In 2017, Sean Murphy wrote, pencilled and inked Batman: White Knight #1. It was the first issue of the homonymous miniseries, and the unconsciously-laid cornerstone of the Murphyverse.
What’s the Murphyverse? It’s Sean Murphy’s take on the mythos of Batman, Joker, and between the lines, Harley. The piloting eight-issued limited series shows a novel light on the dark and gritty Gotham. Heavy with social implications, the Murphyverse Gotham is riddled with inequality. It is a Gotham, where the Joker decided to go sane and switch battlefields. He will not clash Batman in the streets, but the courtroom and the newsrooms.
The White Knight’s storyline offers an enthralling and relatable narrative by being reflective of the period it was written. There is a heavy focus on social inequality and the financial chasm, between Gotham’s elite 1% and the average citizen. Batman/Bruce Wayne coming to realise his part as the elite, and the Joker/Jack Napier filling in for the average citizen.
In the original series, this is how Jack Napier spearheads his campaign to exoneration and city council. He asks questions realer and more relevant than the average super-hero comic book might ask.
The discussion for gentrification, police turning a blind eye to vigilantism ‘so long as it gets the work done’, come to fuse with a talk about mental health.
The Joker needs to be constantly repressed by Jack Napier, as an id-part of a personality. It is full of violence, chaos and discord. It is a man for another time, for another book.
On the other hand, Bruce Wayne comes out to say that it is needed for him to embrace that primal side of him. The side which he feels he has to let loose, into the world and unto the law-breakers in order for him to have some peace of mind. When you are reading the original White Knight issues it feels like Batman has to punch something loud and constant enough, so he doesn’t hear his own thoughts and insecurities.
But the novelty of Sean Murphy’s writing lies in the fact that he creates a vague mystery trekking the plot and storyline, like a shadow follows a person. Until the finale, when it strikes, and then the White Knights is a diamond glinting in this world of shadows. The way the plot is concocted and how Harley Quinn rises to be the afterthought of a protagonist is a reminder that the makings of great characters, lie in finding empathy to the character. It’s not a matter who can punch harder, who can think faster.
Great writing comes in the form of who is most vulnerable and how do they fight this threat: with tenderness, embracing it? Or with cruelty, shutting it down and doing what they think is best?
The White Knight’s plot puts all its characters on stages and as it plays with the light, it turns each and every one of them on Harley Quinn. Under all the lights, the shadows and facades are eliminated and what is left is only who she is.
Naturally, it’s a thrill ride. I’m not only saying this because we see a taskforce from Gotham P.D. riding around in various Batmobiles, but because the Murphyverse embraces its characters and lets them roll like dice. Batman’s sidekicks are all there, as well as his foes, the Rogues and Gotham PD.
But when the Joker becomes Gotham’s White Knight in a pressed suit, there is a void that is naturally filled. Firstly, Batman is targeted as an outlaw, but a bigger threat rises, in a maniacal and ruthless Neo-Joker (the alias of Marian Drews). Neo-Joker fills the void left with exceptional menace, and she manages to bring everyone together, White and Dark Knights alike, for a final crusade.
There is something righteous and fulfilling in the way the storytelling is handled by Sean Murphy, in that first eight-issued miniseries. He writes the world’s greatest detective by being one, by connecting the dots of superhero and real life in one spine-chilling case.
The art is gritty and coarse, less realistic than the average Batman comic. Swinging from exaggerated to reductive like a pendulum, it gives the reader always a slight push to keep going. Letterist Todd Klein and colourist Matt Hollingsworth have done a stellar job to bring the final result to the level it needs to be.
The White Knight has exceeded expectations from the beginning, as issue 1 received a fourth printing, issue 2 received a third printing and issues 3 and 4 each received a second printing. Critics and consumers alike have agreed that this was one marvellous comic book.
The most undeniable proof that a book is great is its legacy. The legacy of The White Knight? A sequel series, Batman: Curse of the White Knight and currently a number of spinoffs.
But that’s a discussion for another time.