by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Despite the series being at its halfway point, I honestly don’t quite know what to make of Batman: White Knight. I still believe that Sean Murphy is a tremendous artist, but other than that, my feelings about this series are mired in uncertainty. It seems that some of that uncertainty is purposeful, inherent to the premise, but some of it feels very unintentional and frustrating. I wish it was easier to tell the difference.
For starters, I have to echo the frustrations Mark expressed about Batman himself when discussing last month’s issue. Murphy provides Alfred’s illness as an explanation for at least some of Bruce’s erratic behavior — Batman attacking Duke and Napier openly at a rally in this issue is an extremely stupid move on Batman’s behalf, but perhaps one we can chalk up to Alfred-related recklessness — but most of Napier and/or the issue’s criticisms of Batman are based in some of the most extreme and misled takes on the character, takes that don’t at all feel fresh, original, or incisive. The idea that Batman is just a thug who likes to beat up on the mentally ill or that Bruce doesn’t give back to Gotham City or that Bruce/Batman withholds his technology from the city and police have been thoroughly debunked by the comics (and even the animated series) for years and years, making it look less like Murphy has a legitimately interesting take on deconstructing the character and more like he just wants to take advantage of popular pop-culture misconceptions. There are points throughout this series where I’ve wondered if Murphy likes Batman at all.
While the vagueness surrounding Batman muddies the series, I feel like the inconsistencies in Napier are more intentional. We’re supposed to wonder whether we can trust Napier, we’re supposed to question his motives, so it makes examining his plans more interesting.
Take the GTO Napier proposes here. On first glance it seems like an elegant solution, but it ignores a major problem: Gotham’s corrupt police force. It’s a problem Gordon acknowledges in this very scene, a problem Napier decries at his rally with Duke, and a problem we see in action, both through Bullock’s actions and through the Mayor trying to coerce Gordon into illegally arresting Napier. Napier’s plan to essentially turn the GCPD into an army would only aggravate the problem. So what’s going on? Is Napier looking to deliberately instigate Duke and Backport with the GTO? Or are his intentions sincere, and his plan just ill-conceived?
The fact that Napier’s a bit of an enigma allows me to ask those questions in good faith, instead of just wondering if Murphy has crummy politics or just hasn’t thought the story through enough. I just wish I could say the same for the rest of the issue, where motives and concepts that need to be clear aren’t. So much about this take on Batman feels muddy or ill-conceived that it keeps Batman: White Knight from feeling as incisive and thought-provoking as it clearly wants to be, and as it needs to be to actually succeed as a series.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?