Set On The Path Of Violence
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at DC’s Batman: Curse Of The White Knight, out now…
Batman: Curse of the White Knight
Writer: Sean Murphy
Artist: Sean Murphy and Klaus Janson
Colours: Matt Hollingsworth
Published by DC Black Label
DC Black Label effort Batman: White Knight was an interesting ‘Elseworld’ take on the Batman mythos, with a sane Joker (AKA Jack Napier in this iteration of the Batman universe) becoming a quasi-hero in a battle against a Batman shunned by the public. Bringing more of the troubling elements of Batman’s psychology to the fore – exploring the fine line between ‘hero’ and ‘terrorist’ that he so often walks – as well being a more human and revealing exploration of The Joker, White Knight was a fine and often dense piece of work.
In Murphy’s inevitable follow-up, the stakes are raised once again as The Joker (invariably escaped and with the ‘Jack Napier’ persona firmly buried in his psyche) embarks on a new plan to take the Batman down. As Batman reels from the events of the previous story and debates whether to reveal his identity to the world, a new and deadly foe by the name of Azrael comes onto the scene – seemingly backed by The Joker and a cabal of shadowy elites.
As Azrael’s path of violence takes its toll on the ‘Bat Family’ – leaving Batman increasingly isolated – he soon discovers the hidden connection between the evil wreaking it’s havoc in the present day and it’s connection to the shadowy past of the Wayne family and the very founding of Gotham City itself.
Much like White Knight, many of the pre-occupations of Curse of the White Knight are to do with the the mutable notions of good and evil. While Batman appears to have his moral compass reset after the events of the first story, the appearance of Azrael shakes everything up once more as he is forced to confront the sins of his ancestors. Azrael himself – the Jean Paul Valley of this world being a damaged former soldier – is a man on a crusade, wanting to become Gotham’s saviour over a man he sees as a pretender to the throne. And let’s not forget The Joker. Now allowed to be the purely malevolent character we’re used to in mainstream continuity (at least for the most part), his complex plan is only derailed by the appearance of Harley Quinn whose appearance once again shifts the line that separates good from bad. On the whole this constant shifting and examination of morality works well, with all the story elements working well together (though some more supernatural elements introduced during proceedings feel a tad out of place) though the central storyline concerning Azrael is perhaps slightly staid and predictable despite plot twists. It’s the Harley Quinn subplot that provides most of the interest here, with a late story revelation that manages to alter her traditional narrative arc of ‘abused woman with little agency’.
Of course, for all its philosophical musings on Batman, the story provides plenty of action and bloody set pieces often involving epic battles between Azrael and Batman. Murphy’s art is hard and angular, all thin lines and sharp edges. Pages are often swathed in an orange hue, suggesting a world on fire, a never ending barrage of anger and heat. There’s an ever present sense of foreboding, of tension and it makes for an often relentless piece of work. There’s sheer forcefulness is also aided by its status as an out of continuity story. Murphy takes delight in offing a number of familiar characters, often in brutal ways (a particular rampage in Arkham Asylum is gruesomely effective) and it adds to a certain uneasiness throughout.
Curse of the White Knight is appended by Von Freeze in which Murphy, alongside legendary Batman artist Klaus Janson, gives another perspective on the origin of the Batman villain. Originally meant to be a part of White Knight, dropped after Murphy ran out of space, it now exists as a well thought out one shot in which Freeze’s origins are tied into tragic circumstances of his family fleeing the Nazis during World War II. Like the Curse of the White Knight, it plays with morality (Freeze is not the villain here) and – with Janson’s cold and sober artwork contrasting with the heat and fire of Curse – it’s a welcome addition alongside the usual variant covers and sketches.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight is available now published by DC Black Label.