it’s weird to see him here given we don’t see him anymore (since a number of young women in the news industry saw too much of him…) But in general, these lookalikes are the thing that takes me out of the story. Maybe because I never really watched the real-life pundits, maybe because they’re still talking about a vigilante in bat-themed leather and a deranged clown turned activist.
So I can see White Knight potentially turning some people off, mostly the people who complain about politics in media (as I previously discussed,) but even as a liberal-leaning person who loves social commentary and political intrigue, I find it just a bit too on the nose, so I wouldn’t really blame them in this case.
That said, if what I’ve described doesn’t phase you or sounds great, I cannot recommend this book enough. Politics aside, this story is so clever, thrilling, and tight. There’s references to time passing, as this story is meant to take place over a year, which I stumbled to grasp once or twice, but it doesn’t mess up the pace too much, minor bumps in the road if anything.
To me, Batman White Knight is a truly fantastic piece of storytelling, sequential art, art in general, and Batman content. Franchise veteran or complete novice, this one is worth at least one read. As such, this may be the perfect way for DC to be launching their new, darker stories under the “DC Black Label”.
The trade paperback of Batman White Knight is on sale October 9th. Preorders are available online.
Freelance cartoonist, illustrator, & writer
School of Visual Arts Alumna