Written and illustrated by Sean Murphy, Batman: White Knight is a standalone miniseries outside of the mainline DC comics continuity. Following a destructive chase through the streets of Gotham, Batman is filmed brutalizing the Joker while dozens of GCPD officers look on. The footage goes viral, casting the caped crusader and the complacent police force in a negative light. Following this, the Joker has begun taking an unknown medication that “cures” him of his insanity, making him Jack Napier once again. While not blind to his crimes committed as the Joker, Jack sees Batman as the real villain plaguing Gotham City, his vigilante crusade doing more harm than good. He sets out to make the city a better place by exposing all the bad that comes with how Batman operates, leading the public to no longer tolerate their dark knight.
I was always curious about this book, but admittedly it was hard not to see it more cynically as gimmicky. The premise is solid, nevertheless, and gimmicks are not inherently bad by any stretch. What I was pleased to find upon reading it was how much Murphy went out of his way to balance how Batman and Napier are presented, rather than villainizing the former more to make it easier to accept a reformed Joker as heroic. Batman is reckless and causes a lot of problems, but he is still the doggedly determined hero we all know. He’s near the edge, but he hasn’t gone off the deep end. Jack sincerely wants to make Gotham a better place, but he isn’t above using underhanded, even villainous, tactics as a means to this end.
This isn’t simply a story reversing their roles either, but a closer look at a familiar version of their relationship as nemeses. Joker’s love/obsession for Batman is explored as a strong motivator for why he pursues a life of villainy for instance, while Batman is forced to really come to terms with and confront the issues he has refused to acknowledge are the direct result of his vigilantism, Joker arguably being one of them. Personal issues plague the two as well, as Batman struggles with loss and subsequently pushes those close to him like Nightwing and Batgirl away. For his part Jack must try to reconcile with how awful he has been to Harley Quinn, an issue that is somehow even more wonderfully complex than it sounds. I especially like the direction Murphy took with this facet of the story and how Harley Quinn was characterized.
While this book is its own self-contained continuity, I really liked that the lore it pulled from the most was Batman: The Animated Series from the 1990s. There is a wealth of visual references peppered throughout, in background details and character designs, as well as dialogue references lifted straight from the series for those who recall them. What pleased me most though were the callbacks to more meaningful moments from that show, such as those between Batman and Harley, that helped to build out their relationship as not just combative, but sometimes cooperative and sympathetic.
One of the most interesting reinterpretations that this story brought to the table was, for me, the fate of Jason Todd, the Robin infamously killed by the Joker. This story changes things a bit, making Jason the first ever Robin to have fought alongside Batman rather than Dick Grayson (who still appears at Nightwing). Jason was in Joker’s clutches and tortured, but when Harley brought Batman to stop Joker from killing him the boy was already gone and had not been seen since. Though not the core concern of the story I really like the revelations that came from this subplot, which came to say a lot about both Joker and Batman.
White Knight is an excellent Batman story, which I particularly recommend because more casual comic book readers can pick it up only needing a relatively limited primer. The only real problem I had with the books was the characterization of Batgirl, which was at times strangely ditzy. Other than that, I really loved the way it forced Batman to take a hard look his crusade against crime—especially in how poor areas often suffer the most property damage and how rich businessmen find a way to exploit rebuilding efforts for profit—without completely eschewing the more escapist ideas that make us love the world of Batman in the first place.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5