Warning: NSFW imagery from Batman: White Knight ahead.
Batman: White Knight was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth blew us away with a new take on Joker, Batman, and Harley Quinn that not only melded many great ideas but honored them. It came out in a new hardcover this week which makes it the perfect time to check it out if you missed it. That’s an almost ridiculous statement considering issue #1 received a fourth printing, #2 receiving a third printing, and #3 and #4 receiving a second printing. Everyone has read it, but fear not reader, as the new hardcover has five big reasons to check it out whether you’ve read it or not.
#1: Some cool backmatter
This book comes with five pages of variant covers and four pages of sketches. That might not sound like a lot, but many of these sketches are shrunk down for our reading pleasure. There are some great details here like notes Murphy wrote to himself and a surprising call out to Jon Hamm’s character from Mad Men being a reference for Joker’s Jack Napier look. There’s also plenty of Batmobile sketches featuring the accurately dubbed “Murphy Mobile” which Murphy described as “World War II plane meets 1960s supercar.” Fun stuff.
Also worth noting are black and white penciled pages with a black box containing interesting text to start each chapter or “issue” contained here. It’s a nice way to add weight to the chapter you’re about to read.
#2: Practically a love letter to Batman: The Animated Series
If you’re in your late 20s or 30s you probably grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series. The iconic cartoon not only introduced Harley Quinn but also contained so many bat-themes we know and love today. The most obvious reference is to the cartoon poster which is hung in Joker’s cell, but there is also the use of the Mad Hatter among other villains, classic Harley costume and Harley herself. Murphy utilizes the psychiatrist narrative from the cartoons and how she fell for Joker. There are panels that seem to call back to the cartoon. Joker is abusive towards Harley and yet she keeps holding out hope he’ll come back to her. There’s, of course, a more modern take on Harley too, which I’ll get to next, but her inclusion puts more focus on the differing Harley personalities and relationships with Joker.
#3: The duality of Harley Quinn
Probably the biggest surprise in this collection is a twist midway through. If you haven’t read the book yet I suggest you pass over this and go to #4. In this book, we find out there are two Harley Quinn characters. One similar to the cartoon and another literally wearing the costume we’ve seen Harley wear in the Suicide Squad movie. Murphy cleverly comments on the unfashionable sort of costume she wore but also plays up these two differing personalities. One loves Joker dearly and wants to help him while the other is wild and wants to have crazy chaotic fun. It’s a clever idea that gives the book a surprising conflict that weaves in and out of the story. It also probes the idea of healthy romance and unhealthy romance and what we do for those we love when it truly means something.
#4: An adult take on the characters
Murphy and Hollingsworth do not let up when it comes to violence and nudity. It makes sense this book falls under the DC Black Label since there are some sex and a heck of a lot of blood. In one scene we witness Batman beat Joker so bloody you’d think Joker ran out of blood. This is a brutal version of Batman who breaks bones and does not play nice. It gives the book a decidedly different tone from most Batman stories.
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Colors by Matt Hollingsworth. This is the much-talked-about love scene with Jack and Harley in White Knight. I've been told to cover up the nudity with word balloons, to meet DC's "teen+" rating. Which I understand. I was pushing for an "adult" rating, but I don't know if DC has that. Maybe for the sequel I can convince them. 🙂 *panel 5 will be flipped, as she's putting the ring on the wrong hand.
#5: Many different types of love on display
This isn’t just a story about Batman vs. Joker or even Harley loving Joker. It’s also about Mr. Freeze and his undying love for his frozen lover. It’s about Alfred giving himself, every inch of himself, to keep his boy Bruce Wayne alive after a hard night. It’s also about Batman’s sidekicks Batgirl and Nightwing and their concern for the now grizzly and hard-edged Batman. There are many different types of love on display giving you a complex look at the types of care these characters have for one another.
This is without a doubt a series that stands out and will be important years to come. Considering there’s a sequel coming our interpretation of this book might change, but it is without a doubt one of the most interesting and complex Batman stories in the last 10 years. Also, consider all these points and I didn’t even bring up the incredible art!