Batman: Beyond the White Knight #4 review

I’m sorry, I can’t fool myself anymore. When I received my copy of this comic for this review, I felt absolutely no motivation to read it. I put it off for days working on other things. I tried to start it once only to put it aside again, almost immediately. Finally I sat down, glued my eyes to the screen and forced myself to read the book.

What I have to be honest about is that perhaps I haven’t enjoyed the “Murphyverse,” at least the installments since the first White Knight series, nearly as much as I thought I did. I always try to be as objective as I can in my reviews, but if I’m going to continue to discuss this series I can’t pretend I really have a great time reading it, at least not any longer. In fact, when I realized I was at the final page of the chapter, I felt relieved.

Ouch.

But why am I having such a hard time getting through the book? Well, the more I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t just for subjective reasons like “this book just isn’t my thing.” I think it’s more that the problems with this book are very complicated and might not even be visible on a first read.

One of the things that makes this book so hard to read is how many plot lines there are going on at once. There’s Jackie rebelling and going on some sort of crusade for the Joker, which we finally come back to four issues later where she’s recruited by Mr. Powers. Then there’s Power’s big scheme that gets revealed, and the fact that he also roped Terry in to work for him as a Batman, and the moral dilemma that that causes within Terry, not to mention getting into Terry’s own troubled backstory. There’s Duke Thomas becoming Robin. There’s all the Dick Grayson drama, being angry at Bruce, having a falling out with Barbara, and turning against the team. There’s Bruce Wayne still on the run dealing with Joker in his head and all that drama, not to mention whatever’s going on with Harley and Bruce. Oh, and I almost forgot the Jason Todd stuff in this issue, which is meant to tie into his own spin-off series. Finally, intertwining all of this, is our Gotham City politics which are very tiring and confusing to read, and it looks like we now might have an invasion on our hands…


It’s a WHOLE lot to keep up with. Obviously, a good writer can make a story work with a lot of different moving parts, but I don’t think it works here. It feels like I’m reading a story that’s being written in terms of “and then this thing happened, and another thing happened, oh and here’s another thing.” In other words “And now Dick Grayson attacks, and now we’ll talk about why Duke Thomas makes so much sense as Robin. Now we have Terry McGinnis’s backstory, and now Bruce and Joker will find a random dog for no reason just so we can have Ace the Bat-hound. Oh, and now here’s Jason Todd! Buy the Jason Todd spin-off!” It’s less complex storytelling, and more overstuffed storytelling. Maybe Murphy intends for this to be the big finale to the world he’s built up, hence every character must come back and get some sort of development. I don’t feel much investment in it all, though. In addition to how much there is to keep up with, I still am not into a lot of the characterization we’re getting.

Take Dick Grayson for example, his whole story is that he’s become stubbornly attached to the ways of the GTO, despite their methods not working out. He’s emotionally wayward, lost his way with Barbara, and is out to get Bruce. This is trying to mirror the falling out Dick had with the Batfamily in the DCAU, but Dick comes off as very childish and irrational to me. He’s like if you took the element of Dick Grayson that was angry at Bruce from the DCAU and made that the only part of his character.



For other character examples, there’s Jack, and it is truly just Jack and not the Joker. Jack was a fairly nuanced character in the original White Knight book, but since he’s only a holograph in Bruce’s mind, he no longer can have any character develop. He is to the audience as what he is to Bruce: a super annoying sprite living in Batman’s head, who will never shut up. I found myself annoyed by him in this issue, and I’m not sure what his overall purpose is. Is he really helping Bruce? I don’t really see how. He’s just kind of there in his head, talking to Bruce, annoying him. It seems there’s a sort of reconciliation arc going on between Bruce and Jack, with Bruce slowly warming up to the idea of calling Jack by his name and not Joker, but I don’t get the point of that. Wasn’t the whole Bruce/Joker/Jack thing reconciled by the end of the first White Knight book, with them teaming up together?

But let’s also talk about the characterization of Bruce Wayne. I like that, for a lot of this entire series, Sean Murphy is able to mimic the “Old Bruce” voice Kevin Conroy did in the Batman Beyond tv show: cantankerous, yet you can tell this guy really cares. Certain lines sound completely out of character though, like “I swear, I’m going to use this screwdriver to give myself a lobotomy, Joker.” Stuff like that makes Bruce sound far more immature than he should be, and it seems like they were put in there for the joke and not because they were in character. It’s like Sean Murphy will hit the ground running by copying iconic versions of these characters, but then easily let the voices slip for a story point or just for a line of dialogue, in this case.



Finally, let’s talk about our other Batman, Terry. He’s another example of a character from the DCAU that Murphy can mimic pretty well. In fact, that was part of the reason I was more positive on this book in the first place. I think I’ve gotten over some of that now, and have to contend with the fact that some of Terry’s writing isn’t very good. I liked the entire build-up of the scene where Terry remembers his past with his father and his guilt. It’s the best artwork in the entire issue. I love how the black and blue colors of the somber moments are juxtaposed with the blood red once Terry takes action…

…But then we get the revelation that Terry’s father’s dying words were warning him that Mr. Powers is untrustworthy and dangerous. So… what am I supposed to make of this? Has Terry been working for Mr. Powers this whole time to find out more about him? It doesn’t seem like that. The story has been playing it as though Terry has been willingly working for the guy with a moral conflict over being asked to steal and fight. If Terry’s father had warned him about Mr. Powers, why would Terry trust him on any level, including believing the lie that Bruce killed his father? Why is Terry being written as if his just now decided Mr. Powers is a bad man because he had a flashback?  Maybe more will be revealed and this will all make sense, but this struck me as some odd storytelling, albeit it had the best artwork in the entire book.

That’s the thing though, Sean Gordon Murphy has consistently great artwork, and it seems he’s always paired with a very complimentary colorist. I think that’s part of the reason why it’s so easy to overlook the flaws in his storytelling. The other reason is that the shortcomings Sean Gordon Murphy has as a Batman writer are a lot more difficult to pinpoint than most comics. It’s easy to call out a comic for a massive plot hole, contradictions, character assassinations, or just really bad artwork. It’s less easy when you’re dealing with an over-stuffed series that has so much going, characterization that can be classic for one character, and then parody for another, dialogue that slips, emotional points that don’t quite land because of the logic behind them, etc.

Also, there’s a moment in this issue I think Murphy was trying to be clever with, with Jack naming the dog instead of Bruce, and calling him “Ace” because it’s card themed. Ace doesn’t appear to have much point to the story other than being a reference to the animated show (similar to the Jokerz gang cameo), but let’s not forget that reason Bruce named his dog Ace in the DCAU…


Recommended if…

  • You’re still attached to the world of White Knight, and haven’t noticed the flaws.
  • Hearing about Gotham City politics is entertaining to you.
  • You love Sean Gordon Murphy’s art.

Overall

I’ve just had to come to the realization that I just don’t love the world of White Knight as much as I thought I did when it started. So much mischaracterization and drama has been drawn out for, I think, a lot longer than it should have been. This series is going on a hiatus now, but hopefully the second half will finally reconcile the political Gotham that Murphy has been dealing with and bring this entire universe to a final conclusion.

Score: 4/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics Provided Batman News a free copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.