Batman: White Knight (2018)
Written & Illustrated by Sean Murphy
After years of constant battle through the streets of Gotham City, Batman has finally come to a terminal point with The Joker. In front of television cameras, the Gotham PD, and his own sidekicks the Dark Knight attempts to kill his archenemy. It fails, and due to overdosing on a strange psychotropic chemical The Joker is unmade, returning to his civilian identity of Jack Napier. This leads to his desire to make right by fighting for the underclass in Gotham. Batman doesn’t believe this reform for a second and sets out to prove the Joker has never changed. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon, Nightwing, Batgirl, and others are starting to listen and find Napier has a lot of value to say about what Batman has done to their city.
Batman: White Knight is an out of continuity story, much in the vein of the now defunct imprint Elseworlds. DC used Elseworlds to tell “What If” stories about their popular characters, the conceit in White Knight being, “What if the Joker reformed and became a hero to Gotham?” The answer is that the Joker ends up being an incredibly interesting character, but Batman ends up feeling like an entirely different character. That’s the one big complaint I have that Batman/Bruce Wayne is really flat and just feels like a more violent and angry version of himself. That leads to the conclusion of this eight-part story feeling underwhelming because the close of Batman’s arc just feels sort of dull.
There’s a lot really good here, and my favorite aspect of the story is the reveal of the two Harley Quinns. As the artist, Murphy makes a lot of visual references to popular interpretations of Batman. I noticed he has a strong affinity for the 1990s animated series which probably accounts for his meta-textual solution to the current representation of Harley Quinn. In Murphy’s world, the original Paul Dini-created Harley Quinn left the Joker after the mysterious disappearance of Jason Todd. The Joker was in such a state of dementia that a new woman, a bank cashier he kidnaps, assumes the role of Harley which gives us the multicolored pigtail, short shorts wearing version. As Napier, he finds his true love in the original Dr. Harleen Quinzel which sends nu-Harley into a frenzy.
The rest of the plot hinges on nu-Harley abandoning her identity as “the Joker’s girlfriend” and giving herself a promotion to be the new Joker. This, of course, doesn’t mean Jack Napier doesn’t go around acting like a saint, as his own behind the scenes plans to tarnish Batman’s image actually feed into the new Joker’s actions. Napier does harm because he believes it’s necessary to show Gotham what a constant danger Batman is to the city. Murphy does an excellent job of explaining how Batman habitually defends the wealthy yet ignores the struggles of the working class and the poor. Duke Thomas is reimagined as a community organizer who gets over his suspicions and ends up becoming a lucrative local partner for Napier’s revitalization plans.
If the plot had been able to focus on these few elements, then White Knight could have been a home run. However, Murphy seems so excited to get to dip in the Batman toybox he can’t help but pull every supporting character and villain into the story which makes issues feel overcrowded and underdeveloped. If appearances by figures like The Mad Hatter and Rene Montoya had been “Where’s Waldo” like cameos it’d be okay, but these two characters and almost two dozen more play vital roles in what happens in White Knight. I too am a fan of the long bench of compelling characters Batman surrounds himself with, but it was too much for such a limited run.