Batman White Knight asked an age-old question, what would happen if Batman’s greatest arch-nemesis The Joker went sane, putting the life of crime behind him? Turns out, a lot of good, so much so, it would make Batman look like the bad guy. This fantasy could not last however, and Jack Napier succumbed back to his clown prince persona. Now, in the dramatic and explosive sequel, Curse of the White Knight, Joker has a new way to bring Gotham and the Wayne Legacy down, with the help of a certain religious heir apparent to the caped legacy!
Curse of the White Knight is more of what Murphy promises in the first series, taking a simple idea, throwing it into a blender of Batman history and lore, and getting a action packed, thoroughly dramatic story where there is no black and white morality. Whereas the first series had Jack Napier basically as the dual protagonist of its story, this volume follows the clash between Batman and Azrael, whom many fans recall as part of the Knightfall event from the 90s. Joker works as the middle man, pitting these two caped crusaders against one another, with the winding and weaving history of Gotham’s legacy tying them together.
While Batman and company deal with the aftereffects of Joker’s actions from White Knight, Joker digs up many skeletons in the closet of Arkham Asylum, and this deals with the untold history of Arkham proper, between the arrival of Edmond Wayne with priest Bakkar of the order of St. Dumas. Their motives their own, they confront the lord of the new land Lafayette Arkham, an alleged vampire with a striking resemblance to a certain modern-day clown. With the lord gone, their motives conflict and what they built begam modern day Gotham, with many of it is secrets hidden and buried. This history is the framework between Batman and Azrael’ ongoing feud. Azrael’s health failing him and being convinced by the Joker his mission to rid Gotham of Batman is a holy quest given to him, he begins a crusade against the caped crusader. In the vein of movies like Death Wish, Azrael dons his threads for war, goes forth to cause damage and go head to head with the GCPD.
One thing you can count on in a comic penned by Sean Murphy, is big moments and exciting plots depicted in his signature art style. From identities revealed, secrets exposed, and unexpected deaths. When it comes to characterizations, those are mostly in line this time around. When Murphy made Jack a better person last time, he made him the antithesis of his clowned persona, and Batman out to be a crazed and angry vigilante. This time around, when we get more behind the scenes of Bruce, he takes a moment to realize how insane his crusade is as Batman, and how he effectively needs to take responsibility for his actions. Harleen Quinzel is less featured this time around, still one of the smartest in the room, but is more occupied by the birth of her twins, a product of her time with Jack before he transformed back. Her and Bruce begin to trust each other more over the course of this volume, as he reveals his secret identity to her and shelters her in one his safe houses with her kids. Harley’s slow rise to being the unofficial fourth pillar of DC comics is not lost on me, from her rise to prominence in books like this and others like Injustice, DCeased, and her ongoing titles. I do wonder about the quality of the Harley mini set in this universe by Sean’s wife will be quality wise.
If I a few gripes about this story though, it would be the occasional use of modern-day slang that just takes me out of the story for a second. Batman stories are usually evergreen timeline wise, so seeing a modern term like “bae” uttered by Harleen distracted me. In addition, the political commentary from the first series is toned down, but in its place is nearly every character having screaming fits with one another every other scene. I get the characters are under a lot of stress, but no one outside of Harley and Batman have a conversation that is not pointing fingers. Some others have called Sean Murphy’s style as overtly dramatic, but I find it exciting, constantly asking yourself “what else can go wrong!?”
I would be remiss to not mention the Von Freeze one shot in the back of the book that has Murphy team with one of his personal idols of comics, Klaus Janson. Spotlighting the origins of Freeze and his family as they must survive during the Nazi occupation and crusade to forge weapons of war. From the origins of the iconic freeze ray, to how Freeze and his family made it to be in the service of the Wayne family, Janson and Murphy team to channel some of Janson’s family history into a personal story within this universe.
Murphy knocks it out of the park once again with another great entry in the growing White Knight universe. Retooling elements of Knightfall, Killing Joke, and his own brand of lore for the mythos of Gotham itself, Murphy putting Azrael and Batman on a collision is a treat for us readers, as in typical style of clearing the board to make room for new elements in the next installment. With two new additions for Harleen, Bruce taking a much-needed hard look at his actions, and the return of a familiar face, I eagerly look forward to what he has next. Curse of the White Knight is nothing but a blessing for Bat fans, and you should read it by whatever means you can.
8 flaming swords out of 10
Written and illustrated by Sean Murphy Von Freeze drawn by Klaus Janson Colorist: Matt Hollinsworth Letterer: Andworld Design Publisher: DC comics