The great thing about any alternative reality/Elseworld story that a creator conjures up is that you may be informed by the original – in this case, Batman – but you are totally free of the inhibitions of working with such characters and their strict histories and even stricter representations. You can simply do what you want and offer real change, rather than the illusion of change, which is often the case with any mainstream superhero. The best of these will often find the best element of such stories soaked into continuity eventually, anyway. Just look at how elements of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns has made it into the mainstream books over the years.
Sean Murphy’s original alternative Batman story, Batman: White Knight, was met with great applause and so has this new series too, with issue #2 out now from DC’s imprint, DC Black Label. In creating an alternative Batman, with an alternative history and ancestry, Murphy is creating a story I think will be picked at, eventually, and some of it will no doubt find its way into the DCU’s Batman titles in years to come, especially as his history of Gotham City’s founding and evolution is gripping to read. That’s where I’d start to pick, like some comic book magpie. As with the debut issue, Batman: Curse of the White Knight #2 the opening pages transport it some three hundred years into the past as we witness the swashbuckling Edward Wayne – not too dissimilar to Errol Flynn in his looks – strike up a deal with Bakkar, a devoted Priest from the Order of St. Dumas. His goal: to bring God and Justice to Gotham Village and take down Lafayette Arkham. One part colonialist, one part vigilante for Heaven, then.
It’s a fascinating take on the Azrael mythos and one that creates close ties between the past to the present, where Kinky Boots Batman is under the greatest of pressures from all quarters and gets a real-world lesson on the consequences of his actions, should he go about his plan to reveal his secret identity to the world. It’s an interesting diatribe and one, if you think about it, that really does have a clever logic behind it that any superhero should pay close attention to, should they too ever be thinking of revealing their secrets identity to the world. Although, most heroes aren’t billionaires, so much of the direct consequences on others may not be so wide sweeping. But, it would be devastating nonetheless. I thought it was a gateway inclusion.
Murphy’s artwork shines whatever he draws, and once again shows he is a master of shadow, with a Gotham steeped in mirky mystery and evocative ethereal energies. His depiction of the past is equally jaw-dropping, with his depiction of a 17th century sailing ship astounding to behold. Seems Murphy loves to draw and design vehicles of all shapes and sizes and it certainly adds a certain classicism to this unfolding story.
Of course, Matt Hollingsworth’s use of muddy colours – when needed – only adds to the grim mis-en-scene associated with Gotham City, although there are brighter moments, even if there aren’t many bright beats in the story as once again Batman takes a back seat to the more intriguing story of the Joker and now Azrael, the latter who is ready to take back what is rightfully his. And, with the re-introduction of a familiar face, and a huge surprise, Batman has a lot to deal with already, and we’re only two issues deep into this mini-series.
When I had originally heard that Murphy was going to take on Batman, I was thrilled beyond belief. To realise he is as great a storyteller as he is an artist made my day. This issue only reinforces what a huge talent Sean Murphy is, and one I’m glad is putting his own original spin on an old friend. The first volume is still a book I buy as presents for friends, and it looks like this collection will be one I add to their collections as a further example of how great comics can be.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight #2 is out now form DC Comics/DC Black Label.