The third installment of Sean Murphy’s trilogy jumps decades into the future to see what kind of world Bruce Wayne left behind after abandoning the caped crusade against crime in Batman: Curse of the White Knight. Batman has finally shown the world his alter ego, his human counterpart, and is then sent straight to jail for the incalculable amount of destruction he’s caused. So following a criminal conviction, Batman: Beyond the White Knight opens with Bruce Wayne in the middle of a prison riot where all hell is about to break loose. Even in jail, with no separation between the criminals and Mr. Wayne, we are still here to witness the crime fighting instincts that linger within the shadows of Bruce Wayne. Spoilers of Batman: White Knight and Batman: Curse of the White Knight ahead…
Ok so I actually lied a little bit earlier when I said that the comic opens with Bruce Wayne in jail. That’s not entirely untrue but the real opening two pages actually start with the discovery of Batman’s most powerful suit. If you’re a fan of the cartoon (and inspiration for this new chapter in the White Knight saga) Batman Beyond then you’ll immediately recognize it. However, instead of a grumpy old Bruce Wayne allowing an eager crimefighter to use the new suit, Sean Murphy delivers a twist. It turns out the Batsuit is being taken by Derek Powers and he sends someone to steal the suit and test it out on the security surrounding Wayne Manor. It’s quite a change from the Batman Beyond story we know, but the aesthetic and characterization from the show are present. The cartoon presented us this world that looked futuristic and dystopian, kind of like a Bladerunner movie and Sean Murphy effortlessly taps into that atmosphere while maintaining the White Knight‘s theme of dissecting all the nightmarish ways that people have twisted and manipulated Batman’s goodwill.
But up until now, I could only appreciate Sean Murphy’s consistent tearing down of every possible good intention to an extent. In my opinion, the first mini-series Batman: White Knight possessed an embarrassing message that effective police reform means arming the police with an even deadlier arsenal. In this issue we see where those efforts to “reform” ultimately lead to: a police state, and I appreciate that this is finally being addressed. Derek Powers is also a great reminder that it was never just about Batman as a vigilante or Bruce Wayne as a billionaire but that the real issue has always been the disproportionate and unaccountable power in the hands of the few. No matter how much Bruce Wayne tries to rid himself of his own material possessions, the world he lives in allows someone else to take up his mantle but be a thousand times worse. Of course, Bruce Wayne is unable to see that and still believes that Derek Powers is responsible for everything which is why the stolen Batsuit is an incredibly clever reminder of the world that Batman left behind. A world that Batman was never able to solve on his own and that has come to destroy everything he’s tried so desperately to protect.
Speaking of clever reminders of Batman’s past, the shadow work in this issue is absolutely brilliant. Sean Murphy has really outdone himself for the art in this issue and after reading this issue twice I feel as though there are still little details that I might’ve missed that would make his art even more praise-worthy. The shadows that linger behind characters like Bruce Wayne, Dr. Harleen Quinzel and others constantly creep into the panel and visually reminds us of the true nature of these characters as well as their relation to each other. I don’t want to spoil too much in this review so I’ll let y’all enjoy the discovery of how those shadows act when multiple major characters are presented and all the subtle bits and pieces that cling to the characters like Bruce Wayne.
Sean Murphy has also done an amazing job composing each panel where some sequences absolutely floored me with the intricacy of their composition. Take the top of this page for example. Bruce and Jason are trying to understand what tore them apart and this conversation culminates as Joker literally cuts the string that kept them together. Robin is left dangling alone in between Bruce and Jason which reinforces the theme of the conversation as Robin becomes a visual barrier that separates the two characters. There are plenty of examples of incredible compositions that blend well with the storytelling but to not make this review too long I’ll just compliment the backgrounds that Sean Murphy has penciled behind the action. The future of Gotham is oppressive and practically omnipresent, the world feels so much bigger than Bruce Wayne and works to emphasize how out of touch Bruce has become. The backgrounds are also insanely busy with special police blimps surveying the world and shining lights that barely illuminate what’s going on but make the police state incredibly clear to any onlooker.
Dave Stewart is responsible for the colors in this issue and he does an incredible job complementing Sean Murphy’s work. The colors are trickling between the lines when the story is hazy, crisp when the words need to pack a punch and ultimately set the mood for every panel in perfect unison with the many plots that converge in this comic. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this but the fact that the depiction of Gotham in the past is colored in with a beautiful soft purple seems to be a cue into the way that it contrasts the future. The future is always covered in a fiery orange hue which in the color wheel stands almost at the opposite of purple. While purple is almost at the other side of orange it is still closer than yellow which might reflect how the past has been radically changed but that the past is also not the opposite of Gotham’s future, rather a radical acceleration of Gotham’s worst flaws.
The work of ANDWORLD Design for the lettering continues its elegant displays from Batman: Curse of the White Knight. The speech bubbles are well placed and let the art breathe when the panels extend or Murphy wants to show us a clear depiction of the characters with barely any words blocking it, sometimes taking advantage of a trick where the extended panels are really half in the dark so the bubbles don’t actually cover up too much art but it also works (unintentionally or not) to show how much of the world Bruce Wayne is unaware of.
So now we’ve gone through the art, colors and lettering of this issue, all bringing their A-game, and I’ve talked about the opening of this issue to show you how Sean Murphy mixes his plot points with the cartoon world of Batman Beyond which I think is executed really well too. At this point if you don’t know how I stand on this comic then let me spell it out: please do yourself a favor and buy! I’ve been trying to stay away from criticism so far because I want people to leave feeling like they absolutely HAVE to check out this comic book.
The criticisms I have for this issue, though not damning, do pile up quite a bit though and I think that as much as I love Sean Murphy’s work the way he tackles Batman’s universe, especially when he tries to turn it into a parallel for our own world, just doesn’t sit right with me. I’ll wait for the next couple of issues to roll out before explaining exactly why it doesn’t sit right with me just in case I change my mind or Sean Murphy somehow proves me wrong. I’m willing to be patient because this issue is breaking down the worst parts of the two previous mini-series and I’m feeling optimistic about where that approach will take us. I do have other reasons to criticize this issue though.
The biggest reason being the way that Sean Murphy handles his characters. This doesn’t apply to every single character in this comic but in the spirit of trying to get you invested in this mini-series I’m gonna try to avoid naming names and will try to make it as vague as possible so hopefully you’ll see what I mean when you dive into the world yourself. The biggest character mishandling comes from interactions between Batman and the various people he’s affected in his life. If anyone reading this issue has taken the time to catch-up on Sean Murphy’s previous Batman stories then they’ll see what I mean. Batman completely ignores a fundamental part of his character development in order to bring about most of the drama in this issue.
Speaking of poor character development, Sean Murphy has also been consistently inconsistent in how he writes other characters as they seem to flip-flop between different roles that “fit” whatever Murphy feels will work best in the scene without thinking about how the characters would actually react to certain situations. In the panels above Sean Murphy really wants to hammer in the idea that Bruce Wayne has completely lost contact with the outside world and his state of ignorance is a parallel to the reader who is being shown the continuation of a story that has jumped several decades into the future. However, we’re also supposed to believe that one of the main voices of reason in the previous stories (Duke, right most panel) has now joined forces with a police state that undoubtedly targets the citizens of Backport without any indication of how this character would’ve radically changed his stance towards the police of Gotham? It’s all in service to showing how out of touch Bruce Wayne is but, as this is a reoccurring problem in the way that Sean Murphy writes his characters, it shows us that the writer is also out of touch with the world he has painstakingly curated for us.
So my problems for this comic are mostly based off of the characters that Sean Murphy writes around but these are problems that pop up rather than completely destroy the issue. The characters aren’t even bad I just wish they were more consistent within Murphy’s universe. The art, colors, lettering, atmosphere and reincorporation of Batman Beyond have all been consistently amazing so is it too much to ask for the characters (THE driving force of the comics) to be consistent too?
- Batman Beyond still holds a special place in your heart
- The previous volumes of The White Knight saga rocked your world
- You want a masterclass in panel composition
- Attention to detail is important and you can’t wait to see how well it’s done here
A terrifying return to the world of Batman Beyond. The art, coloring and letters all work off each other incredibly well and there are a plethora of little details that I’m discovering and absolutely loving. Hopefully Sean Murphy continues showing us how terrible Batman and Napier’s well-meaning schemes actually are but the writing is still creating these arguments based on flawed premises.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided an advance review copy of this issue, and this review has been updated from the post originally published on February 8.