Say what you will, but Sean Murphy does appreciate Batman. Between 2017’s Batman: White Knight, 2019’s Batman: Curse of the White Knight, and even some other tie-in stories/titles, the writer-artist has shown this love by building his very own Murphyverse. Are these books a hugely different take on the Bat Canon, with changes that make some fans feel out of sorts? Sure. But there’s no denying that Murphy’s efforts are born out of a passion to explore The Bat and gain new understandings and emotional connections.
That approach has continued this spring with Murphy’s latest project, Batman: Beyond the White Knight. This series, set 10 years post-Curse, sees Murphy bring the story of Terry McGinnis and Neo-Gotham into the fold. The result has been a different side of our young future hero, as he (and Gotham Motors CEO Derek Powers) are set on a collision course with Bruce Wayne for the future of the Bat mantle and the city at-large. With two issues out already, we’ve seen Murphy double down on his mission to tell a very different Batman story, one that honors the character and nonetheless keeps fans guessing.
We recently caught up with Murphy ahead of issue #3 (due out May 24) and issue #4 (due out June 28). In all, our chat touched on not only the happenings in those issues but Murphy’s approach to this universe, his thoughts on “losing fans,” what comes next (including a Red Hood miniseries), his true love of Batman, and much more.
On The Harley Quinn-Bruce Wayne Relationship
“With [issues] #3 and #4, we’re getting an explanation for why Bruce and Harley are married. We find out that she was going to be forced to testify against him by Derek Powers, essentially, and the only way to protect him was to marry him (because spousal privilege).
It wasn’t necessarily out of love, but they do have this strange, strong bond. So it’s sort of one way to tease it a bit more into the whole, will-they-won’t-they thing.”
On The Wayne-Jack Napier/Joker Relationship
“Bruce is sort of closed off. I think Bruce can read people; he’s just bad at acknowledging the good or bad emotions that people feel towards him because he’s so mission-oriented. So that’s something he’s always working on.
it goes from Bruce being really upset and sort of violated to him taking a chance and trusting Jack for small things. Because he can’t get rid of them, he eventually warms up to him.
At first Jack likes to lean in too close when he’s talking to Bruce, or booping him on the nose. here’s some homoerotic, buddy cop stuff happening, which I think is fun.
I don’t know if Joker is in love with Batman or in love with the idea of Batman. It sort of depends on what the reader wants to believe.
I think at the end of the book, they’ll start calling each other by their real names. If they have a goodbye moment, they can call each other their real names for the first time and sort of shake hands and appreciate each other.
And that’s something that I’ve never really seen a Batman comic do before. So I just have to figure out how to work it in.”
On The Drama With Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, and Jason Todd
“There’s a few reasons why Barbara’s useful. One is the Beyond cartoon, where she’s commissioner, and so it made sense.
And because I’ve played with the idea of the police department splitting in half — if Dick is in charge of the aggressive police department, and Barbara is in charge of the classic, noble policed department, then it’s having her speak for half the city and having Dick speak for the other half.
It’s a little political, but it doesn’t go into red versus blue. I’ve always tried to write towards the middle, and I try to keep things a little gray. I have my own political beliefs, of course, but I don’t want to have a book that’s one-sided either. I think when Dick says, ‘If the GTO was around when we were kids, none of us would be orphans,’ there’s probably some truth to that.
Part of it might be [Dick’s] attempts to get back at Bruce in some way. He is sort of the antagonist for most of the book.
Some readers are getting annoyed because they like Dick and they don’t want to see him turn into this thing. And if they stick around, maybe by issue four or five, we’ll see Bruce sort of flip him and turn him into classic Nightwing.
When I first started writing Dick in volume one, I was kind of basing him off of the animated series. Yeah, like, season four. So I’ve had an angsty Dick and I think it’s starting to annoy people.
So now that I have Jason Todd in there, who’s also an angry Robin, I was trying to figure out ways to distinguish the two of them. So what I did was I had Jason where he was used to being angry like Dick, but as he got older, he learned to forgive Bruce and how to move forward.”
On The “Different” Portrayal of Terry McGinnis
“I imagine readers who like Terry would start to get a little anxious by issue #3.
I checked enough of the boxes from the cartoon where it’s just still kind of familiar, but working with Powers is a reversal.
He’s just misguided, and he’s being led around by false information. So just when it starts to look like ‘Terry, how dumb are you, obviously Powers is a bad guy…’we get this reveal in issue #4, and Terry’s actually aware of some of the things going on and he’s just playing Powers. But I hope that readers will be really happy when they get to that moment where they realize, ‘Oh, Terry’s not a dumb kid.'”
On Even More With Jason Todd (And The Spin-Off)
“I didn’t want Jason to be angry like Dick or angry like Terry.
Maybe he’s got peace with it somehow. And the spin-off series that we’re doing, Batman: White Knight Presents: Red Hood, we get into how he was able to get closure. We [with co-creator Clay McCormack] realized that maybe what we need to do with Jason Todd is make him like Johnny Lawrence from Cobra Kai. He’s the bruiser-brawler guy who’s a bit of a loser. But he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeves and when you need something from him, he can still show up.
When Gan, this Mongolian immigrant, meets Jason, she realizes that he was a real Robin and she begs him to teach her (just like in Cobra Kai).So, just as an F.U. to Bruce Wayne, Jason is lie, ‘I’m going to take in a Robin and I’m going to do it the right way.’
And they really balance each other well, because she lightens him up and loosens him up a bit. She’s sort of angry in her own way, too. But the pairing of two very different characters coming so close was really intriguing.”
On Making Changes And Losing Readers
“Through the guidance of my friends and editors along the way, and my own research, we’ve managed that if we’re going to turn something on its head, it’s for good reason.
Every character probably has 10 commandments that you just cannot violate. Like, Peter Parker kind of has to be a nerd. I think you can change a lot about certain characters, as long as you keep the backbone there. And I think the backbone for most of these characters is still there.
The one that I think still loses people is Jason Todd being the first Robin. People cannot wrap their heads around it. And that’s fine; when you’re taking risks and playing in the sandbox, you’re going to inevitably lose some people.
If we stuck to the Bible too much, then we’d never get new Batman stories. So I think part of breaking away and changing things is risking that you’re gonna lose some readers.
It’s funny, people in comics will call it an Elseworlds. Every Batman movie is an Elseworlds. Every time a new director comes in and directs a new version of Batman, the details of Robin are different. Batgirl is related to Alfred, or Alfred is either a kindly old man or an ex-military badass. What we did with White Knight, I don’t think it’s any different than a director taking the steering wheel and doing his own trilogy and just tweaking a few things.”
On A Long Journey With Duke Thomas
“[Making Duke into a Robin] I’ve been trying to do that for about eight years. I sort of accidentally created Duke along with Scott Snyder. We had this Detective [Comics] issue, #27 I think, where we had these future versions of Batman and in one of them I made Robin black. And DC and Scott ended up naming this character Duke Thomas and they were like, ‘Oh, let’s create a new black Robin or whatever.’ And then that character grew into The Signal.
So when I did White Knight, I thought, ‘Man, I’ve kind of accidentally helped create Duke, and I think I want to use him in my universe.’ But I don’t want them to be young; I want him to be like Luke Cage. He can speak for the unrepresented poor parts, so to speak, of Gotham, and he has a complicated history with the police. He kind of works with gangs — he doesn’t love it, but he’s a practical guy. That, and there’s so many frickin’ white people in Gotham.
That was some resistance…DC was worried. Like, ‘You’re gonna make this giant, muscle-bound ex-military guy in green booties and a yellow cape?’
I was explaining to them: ‘No, no, he’s going to look like a Mortal Kombat character.’ They said, ‘OK, that sounds better.’ I don’t know if they were 100% down with it, but they let me do it, so I was glad to finally get there.”
On The Very Near Future — And Other Things
“I think as we get into the later episode or issues, we’ll get into Blight. And we’ll bring the Bat Family back together.
The book is always meant to celebrate Batman, even though he’s human and he makes mistakes. It still is a love letter. I’m not, you know, racking him over the coals.”
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