After an intriguing first issue that began to explore the inner lives of two of DC’s most iconic characters and their weirdly symbiotic relationship, “Batman: White Knight” #2 begins to bog down with additional backstory and little action.
Written and Illustrated by Sean Murphy
Colored by Matt Hollingsworth
Lettered by Todd Klein
Public support for Batman dwindles and Gotham City’s 99 percent rally around ex-Joker Jack Napier’s crusade to expose decades of corruption within the GCPD. A proposition inspires new revelations about Harley and The Joker’s past; and as Jack transforms into a hero of the middle class and takes extreme measures to mobilize a revolutionary army of super-villains, Bruce struggles to stay focused on engineering a technological breakthrough to save Alfred.
To hear Jack Napier tell it (he who was formerly known as the Joker), Gotham’s infamous crime wave is nothing but a scam. By convincing its citizens that Gotham is a special city with special problems, where due process doesn’t work, the gatekeepers have created a booming business built on fear. In Napier’s formulation, the new breed of so-called “super-criminals” are simply a means to an end, the scapegoats, that help the 1% get even richer by tapping new revenue streams and concocting new projects with increasingly exorbitant funding.
Meanwhile, trust in the Gotham City Police Department is at an all time low. Even worse, Gotham has become “a city where vigilantism has been normalized.” Unsurprisingly, Napier positions himself as the antidote to corruption, and now that he is free, he vows to fight tirelessly to help reclaim the city he loves so dearly. Needless to say, if he has to go toe to toe with Batman in the process, well, even better.
Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. No doubt there are bound to be some epic battles in future issues, but thus far it’s a whole lot of words, a lot of backstory and a healthy dose of classic Act One exposition. In fact, if you were to judge “Batman: White Knight” #2 purely by its first two pages, you’d justifiably conclude that it’s well drawn, but incredibly wordy and a little too esoteric in its speechifying. The dialogue balloons on the first page alone nearly crowd out everything else, giving us occasional glimpses of Napier, but not a whole lot more.
Granted, this is a slightly different version of Gotham than the one that’s currently dominating the monthly sales charts, so it may take a little more time to get readers up to speed and illustrate the key differences, but honestly, after the debut issue all of that seemed pretty clear. Barely two pages into issue #1, it was readily apparent that writer-illustrator Sean Murphy had flipped the script, giving us not only a darker, more psychologically troubled version of the infamous Dark Knight, but a much empathetic version of the Joker, as well. The stage seemed to be brilliantly set for what appeared to be an in-depth exploration of the corrosive co-dependency that binds both hero and anti-hero, nearly making them one in the same, two tarnished sides of the same battered coin. But after this latest installment, I’m not at all sure that’s the point.
In any case, after a sluggish start (once Napier wends his way home and not one, but two different Harley Quinns make their appearance), the story finally takes off. Artistically, as in the previous issue, Murphy continues to give us a seedy, seamy version of Gotham perfectly suited for profound exploration of its characters’ inner lives. The thin, delicate inks, deep black shadows and nearly monochromatic colors all suggest a city in the throes of post-industrial decay – both physically and morally. Even the scenes within Bruce Wayne’s secret lab, cast in a ghostly pale blue hue, seem to be “retro high tech,” an almost steampunk vision of the future as seen through a clanky, pre-WWII lens. There is a feeling that things have peaked, never to be reclaimed.
Ultimately, Murphy paints a masterful picture of a Gotham that is utterly divided, highly dysfunctional and absolutely ripe for a charismatic “man of the people” leader like Jack Napier to rise through the ranks and take charge. In other words, things are on a collision course for the ultimate showdown: one-on-one, Napier vs. The Batman.Continued below
Ironically, despite the fact “White Knight” seems to be setting up for the inevitable clash between Jack Napier and the Dark Knight, as the story progresses, more and more characters keep cropping up. Not only is there a whole subplot that features Bruce Wayne and his butler Alfred (plus the three other characters that storyline entails), in this issue’s final pages Napier convenes a meeting with many of Gotham’s others more flamboyant villains. At the same time, Batman himself is all but absent and the story feels less urgent because of that fact.
Don’t get me wrong, Murphy’s character work is outstanding. His contrasting Harley Quinns, alone, are well worth a look. But the heart of this story is the relationship between hero and villain, as individuals, not an ensemble. Hopefully, at this point, all of the characters are finally here and we can get this party started. There have been plenty of monologues and exposition, it’s time for the kind of unbridled action worthy of the two title characters.
Final Verdict 7.1 – Visually, this book excels. Unfortunately, both the word count and the character count are high. It’s time to get back to basics and into some action.