It seems like it was only yesterday that I completed my review for Batman: Beyond the White Knight #5, and here I already have another issue before me to deconstruct. I say “deconstruct,” because I’m at a point where I know what to expect from this universe, and it really doesn’t look like it’s going to change (we only have 2 issues left after all). Honestly, the White Knight universe has gone from a series of comics I enjoyed reading to a book that’s a chore to get through, and this chapter is no exception.
So, without further delay, let me express to you why this series continues to be such a frustrating read.
Batman and Harley
The first thing we get is some more Batman and Harley Quinn romantic action. The good thing about it is that it addresses some of the complaints I had about the ending of the last issue. The bad thing is that this script is still riddled with problems. For example, we get a confirmation that Harley is aware of the fact that Jack has been living as a projection in Bruce’s mind. That’s a good start, since we’re getting some context for the interaction at the end of the last issue, so I can come closer to understanding what is really going on. But how does Harley know this? We are simply expected to accept the fact that “she’s smart,” so of course she knows. But Harley says that Jack is gone, completely gone now (even though he was able to physically take over Batman’s body, and he still shows up later in Bruce’s mind, but never mind that I guess). This whole thing of Jack and Bruce is still all over the place. It is two steps forward and one step back in terms of making sense.
Harley now argues that the future she really has is with Bruce, and that Jack wants them to be together, too.
May I just say, I don’t know why? I’ve given myself a chance to really look at the relationship between Harley and Bruce in this book. I’ve heard some people say they actually like it in the context of this universe, so I re-examined the dynamic, wondering if it was merely my own bias that made me dislike it. It’s not.
Why would Harley want to be with Bruce in this universe, and vice versa? Bruce has been nothing but a stubborn child since day one; a stubborn child who Harley keeps pursuing. Bruce also doesn’t seem nearly as interested in Harley as she is in him. He cares about her in a very flawed way, but I never sense actual romantic love from Bruce, I only get the sense that he is running from her.
From another angle, there’s also the fact that these characters are meant to be shadows of the versions from Batman: The Animated Series. If Sean Murphy thinks those versions were teasing a romance, he is sorely mistaken. Yes, Bruce had sympathy for Harley in Batman: TAS, but it was just that: sympathy. Batman had a little pity for Harley because of how the Joker tormented her, and because Harley did try to reform on one occasion. That sympathy evaporated in Batman: Return of the Joker, when Harley kidnapped Tim Drake, and Batman just punched her aside to get to him.
Harley, on the other hand, flirted with Batman occasionally in DCAU media, but it was more of a silly, mischievous sort of thing, not indicative of a serious romance. Harley was a petulant child to Batman most of the time, and I would never see them together. So when Sean Murphy uses classic Batman: TAS imagery to illustrate their relationship, it feels very awkward. I don’t think this relationship is coming from someone who understands the characters at all.
However, speaking of awkward, we get some more awkward dialogue from Bruce and Harley as Bruce is concerned that he and Harley “did the deed” over night. Bruce sounds like Peter Parker fresh out of high school here, but it is the same kind of awkward behavior we see Sean Murphy project through Jack Napier. It doesn’t feel in character for Bruce; rather, it feels more like Sean Murphy is inserting himself through the character. The only result is making this version of Batman feel even more like an insecure child.
Nevertheless, stubborn, childish old Bruce leaves Harley, and we get a truly awesome sequence of art, showing Bruce quietly walking out from the hideout, gradually making his way to the Batmobile, before a big panel showcases him collapsing into the front seat, completely weary of everything.
It is a reminder that you can have absolutely fantastic artwork in comics, even if your story and context is falling completely flat.
Everything I’ve already talked about is merely the opening of the comic, but at this point, I actually had to put the comic away and come back to it another day. I was that frustrated. There’s a lot more wrong with this comic, but hopefully, it’ll take less time to explain.
After the whole confrontation between Harley and Bruce, we return to Dick Grayson who comes back to his office to find Jason Todd there. To be completely honest, I didn’t bother to read Murphy’s Jason Todd mini series, but he apparently expects you to have read it if you’re reading Beyond the White Knight. Little context is given for Jason Todd’s appearance, and as someone who did not read the White Knight: Jason Todd book, the entire character felt intrusive to the story. He really doesn’t need to be here, but Murphy wants to make sure the whole gang is together.
But we have bigger things to talk about besides Jason…
There’s a lot of little things that happen along the way in this chapter. We hear that Jackie has been captured, but she is completely on Bruce’s side now, after the speech he gave her last issue. Gee, all that build-up teasing Jackie’s fall to the dark side only to have it cleared up by Bruce giving her a talking to? Then we get to see Dick Grayson come back into the picture, where there are strong implications that he and Barbara got married sometime ago. He brightens up and gets a nice moment with her. Once again, all the build-up of the tension between Dick and the GCPD is dissipated suddenly.
But then we get to the big meat of the chapter, Bruce finally comes to Dick, and he gives him a huge speech about his failings as a surrogate father and all the damage that he has caused as Batman. It’s a long sequence that’s admittedly accompanied by some fantastic art. I appreciated seeing Sean Murphy tackle a two-page spread depicting the iconic relationship of Batman and Robin.
The end result of Bruce’s speech is that Nightwing finally understands him and it’s all good between them. Do you see the pattern here yet? Murphy’s been building up these various conflicts at a slow burn for months, but now they are all being resolved at the snap of a finger, mostly due to Bruce giving speeches to reconcile with the people who are angry with him.
Sean Murphy’s point?
Bruce says it himself, his mission is to correct all the harm he has done as Batman. However, according to Sean Murphy, so much of that harm was caused by Bruce’s own stubbornness and unwillingness to communicate with the people closest to him. It seems that most of the many conflicts introduced in this book can be resolved, if only Bruce gives an emotional speech to the person who has a problem.
May I just say, that seems like a rather childish take on the character of Bruce?
It’s like if someone observed the embittered elderly Bruce Wayne of the original Batman Beyond cartoon and thought “Boy, Batman’s just so mean, things would be better if he stopped being so stubborn!” It’s one of the things that make this iteration of Bruce Wayne feel so immature at his core. There’s a lot of things I could say about the depictions of Batman’s flaws in various media, but immaturity was never one of them. The fact that all of these major conflicts were built up for so long yet resolved so simply and quickly make the writing itself feel a bit childish. It makes me not be able to take the story seriously.
- Once again, you are a fan of Sean Murphy’s artwork
- Bruce and Harley is a ship that works for you.
- You want any small amount of DickXBabs content.
I feel the White Knight universe is just sputtering along to its final conclusion at this point. I think if one really wanted to take a look at Murphy’s vision for these characters, they could go read the original White Knight series and leave it at that. The flaws of the series currently outweigh the positives by a very wide margin. I don’t think there’s much left to do other than stop Mr. Powers and have Bruce and Harley run away together like he and Selina Kyle did at the end of The Dark Knight Rises (which for Bruce and Harley, feels like a very odd thing indeed.)
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.