Well, looks like I got another five trades finished for this week. And that means five trade reviews this week of Thanksgiving.
Up first, the sequel to writer/artist Sean Murphy’s Batman: White Knight. Set in an alternate universe where the Joker, cured of his insanity, flips the script on the Dark Knight and makes Batman the bad guy, I greatly appreciated the original as a story that had Batman and his main cast all look in the mirror and ask themselves why they did what they did while containing a lot of Easter eggs and the like for longtime Bat-fans. I even said during my previous review that I would gladly go back and see more set in this universe, and Murphy delivered Batman: Curse of the White Knight. Would it be as fun and interesting as the first?
Since the Joker reverted back to his old ways, he has a new plan now to forever destroy Batman. It involved older cancer patient Jean-Paul Valley, a religious type who apparently will gladly wage his own war on crime and perhaps be more amenable to the Gotham Elites. The previous story had as a minor subplot that Batman’s war on crime caused so much property damage that many of Gotham’s oldest and richest families actually made money off the constant rebuilding the city went through. That was an interesting concept, but it wasn’t what White Knight‘s ultimate purpose was. Here, it becomes more prominent as these unseen rich types work to blackmail Bruce Wayne into continuing his usual way of doing things just as Bruce and the GCPD under Jim Gordon (who now knows who Batman is under the cowl) are working to find the right time and place to reveal who Batman is to the general public. That’s all part of the Napier Initiative, named for Jack Napier, the persona the Joker holds when he isn’t insane.
Yeah, this one leans really heavily into the idea that Joker and Jack are two personalities in the same mind and body. Is that, like, the new thing? To say all Batman foes are basically Two-Face? Titans did the same thing with the Scarecrow.
Regardless, Joker is the one in the driver’s seat most of the time, and he wants to keep things as they are, so he and the Elite’s representative send Valley, now calling himself Azrael, out to take out a few people and end the Napier Initiative once and for all. There are a few small problems, not the least of which is that the militarily-trained soldier-of-fortune Valley isn’t really the type of person to stick to the plan.
Oh, and the whole thing goes back to the 17th century when Gotham was founded by reputed vampire “Laffy” Arkham, only to be defeated by one Lord Wayne. Something about that story is supposed to be so horrible it will destroy Bruce/Batman for good, and the Joker/Jack knows what that story is.
OK, so…I didn’t buy it. While White Knight played largely like a more mature look at Batman and his basic set-up, Curse of the White Knight just felt like a more standard Batman story with more cursing. This is a world where Jim Gordon, working with Batgirl as part of the Napier Initiative, failed to recognize Batgirl was his daughter Barbara despite the incredibly flimsy costume, and this is somehow enough to derail Jim’s mayoral aspirations. I likewise didn’t buy it that the story of Lord Wayne would somehow ruin Batman, even after I knew what it was. Sure, it could be something like that would affect a less nuanced version of Batman, but one of the reasons I liked my first trip into Murphy’s version of Gotham City was because it was, well, a lot more nuanced a look into what a character like Batman would mean for this world. This story is more like someone just said “Hey, let’s do something with Azrael in a world where Batman can swear!” It wasn’t very interesting, and arguably, the best character from the first story–Jack Napier–spends most of the story only occasionally popping out of the Joker’s head to talk to Harley Quinn.
Murphy set this up with what is obviously a sequel hook (plus a Mr. Freeze special that, while having some nice Klaus Janson artwork, does nothing for the story as a whole), but this time around, I am a lot less interested in seeing where all this goes.
7 out of 10 Jason Blood cameos.