Through its peaks and (mostly) troughs, the relationship between Batman and the Joker is not one which has gone unexplored by the DC overlords. From The Killing Joke to Kevin Smith's Cacophony, everyone has an opinion on what makes the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime tick. Heck, even The LEGO Batman Movie had its opinion on everyone's favourite comic book frenemies and their osmotic relationship.
This far down the line, DC's writers really have to dig deep to find something new and interesting to say about the pair (unless you resort to a straightforward Batman vs Joker punching story, anyway). White Knight takes the Elseworlds route, looking (just) outside of continuity to a Gotham City in which the line between hero and villain becomes increasingly blurred. What if Batman and the Joker's roles were reversed?
This Batman has been at it a while, growing more and more frustrated with his lack of progress in the continuing war on crime. As his methods become more brutal than usual, Gotham begins to question his behaviour and sanity, and even his trusty Commissioner and sidekicks begin to turn on him. The Bat is teetering dangerously close to Ben Affleck Dawn of Justice behaviour. But he isn’t the only one changing…
As a result of their most recent encounter, and under heavy pharmaceutical influence, the Joker announces himself cured, and takes on his real name of Jack Napier, running for councilman of Gotham City. While Batman is pushed even further over the edge, Napier sets about cleaning up the city, and doesn’t do a half-bad job of it either.
“What if Batman, but evil” is hardly a new idea, but grounded in the semi-realism of Sean Murphy’s Gotham City and given the context of his more recent cinematic adventures, White Knight puts a fresh spin on the story. Elseworld stories can often feel like inconsequential fluff, but Murphy has plenty to say, tackling an unheroic Batman and reconciling the grubby, gross Harley Quinn of Suicide Squad with her earlier iterations.
The art and writing are full of Easter eggs and nods to the various Batman cinematic universes, taking in everything from the respected Burton and Nolan movies to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. Murphy is having a lot of fun here and, in spite of the heavy themes, so are his readers.
A fast-paced, witty and cinematic read, gorgeously illustrated, White Knight is the best Batman story in years. Some of its ideas may be a bit dusty, but this proves that there’s plenty of life in the old dogs yet.
BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT / WRITER: SEAN MURPHY / ARTIST: SEAN MURPHY / PUBLISHER: DC COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 9TH