The Murphyverse is back! Following up on the smash success of Batman: White Knight, writer/artist Sean Murphy is back with a tale as old as Gotham, as deadly as the Joker, and as gorgeously-rendered as the first one. Does this book live up to the hype? Find out, in Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1.
A different sort of start
Batman: White Knight began with an amazing chase scene. It spanned multiple pages, featured some outstanding visual storytelling from Murphy, and was maybe one of the best openers to an issue and a series that I’ve read. There was amazing drama as Batman savagely beat the Joker, and I was begging for the next issue by the time I was done.
I definitely want to read Curse of the White Knight #2, but I feel like most of that drive is coming from outside the book. #1 is a good read, but it perhaps depends too much on Murphy’s prior work. As such, it feels less like a first issue than a second or third issue, and having not read the original for well over a year now, I noticed.
That’s not to say that none of the new details are interesting on their own. There’s an intriguing mystery bridging the flashback that opens Curse, and the Joker’s shenanigans in the present, and some visual cues that link Azrael—the latest big-time character addition to this world—to the mystery. Watching Batman investigate this mystery is perhaps my favorite part of the story—from an Arkham crime scene to the Cave.
Azrael—or at least, Jean Paul Valley—has a compelling introduction, as well. He’s former military, shell-shocked, and clearly has some unwelcome presence in his head. He’s sympathetic—those around him show compassion, rather than fear, when he has an outburst. This is consistent with what I’d expect from Jean Paul, who has at times been a victim of his conditioning. He’s never been my favorite character in mainline continuity, but Murphy has already given me something I want to invest in, and I’m excited to see where he takes it.
A(nother) murky past for the Wayne family
In White Knight, we were at one point led to believe that Bruce’s grandparents—or maybe it was his parents?—had some connection to the Third Reich. If memory serves, the connection ended up being something that did not sully the Wayne name, but it was definitely a shocking revelation before Murphy cleared it up. Curse opens with a subtler, but harder-to-clean-up take on a much older relative: Lord Edmund Wayne, the first of Bruce’s family to come to Gotham. We don’t have all of the details, and it’s possible that more information could exonerate him (if only in part); but at first blush, he seems a bit of a power-hungry land baron. As I said, it’s subtle, but some of the comments he makes in the first few pages give this impression. Even if we see him in a different light in future issues, Murphy is once again laying the groundwork for a story about the unintended consequences of good intentions, and the monsters that we create when we compromise principles in the pursuit of results—however good those results may be.
Murphy is still Murphy
The artwork here is another Murphy masterclass in visual storytelling. Look at the second page:
The players are some unnamed, robed man, who is probably of the Order of St. Dumas, and who I will henceforth call “Robesly;” Lafayette “Laffy” Arkham (diving and laughing like a loon); and, Lord Wayne. With the exception of that top middle panel, Laffy is always hemmed in by Robesly and Wayne—the former to his left (or top), and the latter to his right (or bottom). This is true in individual panels, and in the page as a whole. Look at that center, wide panel. Now look above. Robesly owns the left side of the page, Wayne the right. They’re surrounding him. Look directly above. Robesly. Look directly below. Wayne. They’ve got him completely surrounded, and Murphy makes sure we know.
I don’t want to give Murphy a free pass, though. As good as this page is, the whip-around-the-neck stuff at the top is poorly-realized, I think. How does Wayne get the drop on him in panel 3? How does he get the whip around his neck when Laffy and Robesly are practically joined at the head in panel 2? How does that sword not draw blood from Robesly’s neck when Wayne yanks Laffy back? This doesn’t wreck the sequence by any means, but it was a brief point of confusion on my first time through, and I wish it were clearer.
Anyway, if we turn the page, we have another delicious bit of storytelling. Lord Wayne—after offering a “last chance” on the previous page—decides to run crazy old Laffy through. Check it out:
Look at the top of the well in panel 1. Directly over the bottom of the same opening in panel 2. Crystal-clear storytelling. Then look at Arkham falling, lower and lower, in panels 2-4. Even the HA HA HA follows him down. Excellent stuff.
Finally, we get an establishing shot—at the end of the scene. Murphy is setting up a parallel with the establishing shot that comes right after the credits splash, but it’s also a nice device in general: throw the reader into the conflict first, without any context. Let them see how things shake out, and then give them a clearer idea of what they were witnessing.
I could go on and on about Murphy’s storytelling—I even analyzed a few more sequences in my notes—but I think you get the point. Man knows what he’s doing, and we all get to benefit from it. This is to say nothing of his aesthetic, with gorgeous ink wipes, abstractions in character design (some playful, some menacing), and a Gotham that feels exactly as old and dirty as it ought to. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors are the perfect compliment—as always—applying a texture to Murphy’s characters and architecture that make them feel a lot more “real.”
White Knight letterer Todd Klein does not return for Curse, but we are in the capable hands of AndWorld Design, the collective founded by Deron Bennett. It isn’t clear who precisely lettered #1, but it’s quality work regardless. The placement often cooperates quite well with Murphy’s own visual flow, like on this page here:
Look especially at the bottom four-fifths of the page. The balloons in the last panel begin far to the left of the characters, so there was a risk of confusion as to who is saying what—at least until you get to “your old cell” in that first balloon. But where is that first balloon? It’s directly beneath—so close it’s almost touching—the bag referred to in the balloon’s first sentence. The bag being held by the Warden. Without even thinking about it, you just know—or at least, I did. That’s some quality collaboration right there.
Different, but good
I don’t feel quite as blown away by Curse as I first did by White Knight, but that’s okay. This is still a very good debut, and I want to see what’s next. The Joker’s particular path in this one isn’t necessarily making me super happy (I won’t spoil it here, but you’ll know what I mean when you get there), but I’m willing to give Murphy the benefit of the doubt until I know more. He’s certainly earned more than enough good will from White Knight and his all-around coolness to fans and fellow creators.
- You dug Batman: White Knight.
- You like Jean Paul Valley as a tortured, misunderstood soul.
- You love Murphy’s visual wizardry.
Though a less bombastic premier than that of its predecessor, Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1 is nevertheless a fine debut for Sean Murphy’s latest Batman. There’s enough mystery, family drama, and visual artistry to hook most any fan of the Bat, and it is well worth your money and time. What more can you ask for?