This review contains minor spoilers.
When the news of Sean Gordon Murphy’s Batman: White Knight dropped, it sounded like an intriguing premise. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see the Joker righting his wrongs for a limited series? Well, I don’t think it’s that simple, because I have a sneaky suspicion that Murphy’s pulling the ultimate red herring and this will go down as the Joker’s biggest scheme yet.
Batman: White Knight #1 opens up with the Batmobile roaring into Arkham Asylum. However, it isn’t the Bat that steps out of the car, but Jack Napier, AKA the Joker. The guards lead him to the cells, where the Dark Knight is chained and locked away. Jack looks at him and says, “Batman. I need your help.”
The rest of the issue is set a year before the Arkham event. It follows Batman, Nightwing, and Batgirl as they chase the Joker through Gotham City. Yet, something is amiss with the Caped Crusader, as he’s uncharacteristically reckless and does major damage en route to catching the Clown Prince of Crime. Even his partners seem dumbfounded by it.
The Joker makes his way into a building, looking for a set of pills that’ll cure his insanity. He and the Bat do their regular dance of fist-tango, and the Clown pushes his adversary with some harsh “truths.” Finally, Batman snaps and beats the pulp out of the Joker, shoving the whole bottle of pills down his throat. This causes the criminal to overdose, shocking the GCPD and the Bat Family as well. When the Joker awakes from his coma later on, he seems cured of all his psychopathic tendencies and only a genius intellect remains. He decides to take the Bat down, by the book, promising to pay back his debt to Gotham by becoming its White Knight. Plagiarism alert! Harvey Dent wants his slogan back, Jack.
Murphy pulls double duty here, penning and providing art for the story. From a narrative perspective, he tackles a lot in this first issue, packing it with most of the necessary backstory and intentionally leaving a few questions unanswered. The approach works well since the space isn’t wasted with flashy spreads; instead, it gives us so much more to savor from this single issue.
In terms of tone, this feels very much like an R-rated version of Batman: The Animated Series. Frankly, I would’ve much preferred to see this turned into an animated feature than the awful Batman and Harley Quinn, which is the only DC movie I’ve ever regretted buying.
On the art side of things, the issue is dark and gritty, with a somber color tone being chosen to complement the glum mood. Before the casual fans bust a hernia over the “dark DC,” Murphy is delivering a picture-perfect Batman story here. I’d rather a book looks like The Dark Knight Returns than Squirrel Girl when it comes to the Caped Crusader. He’s a dark character; therefore, he needs a darker style. Duh.
Overall, Batman: White Knight #1 proves to be an excellent start to a series that looks set to show us how truly nuts the Joker is. I wouldn’t bet against him revealing that pretending to be sane was all part of his master plan at the end of the day. He’s crazy enough to pull it off, really.
Sean Gordon Murphy delivers an exquisite, darker R-rated version of Batman: The Animated Series in Batman: White Knight #1. The questions remains, is the Joker really cured, or is this another trick?