Batman The Bully And The Joker The Victim? Reviewing Batman: White Knight #1 By Sean Murphy

by Oliver MacNamee

In a book predominately told in flashback Sean Murphy’s Elsewhere-like series, Batman: White Knight #1, offers up a mad, bad dangerous-to-know Joker (seemingly cured now, in the present, and in full charge of his mind, with Batman confined to the nuthouse that is Arkham Asylum) who knows his status in his relationship with Batman, even if Batman is living in denial.

It’s the same old story that we are all familiar with as the Clown Prince of Crime provides the reader, and the Bat-family, a running commentary on the tried and tested cliches he and his adversary go through every time they meet and Bats gives chase; with some classic capers and the odd meta-nod to us geeks out there reading this new re-imagining of the Joker/Batman relationship, as he playfully comments on Batman’s athleticism leaping over a Gotham City ferry and the the hope held by The Joker that “they’ll make a play-set out of that. I’d buy two: one to open and one to save.”

Oh, Joker, you know us too well. At one point he even suggests that the violence bestowed upon him by Batman is akin to “make-up sex” proving he still has a wicked, twisted sense of humour, but one with something of a little more than the truth to it?

Like I said, Batman seems to be living in denial while The Joker, for all his insanity, is very clear on their standing with one another. It’s not the only thing he seems to be crystal clear on too. And, he spills a few home truths that Batman does not want to hear, or admit to. Is Batman’s mission really about control and not justice? Without Joker, is there any real need for a man who dresses upon a Halloween costume who has failed to curb crime in Gotham? He certainly makes a compelling argument, especially as Batman just won’t let up with the fisticuffs.

This Batman is certainly positioned very early on in this book as a sadistic bully, with The Joker very much the victim. Meanwhile as this lengthy flashback–that dominates this debut installment–unfolds, we see a Gotham divided over the thorny issue of Batman and his vigilantism. And, with his own personal burden to bare, could we be seeing a Batman on the edge of his own mental breakdown?

Batman without The Joker? What would that worked look like? Well, according to Murphy, it’s not all that bad. It certainly means a safer Gotham, who no longer have to deal with the property destruction caused by a reckless superhero and his chums. And, by the end of this book, we have an explanation for the series’ title.

It’s a riveting issue, and with media commentators thrown into the mix and a stunning style of artwork that suggests the inking of Klaus Janson, there is a little of The Dark Knight Returns to all of it. Take that as a compliment, Mr. Murphy, as I feel we may well be witnessing a limited series destined to be considered a Batman classic.

Murphy’s art is shadowy, opaque in places with sweeping stairways and dark corners and edges everywhere, with the gloom only accentuate by the adept hand of Matt Hollingsworth providing the moody and mooted colours; using dark reds and pinks to tie proceedings closer to the character of The Joker than Batman. After all, this is clearly The Joker’s story. In other words, each page is grandly gothic with only a hint of colour.

Batman is what Murphy came to DC for, and it was well worth the wait. We are given a plausible Joker, now on the mend physically and mentally, and one determined to Make Gotham Great Again! Whether he will or not, only time and future issues will tell, but I’m liking this on all levels and a Joker–an amalgamation of Moore and Bolland’s The Killing Joke, three parts failed comedian, mixed with one part of 1989’s Batman movie’s Jack Napier–and the philosophical questions it’s playing with as it goes along.

A thought-provoking first issue with an appropriately menacing mood to proceedings.

Batman: White Knight #1 is out now from DC Comics.