Sean Murphy continues his acclaimed work in DC’s Black Label Imprint with Batman: Curse of the White Knight. The highly anticipated follow up to Batman: White Knight has Murphy once again handling dual roles as both writer and artist. The series puts Gotham City, social injustice, and the legacy of Batman under the proverbial microscope; examining themes of politics, mental health and the thin line between vigilantism and heroism. Issue #1 is the opening salvo to another epic clash between comic books’ embodiment of good vs. evil, Batman and Joker. Murphy has already proven himself to be a master at approaching enduring material through a fresh lens with rich themes that parallel the contemporary landscape. Murphy plants the seeds to a mystery that begins hundreds of years ago, luring fans into his web of intrigue. Murphy eschews the over-the-top set piece moments but builds the groundwork for a more profound tale entrenched in mystery, self-doubt, and ethos. Thus far, Batman: Curse of the White Knight kicks off what I expect to be another enduring addition to classic Batman lore.
Batman: White Knight turned the tables on the dynamic between Batman and Joker. Cured of his insanity, an altruistic Joker, better known as Jack Napier, became an advocate for the city. Napier left an impression on Gotham as a hero of the people, while projecting widespread doubt on Batman’s methods. Subsequently, Batman spiraled down a path of madness. Meanwhile, Jack Napier’s mind was clearer than it had ever been. In Joker’s eyes, Napier practically negated the years of effort he put into corrupting the very essence of Gotham. Gotham is on the rise (relatively speaking) from Napier’s efforts.
Joker recruits a savage new ally with mental anguish all his own. With a deep secret dating back to the 1600s, Joker plans on exposing the Wayne family name and long-lost secrets of Gotham’s past. Can Batman uncover the dark mystery behind Joker’s machinations while saving the city and his family from corruption? Having already been broken by Napier, Bruce’s fragile mind struggles to remain in control of both his legacies: the legacy of the philanthropical Wayne family, and the legend of the Batman. The first chapter had Jack Napier “saving” Gotham by exposing Batman’s secrets to the city. Curse of the White Knight may very well be the antithesis of the first volume, with Joker seeking to destroy Batman, Gotham, and Jack Napier in one fell swoop.
Joker is at the very heart of White Knight as much as Batman himself. The White Knight series takes a deeper dive into the psyche of Joker and Batman. Joker’s mental state is often portrayed as one dimensional, but Murphy digs into the very nature of a man at odds with himself as much as he is with Batman. Jack Napier still stirs within the dark recesses of Joker’s mind, but the Joker is the dominant personality. Imagine a world where Joker receives the proper treatment? What happens when both Joker and Napier are aware of each other’s actions? A battle that takes place internally and externally, with Gotham as the battlefield and Batman as the outward focus. It’s too early to understand the totality of Joker’s scheme fully, but Issue #1 provides enough crumbs to have fans scouring to piece together Joker’s plans.
With Napier unable to cease control, Joker now stakes his claim to taking down Batman and Gotham with it. Joker’s very existence depends on the insane dichotomy between him and Batman. There is almost a type of cognitive dissonance within Joker; he seeks to destroy Batman, but to do so would end the “game” that neither man can truly win.
The issue introduces Jean-Paul Valley into the White Knight universe. Once again, there’s a call back to the mental state of Gotham’s citizens. Joker manipulates Jean-Paul’s broken mind. Jean-Paul’s sickness ties into his faith and religion; a touchy subject that nearly anyone can relate to. Jean is on his last leg, having only months to live. He is standing on the edge, and Joker provides the metaphorical “push.” Fans should easily recognize Valley’s name. In DC’s central Universe, Azreal is a devout purveyor of justice with a penchant for brutal Justice, which is saying something considering this is in comparison to Batman. Knowing that Azreal is entering the fold, and Murphy’s strong run thus far, fans should be excited for what future issues have in store.
Gotham has always been portrayed as a dark place in the DC universe. Murphy’s style blends seamlessly with the Batman mythos, taking cues from classic noir and mysteries. Curse of the White Knight taps into the stigma established in decades of Batman stories to lay the foundation for a secret that may very well justify why the city is so draconian. Some places have an inherent feel about them, something darker within. It is as if Gotham has darkness embedded within its very bedrock, in every sense of the idea.
The mystery lies with a General that may or may not have been a vampire. It remains unclear where the truth lies, but General Lafayette (Laffy) is tied to the Wayne family, and Joker intends to exploit the connections.
Bruce Wayne is just as conflicted as the Joker, but for different reasons. Murphy shows a rare side of Bruce Wayne that writers rarely tread: Vulnerability. Napier did more for the city than anyone could have imagined; leaving Bruce to question a lifetime of heroism. He has all the tools to provide Gotham with an opportunity: money, a brilliant mind, influence, even powerful allies. Jack Napier has Batman questioning his very existence. Has Batman had it wrong this whole time? Can he have done more through philanthropy than with his fists?
Napier broke Batman far worse than Bane ever could. Batman doubts his years of efforts, going so far as to question how long Batman has left. Bruce refuses to join Gotham’s newest crime unit dedicated to facing super-criminals. The GTO was Napier’s idea; for Batman, joining the GTO would be the same as admitting his failure as a hero. It brings into question everything Batman stands for; shedding doubt upon Bruce’s lifelong battle against crime.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight is a deep cut, shining a light on all aspects of the Batman mythos. The very fabric of a city, religion, the definition of a hero are explored. The first issue sets the pieces in place for another epic story arc that reconsiders how we look at Batman. Writer Sean Murphy continues to prove his prowess as an artist in several respects with Batman: Curse of the White Knight Book One.
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