When I last talked about Batman: Beyond the White Knight, my rose-colored glasses had finally come off. I began to see just how flawed this White Knight universe actually is, albeit consistently carried by great artwork. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t get any better as the stories go on.
Slimmer is Better
One of the things I criticized in my previous review for this series was how overstuffed the plot was. Sean Gordon Murphy simply had given himself too many characters and subplots to work with. Today, thankfully, we’re mainly focusing on the Batman and Jack Napier adventure, and that makes the read quicker and easier at least. We do see other characters pop in and out on the Bruce/Jack journey, basically interrupting their mission so Murphy can try to develop/resolve some of his many subplots.
The subplots include a reminder that Duke Thomas is Robin, a cameo from Red Hood, a continuation of Jackie’s drama, Terry’s search for his father’s true killer reaching a climax, etc. It’s still a lot, and it still shows that Murphy gave himself too much to juggle at once. However, all these subplots are revisited in cameos or moments peppered throughout the story. It makes the whole thing feel more focused than you’d believe with how much is actually going on.
The Bruce/Jack Craziness
Choosing one plot thread (in this case Jack/Bruce) to focus on makes for an easier read. Does that mean that the story between Jack and Bruce in itself is good? Well, no. There’s a reason why I said that this issue is wild.
First of all, I don’t think Murphy sets down any consistent rules for himself when writing Jack as a program in Bruce’s mind. For this entire series, I was under the impression that Jack was merely a voice and a visual projection in Bruce’s mind, and he had no capabilities apart from that. Now, we see Jack helping Bruce by typing on computers and what not. How does that work? I thought Jack wasn’t tangible to the real world. At one point, Jack puts his hands on the back of Jackie’s shoulders, and she doesn’t feel anything, but Jack is also able to physically put pressure down on keyboards to type in commands?
But it gets crazier.
Later during a battle, Bruce’s heart rate starts spiking to high levels, making him collapse. Therefore, Jack decides to take over Bruce’s body and fight for him, and we get a visual where Jack’s head is now placed upon Bruce’s bulky body. Once again, I don’t know how this works. So, Jack wasn’t just a figment in Bruce’s mind, he can physically take over his whole body? However, Bruce’s heart and body have become weakened, so how does Jack taking over fix that?
The next sequence comes off as quite comical as Jack, with his tiny head on Bruce’s enormous body, acts like a kid in the candy shop using the body of Batman to fight. It changes the tone of the comic from serious to wacky and does not work. The suddenly wacky tone continues as Jack drives a Batmobile careening down a building with silly screaming, and Bruce (now a figment in Jack’s head) puts his feet up saying, “I guess this is it then,” as another joke before it is revealed that the car can fly. I think one of the big reasons Murphy struggles with dialogue and characterization in his Batman books is that he never resists the urge to insert his own jokes or his own thoughts through the characters at any moment, whether they’d actually say it or not. I’ve noticed that tends to make all the characters sound the same, at one point or another.
The Craziness Doesn’t End
I can’t talk about this wild story without talking about the ending.
Jack, still in control of Bruce, makes it to another one of Bruce’s hideouts. Harley shows up because Bruce (really Jack) called her there. The following scene is very confusing.
First, we see that it hasn’t literally been Jack’s tiny head on Bruce’s bulky body this whole time. No, physically, it’s always been Bruce that everyone sees, as revealed by Jack looking in a mirror. I really wish that had been more clear before, because it really confused me.
Then, it is revealed that Jack just wants to tell Harley what she means to him after he didn’t get a chance in the past. But Harley isn’t told that it’s Jack; she thinks it is Bruce. So, is Jack doing this so that Bruce and Harley can be together? That doesn’t seem to be the story’s aim, because Jack said he was specifically doing this for himself. We have Bruce encouraging him, so is Bruce doing this so he can reconcile with Harley? That doesn’t seem like what is happening either, because it means nothing unless Bruce does that himself. Even then, it’s way too soon to have Bruce go through such a 180 degree change after he has been nothing but stubborn for this entire arc.
Is Sean Gordon Murphy setting this up so that, technically, both Bruce and Jack can be with Harley, because they currently inhabit the same body? That’s a messed up idea, and I really hope we don’t go there, but I can’t help but wonder if we will.
But What About the Artwork?
I saved any talk about the artwork for the end, intentionally. In every review I’ve done for this series I’ve gushed about how amazing the artwork is, and that remains true. However, I feel that I, and many others, have been willing to overlook how many glaring writing flaws there are in Murphy’s approach to these characters because we have been mesmerized by how pretty the artwork is.
There’s another half-a-page panel in the middle of the book that depicts a large image of Jack leaning against the inner pipes of a building as Bruce crawls through. It’s a great way to visually represent the way that Jack is living in Bruce’s mind. However, that visual idea is ruined by how muddled Murphy’s story mechanics are for the Bruce/Jack dynamic.
I have a controversial opinion that a comic book’s quality should be judged perhaps 40% by the art and 60% (at least) by the writing. The writing is the main key for any fictional story across any medium (prose novels, comics, cartoons, and movies). I think that is evidenced by the confusing presentation of Bruce and Jack’s mental divide. The artwork was consistent, but I was confused by the choice of having Jack’s head on top of Bruce’s body and how that made me interpret the story.
That said, if Sean Gordon Murphy wasn’t the brilliant artist he is, we most certainly wouldn’t be at the fourth volume of the White Knight universe.
- You get the Blight variant cover, it is incredible.
- Harley and Bruce getting more romantic action makes you swoon.
Like I said, my rose-colored “Sean Gordon Murphy is amazing” glasses came off in my last review, and they remain off. I continue to be unimpressed as Beyond the White Knight goes on. It almost reminds me of a film series that had one initial movie everyone liked, only to spawn a half a dozen bad sequels.
That said, Murphy is still an amazing artist, and if you’re only here for that, you’ll be happy.
Disclaimer: DC Comics proved Batman News a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.