It all comes down to this: Batman, Joker and the GTO confronting Neo, Hatter, and the army of mind-slaves that used to be Gotham’s fiercest supercriminals. Can Neo’s Napier-negging nefariousness be nixed? And can Gotham survive the struggle? Find out in the conclusion of Batman: White Knight. SPOILERS AHEAD
Endings are hard. White Knight began with brilliance and beauty, and sustained those merits through four or five issues. Much of its early success was owed to its early conceit: examining modern societal angst (mostly centered around policing) through Batman’s relationship to his greatest foe. No easy answers were provided, and Sean Murphy let us see the dirt under everyone’s fingernails. Put simply, he gave us a relatively complete picture and left it for us to interpret.
Eventually, however, the bill comes due. The appeal of a question-heavy story is not perpetual darkness; rather, it is in the inevitable revelation. All along, I’ve wanted to see where this would land, and now that it’s done, I feel the familiar disappointment of a conclusion unworthy of the setup.
How did we get here?
The problems began a few issues ago, when Murphy pivoted away from engaging the social issues (at least directly). We saw some effective character stories as a result, but it was hard to say for certain what White Knight was about anymore. Here in #8, it’s still hard, because rather than spend the entire issue putting a fine point on this or that, Murphy attempts to resolve everything—something impossible to do well in such limited space. All of Bruce’s personal struggles—Dick and Babs, Alfred, Gordon—find some sort of relief. Jack and Harley get married. Jack confesses, and the truth about his White Knightedness is revealed.
That’s already a lot for one issue, but Murphy attempts to revisit the social questions, as well. The talking heads—missing completely for several issues—return to analyze Napier’s confession, Harley weighs in, and Bruce himself closes out the story with a fairly definitive conclusion on his place in Gotham. Fans will likely have problems with his conclusion, too, because of what it says about Batman in general (even outside this story).
And so we end up with a mad scramble to tie up loose ends, with Murphy essentially saying that White Knight is about all of it. The characters fare the best here, in spite of the rush job, perhaps because they’ve been front-and-center lately, while the social issues receded. The answers to those social questions—the original point of the story—are simplistic and predictable. Jack was a good guy who did bad things, and Bruce was a good guy who did bad things for good reasons. It seems like an attempt to vindicate both sides, but I find it unsatisfying. Part of that is surely in my worldview—I don’t believe that people are by default morally good—but I think the obviousness plays a big part, too. White Knight was already making these points about Jack and Bruce months ago, and finding Murphy with nothing new to say is disappointing.
But how does it read?
The conclusion really only takes up six pages or so, leaving the bulk of the issue—starting at the beginning—to the pursuit and apprehension of Neo, the release of the mind-controlled villains (including Clayface himself), and the salvation of Gotham’s frozen populace. Murphy once again brings his formidable visual skills to bear, giving us some of the series’s best pages. Todd Klein’s letters are always impeccable, but this time he also gets a chance to let loose with a bevy of interesting sound effects.
The dialogue isn’t bad, per se, but it is very wordy, and there are two inclusions of the word “shit” that felt out of place, because I cannot recall Murphy having crossed that particular language barrier anywhere else in the series (or if he did, it was fairly isolated).
It’s a shame, really, to have what is a very readable book leaving me so disappointed. But the sad truth is that White Knight #8 is best when taken out-of-context. After championing this series early on, I feel awful having to say so, but there it is.
- You’ve followed Murphy on his Batman/Joker/Harley saga and want to see how it all ends.
- You can stare at Murphy’s artwork for days, even if you aren’t engaging with the narrative.
Like so many stories before it, Batman: White Knight in the end shows that it was far better at asking questions than answering them. This final installment has plenty of tasty artwork, fan service, and character resolution; but the deeper issues surfaced in the debut receive only predictable, unsatisfying comment. It was a thrilling ride along the way, but Batman: White Knight fails to deliver on its more compelling premises, and, in consequence, fails as a whole.