Uncertain Uncertainties in Batman: White Knight 4

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?

One comment on “Uncertain Uncertainties in Batman: White Knight 4

  1. Corruption isn’t the only problem with a militarised police force. The militarisation of police is one of the biggest problems with America at the moment. It would a really bad idea even if Gotham’s police weren’t corrupt. Hell, that was a big part of Superheavy, to add to the list of ‘things the Batman books have already addressed’

    I love, love, love Sean Murphy as an artist and think he has done some amazing work in books like the Wake and Tokyo Ghost. But this book is certainly a case of either really bad politics or really not thinking through things. It has already positioned itself on the wrong side of abusive relationships.

    Honestly, I see no ambiguity. Napier is bad. Because that’s what happens at every turn with this book.

    It could have been so much better. THe basic premise is great. You couldn’t use the Joker, but replacing him with Catwoman or Twoface would really work. Selina Kyle entering politics sounds like something that works, and her close relationship with Batman would be rich. And a healed Twoface, that rejects both his criminal past AND his past as a district attorney who willingly worked alongside Batman would be a great protagonist. And more importantly, both of these characters could so easily take up the mantle of justice without needing to concert effort into whitewashign their pasts to get rid of pesky abusive relationships etc. You’d still need real criticisms of Batman, fresh and new takes that aren’t so old and clishe that everyone has already thought of them. But Batman is perfect for this sort of book. Instead, the book is cheap and ugly.

    No matter how great an artist Murphy is

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