Batman’s problems are about to get a lot bigger. His old pal Joker is up to no good again, and this time, he’s got some new friends. Azrael rises, in Batman: Curse of the White Knight #2!
An effective flashback
Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1 began in flashback, and so does #2. The flashbacks have thus far centered on Bruce Wayne’s ancestor Edmund Wayne, and included characters such as Lafayette Arkham and Bakkar, a member of the Order of St. Dumas. Here in the second issue, the link between these people is more firmly established, as we see Edmund trained by Bakkar before the two men prepare to take Gotham Valley from Arkham. We also read hints in Edmund’s journal suggesting Edmund’s future betrayal of Bakkar.
If you’re familiar with Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, then the flashback has your attention at “the Order of St. Dumas.” This is, of course, the organization responsible for “The System” that both enables and haunts Jean-Paul in mainline continuity. In the Murphyverse, we know—at a minimum—that it is the group responsible for Jean-Paul’s sense of righteousness and purpose. We also know, by the end of #2, that Edmund Wayne’s betrayal of the Order is the spark that has lit a fire (with a little help from the Joker) under Jean-Paul and set him on a path of vengeance aimed squarely at Bruce Wayne.
For my money, this is a very interesting way of bringing Azrael into this continuity, and giving him a reason to be at odds with Batman. And Azrael comes at a time when Bruce is broken—not by Bane, but by Jack Napier, and the realization that perhaps Batman hasn’t been as good for Gotham as he’d intended.
Murphy’s history of the Order of St. Dumas in Gotham also perfectly sets up Jean-Paul’s path to the Bat-mantle. Bakkar ultimately sought to protect Gotham, in his way, and Azrael’s desire to “break the curse” over his city lines up perfectly with the mission of his forebear.
A somewhat less-effective present
The rest of Curse of the White Knight #2 is also very compelling. We get some more time with Ruth, the mysterious, mahogany desk-loving character who met with Joker in #1. We learn a little bit more about her this time, and I like what I’m reading. We also check in with an old friend from White Knight, and that character’s current situation—and potential for involvement in the rest of this series—are intriguing little ornaments hanging on the present story.
I also appreciate that the book steers back toward some of the sociopolitical considerations of White Knight. Murphy handled such things deftly before, and I’m happy to see him do it again. Comics nowadays seem to either lean too far into politics, at the expense of story, or avoid the subject entirely. Murphy instead gives us familiar problems without making them the central thesis. His characters struggle against the ills of our society (among other things), but Murphy himself avoids partisan judgments and propaganda. If I have a criticism, it’s that he uses the word “elites” about 70 more times than he needs to, but I’ll let it slide this time.
It’s not all sunshine and roses in Curse’s Gotham, though (who’d a thunk it?). There’s a pretty significant reveal for the Gordon family this time around, and Murphy fails to give it the space it needs to breathe. Joker interrupts a rally for the Commish’s mayoral campaign, and he drops a bombshell: Barbara Gordon is Batgirl. But the scene ends almost immediately after the reveal, with no shots of Gordon’s shocked face. Joker is apprehended, and we cut to another scene. We pick up later with the inevitable father-daughter confrontation, but we’re robbed of the immediate reaction, and I think that’s a pretty significant bungle by Murphy.
But (mostly) super-effective artwork
Unsurprisingly, Murphy’s artwork continues to dazzle. There are isolated panels where things could be a little bit clearer (two words: Batwing afterburner), but by and large, he remains one of my favorite storytellers, and I could look at his and Hollingsworth’s deliciously inky, dirty aesthetic for days. Here’s an early gem:
These panels are all taken from different occasions, but I love the way Murphy weaves them together. Edmund lunges from the right, but Bakkar uses the momentum against him. It’s a necessary humbling for the young Wayne, who thinks himself above the Order’s faith-based approach to life. But then they’re on their feet, Bakkar instructing, Edmund focused, learning. We move down, and Edmund progresses further to the right of the page, and further from Bakkar—he’s gaining proficiency, independence. The visual lines of continuity end here, as the final panel shifts to set up the splash on the next page, but we still see Edmund at the peak of capability, now perched on a rope like some seafaring Batman (or Robin, come to think of it) of old. And though, as I said, the clear line through the panels is interrupted, this panel still subtly continues the story: Edmund may have completed his training, but Bakkar is still in charge, at least for the moment. He is the foreground, he is in front. Edmund has designs, as we will read two pages ahead, but for now, he waits, perched in Bakkar’s shadow.
I’m enjoying Deron Bennett’s work on the series so far, as well. Murphy writes a lot of dialogue, and some of the pages are pretty dense. Bennett gracefully handles all of it, and the book is very readable. For my tastes, however, his SFX this issue are a bit of a mixed bag. The fills are often a bit too clean for the artwork, and I think a bit of noise and/or rendering might have helped them integrate a bit better with Murphy and Hollingsworth.
The two BOOMs at the end have trouble integrating, too, but for a different reason: the letterforms are meant to look hand-drawn, but because they look markedly different than the actual hand-drawn artwork beneath, they stand out a bit too much. Again, some texture in the fill colors could have helped somewhat, but I think the choice of type might be a problem regardless.
There are lots of other SFX, of course, and but for my want of texture, they look great. Bennett’s work is excellent for the most part, but I think it could be improved.
- You dig what Murphy did with Jason Todd in White Knight—his approach to Jean-Paul Valley is similarly interesting.
- You like Murphy’s inky, gorgeous aesthetic.
There are moments that give me pause, both narratively and visually, but Batman: Curse of the White Knight #2 is a compelling, beautifully-illustrated book full of thrills and intrigue. Sean Murphy continues to offer rich reimaginings of Batman and his supporting cast, and I’m delighted to be along for the ride.
DISCLAIMER: Batman News received an advance copy of this book for review.