Sean Murphy is the kind of artist you drop everything to peruse when something new comes out. The guy has an ability to capture an insane amount of detail in the smallest of panels while also imbuing a sense of atmosphere that allows you to lose yourself in the work. On top of that, he’s writing now. Comic creators beware, if this cat can do both we’re in for some awesome tales. His first issue of Batman: White Knight hits shelves today, but is it good?
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
He’s been called a maniac, a killer and the “Clown Prince of Crime” but “white knight”? Never. Until now… Set in a world where the Joker is cured of his insanity and homicidal tendencies, The Joker, now known as “Jack,” sets about trying to right his wrongs. First he plans to reconcile with Harley Quinn, and then he’ll try to save the city from the one person who he thinks is truly Gotham City’s greatest villain: Batman! Superstar writer and artist Sean Murphy (PUNK ROCK JESUS, THE WAKE) presents a seven-issue miniseries of a twisted Gotham City with a massive cast of heroes and villains that, at its heart, is a tragic story of a hero and a villain: Batman and The Joker. But which is the hero-and which the villain?
Why does this matter?
If you’re a fan of stories that take place outside continuity and flip the script so to speak this will be for you. This is a version of Batman that’s a bit unhinged and in desperation mode only to be thrust further into chaos because of his best villain: The Joker!
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This issue opens on the Batmobile driving up to an ominous Arkham Asylum in the dead of night. The Halloween vibes are strong with this one with bats fluttering and impeccable use of shadow. Soon we discover things aren’t what they seem and Batman is in a very sticky situation. Cut to one year prior, a chase sequence with Batman and Batgirl in the Batmobile chasing Joker who is fleeing on roller skates. Reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, Murphy shows us a version of Batman that’s willing to destroy public property if it means catching the villain. We’re witnessing a version of Batman that’s unhinged and willing to harm a civilian because his attention is only on the Joker.
This sets up an interesting ethical argument in the issue. As a vigilante, is Batman above the law, or part of it? Commissioner Gordon must wrestle with the question of whether it’s right to allow Batman to punch villains into pulp when he’s not actually part of the law. Murphy further develops this idea as the mayor gets involved and this argument culminates into a believable twist to end the book.
This version of Joker is rather fascinating with a surprising amount of complexity that’s tricky to pin down. Can we trust Jack Napier aka Joker, or is this all a ruse to get to Batman? Probably the latter, but Murphy does well to make you believe Joker is changed and more sane than ever. It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out, which is a sign of a good first issue.
The art meanwhile, is stellar. In the smallest of panels Murphy manages to pack in detail that would require double page spreads from most anybody else. In a rather simple shot of Joker in the ICU, Murphy packs insane detail into the tubes that run out of his mouth; I literally stared at this for a minute to understand the complexity of it. It’s this kind of detail that pulls this into a believable story. There’s also fantastic use of panels in the layouts to give the title a cinematic feel and an excellent use of angles to capture the intensity of the moments. In one, we see Batman from the bottom up as he pummels his foes. The use of color by Matt Hollingsworth is also incredible with blood red skies conveying a turning point for Joker and Batman and an always great use of shadow to cast Batman’s eyes in an evil sort of way. Batman isn’t bad, but he’s certainly not all-good either.
Amazing detail and these are smaller panels!
It can’t be perfect can it?
Things get a bit wordy in the dialogue department in the last third of the issue. Slowing things down is fine when the art can look this sharp, but even the art gets a little more simplistic with heavy use of shadowy backgrounds that lift the characters into focus, but also look a bit boring. This is a thought-provoking sort of narrative, but a balance of action and exposition would have served it a bit better in the closing scenes. It’s worth noting there’s an amazingly drawn library panel amongst these, but still, things slow down in these pages.
Is It Good?
Given the quality of this work, Sean Murphy is adding great writer to his resume on top of his drawing skills. This issue is a great start to a somewhat out of continuity sort of tale perfect for the Halloween season.