By the end of the last issue of Scott Murphy’s Batman: Curse of the White Knight #8, you’ll have been thrilled, spilled tears and been left shocked and most definitely wanting more. It’s certainly a book that is, if you have invested in these characters like so many of us readers already have, the very definition of a roller-coaster ride, but maybe one that detours through the ghost train ride too? After all, this is Gotham City and we are dealing with Batman, albeit a Batman from an alternative universe.
In creating such alternative worlds, as so many other creators have done countless times before, Murphy can play around and tease our expectations of a character who we all know, and play fast and loose to recount classic stories from Batman’s past in a new light. And so it is with the Azrael storyline of the 90s in this second series set in the Batman Murphyverse.
Now, of course, everything is seen with 20/20 vision in hindsight, so a creator like Murphy can easily jettison a lot of what came before (especially as he only had 8 issues to condense and remix this saga from that era) and rewrite characters to not only best serve his story, but also best fit his growing alternative universe and a world in which, it was revealed, Bruce isn’t even a Wayne. Rather, it is Jean-Paul Valley who was the rightful Wayne heir apparent, and it’s his story that is finally revealed. Or rather the story of his own ancestor, cast out centuries ago. It’s certainly adds weight to the tragedy of the man who has been a slave to his duty in a very similar vein to Batman’s own lifelong mission. In that, they are very similar.
We are also witness to the emerging love story that has been brewing throughout this series between Bruce and Harley, but it’s just not quite here yet. Again it’s a good example of how one can do thing differently around here and how creators can dress up their own fan fiction as legitimate. That is not to diminish fan fiction. We all have our own versions of such iconic characters, but we don’t all get to work for DC Comics. That takes talent and what Murphy continues to show throughout this series is that he has some chops on him in both the art and writing department. He certainly deserves his stars amongst some of the best working at DC Comics today. I can see why there’s rumblings of a larger Murphyverse set of books on the horizon. I just hope it doesn’t dilute the original in time.
This feels like this generation’s The Dark Knight Returns, but like this seminal series has had its status somewhat tarnished by sequels and spin-offs like the God-awful Superman: Year One).
But, back to the book at hand and Batman: Curse of the White Knight #8 and the rollercoaster ride that includes everything you’d want in a Batman book. High-octane, widescreen action utilising as many fast muscle cars as is possible, with a tempest of zoom lines to convey the speed and action as Batman and pals chase Azrael across Gotham City. The burning rages that Matt Hollingworth brings to this issue crates a heat and tension that is palpable. It’s as though Azrael’s anger has set fire to the city. Batman has been pushed to the edge, and who can blame him. First, he was ousted as Gotham’s champion by Jack Napier in the first sensational series and then he learns his whole life and family legacy has been a lie. That, and all his friends turning against him will do that to you. No wonder he’s out for blood. Very unlike Batman.
As mentioned above, however, this is a concluding issue and so storylines are tied up and relationships mended with new ones emerging from the rubble. The action is done and dusted by the middle of the book, allowing the time for Bruce to heal and make peace with himself and his friends and family. By the end of this series the Batman stays quo has most definitely changed. Where he goes next will be very interesting to see. In a sea of alternative Batman stories from across the decades this one really does shine out.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight #8 is available now from DC Comics.