batman white knight review

Batman White Knight Review WW #116: THE PROBLEM

The following is a non-exhaustive list of things I have personally experienced that were more pleasant than reading the collected “Batman: White Knight” by artist and writer Sean Gordon Murphy:

Batman White Knight Review WW #116
  • That time I decided to eat a tray of grocery store garlic bread for dinner and had diarrhea for two days

I bought the first four issues of “White Knight” when they dropped in 2017-18. Maybe I read the first three. Or two. It’s hard to remember. (ComiXology seems to think I read them all. Whatever.) Regardless, I read enough to know to a moral certainty the book Was Not For Me. It was a confounding mess of a thing, somehow both plodding and laden with too much action, ambitious without an ounce of execution. Full of piss, grievance, pseudo-intellectualism and tediousness, it was the Ben Shapiro of comic books.

Again, not for me.

So why do this? I don’t have enough time to read the books I like, much less the ones I loathe.

“Will,” you say. “Only an asshole would read a trade just to write a piece about how much you hate something.” And I would say to that, “Correct, buckaroo.” 

It was mostly masochism, mixed with a small side of genuine curiosity: Would it be better this time? Maybe I needed to finish the thing to get what Big Idea Man Sean Gordon Murphy was trying to do. Maybe I was the problem. Maybe the sales charts and all those pull quotes meant something and it was actually good.


It’s fucking terrible.    


  • That time when I was like 11 or 12 and clearly should have known better and I stepped in dog shit and wiped it on my grandmother’s front door mat only for my aunt to catch me but it was probably her dog so fuck you, Kathy

I want you to picture an Olive Garden — it’s not hard, you can’t be more than 45 minutes away from one right now. The slightly faded exterior. The seats near the hostess stand with the tears that let you know no one cares. Now let your mind wander inside the kitchen. See all the poor, underpaid folks slaving next to those microwaves? It’s tragic, yes, but not as bad as what comes next: an explosion (finally, the Franchise Wars are here) tears through the building. As the smoke wafts from so many endless breadstick bowls now forever torn asunder, look at the walls: Gooey bits of pasta (and, let’s be honest, grey matter) are everywhere. 

It is a gross, slimy disaster, one you should feel dirty for even thinking about. 

Going only on the ideas — and we’re going to get to the execution, I promise — “White Knight” is that bombed-out kitchen. It’s a fucking mess, one a rational person would never eat out of, but I guess Murphy is more than happy to scoop some shit off the wall and serve it up to you with a smile.

To even attempt to summarize “White Knight” is to dance with madness, but I’ll try: Batman has been at war with crime in Gotham for “decades” (Oh God, more on that soon, too), and Joker remains the one bad guy he can’t put down for good. Joker, on one fateful escape from Arkham, gets a stash of magical Cure His Crazy pills, and he’s fixed! He becomes dashing Jack Napier, learns law, beats a murder rap, learns there have actually been two Harley Quinns (the “fake” one is the more modern interpretation, and I don’t even want to touch the psychoanalysis there), runs for Gotham City Council and sets about creating a better Gotham. Batman is distrustful because he is Batman and that’s what he does, but no one likes that because Napier is really handsome and he builds a library. The city and Commissioner Gordon turn on Batman, who is eventually captured and put in shackles.

Alfred dies somewhere in there. Napier, in his plot to make Gotham better, secretly tears down his own library with an army of goons he controls using Mad Hatter tech and a powdered Clayface — a setup the fake Harley Quinn (now called Neo Joker for some reason) steals. We learn Thomas Wayne pulled some shit to bring Nazi scientists, including Victor Fries’ pop, back to the States and set them up in Gotham. Said scientists build a super freeze gun that Neo Joker/fake Harley uses to freeze Gotham. Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, Duke Thomas, Harvey Bullock and probably some more people ride in on a multitude of Batmobiles to save the day and unfreeze Gotham shortly before Napier “permanently” transforms back into the Joker. (The Cure His Crazy pills, which are also conveniently a steroid, also conveniently wear off.)

I wrote those two grafs, and even I don’t believe them. I’d call it all convoluted, but that would imply that it was ’voluted to begin with — it’s an inedible pasta salad of horseshit.

Batman bad for Gotham? What a revolutionary idea. Television talking heads complaining about Bats? Genius. Really, Frank Miller has been fucking this chicken for almost 35 years now, but at least he had the goddamned decency to do it with mutants and horses. 

None of it — save maybe his retelling of “Death in the Family” (which Miller did better as well, but frankly, fuck him, too) — makes any sense. Read back over those paragraphs up there. Slowly feel yourself getting stupider. The thing about the Batmobiles? It’s even dumber in the book: We see the Tumbler, the Batman ’66, the Batman ’89 and the Animated Series rides all together, as if that’s supposed to make any fucking sense. 

“White Knight” is the “Ready Player One” of Batman stories, a miserable piece of inane fanboy slobbery.

  • That time on my first day as a congressional intern in D.C. when I had a terribly rotten shit in a Capitol Hill bathroom

I’ll give Murphy this: He does have a legitimately good idea about where Jason Todd can fit in his reimagined Batman mythos. (I mean, I’d read a Murphyverse Red Hood book so long as he had nothing to do with it and it ignored everything else he’s written.) But in the seminal moment, the spot where this one good thing can play out, he blows through it in five panels. It’d be one thing if “White Knight” was just a brainstorm in search of a draft, but it’s also a draft in search of an editor: Nothing in this book is executed with any precision or finesse.

And, see, this was the thing that turned me off two years ago: Murphy is not a writer, even as he writes like he’s being paid by the word (I’ll get there in a second). He latches on to concepts, slaps them with labels and then steamrolls them through the book — words like “supercriminal,” “gatekeeper” and “elites” will eventually make your eyes nauseous. But you do at least appreciate Murphy’s dialogue — Gordon’s conversation as Batman is arrested after “decades” of service is followed with a page flip and Joker talking about wanting to end Batman for “decades” — because you read this and understand that dialogue is hard to write and that not everyone should try.   

  • That time I went on a run on campus and got slightly shitty swamp ass before going back to my office and leaving a shit stain on my cloth chair 

I talked to artist and writer Dan Brereton three years ago for his story “Six Fingers,” the last gasp of the most recent revival of “Legends of the Dark Knight,” and he said something that really stuck with me: “There’s a lot of frustrated novelists writing comics,” meaning that comic book writers who shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing tend to pile words on the page. “Six Fingers” is a lush, gothic ode to the creepier side of Bats, lovingly painted and steeped in the warm knowledge that comics is inherently a visual medium — and, importantly, it’s not choked with text. 

If nothing else, you’d think that “White Knight” would focus itself on the art, leaving visuals to do most of the storytelling work because Murphy actually appreciates his trade. And you’d be slapdick wrong, because he positively buries the book in words:

A dull exchange of ideas between Batman and Joker broken up only by the monotony of violence.

And look at this cursed panel:

Batman White Knight Review Example 1

Who the fucking fuck wants to read that? I’ll tolerate that shit from Brian Michael Bendis, but anyone else can forget it. 

And even when the art isn’t hidden by swollen speech balloons filled with meandering stilted monologues, it’s bad. Everyone has a scowling overbite. No one has an actual human expression. And while I know Matt Hollingsworth did color, I’ll blame Murphy for that too: Everything — every moment, every beat, every panel — is drab.

It’s fucking tiresome.

  • That time I got really into Olestra chips and shit my pants on a date with my now-wife

I don’t know why this book is popular. I also don’t know why DC would have greenlit eight issues of it, much less eight or (Dear God) 16 more. It sells, and I suppose that’s all the Warner Bros. suits care about — that and the chances of one day adapting it as their IP farm merrily churns another crop.

But why do people read it? I’ve got a theory I’m still field testing, but I’m ready to share it: 

Batman White Knight Review  Chart

The ethos of “White Knight” and Zack Snyder’s vision for the DCEU have much in common: dreary aesthetics, a loose tie to canon, an affection for ideas bigger and better than their own and a deep pining for respectability and intellectualism without the difficult work required of such things. They are both a dense individual’s idea of something smart and good. 

I wish I knew why we are drawn to such profound mediocrity. But I’m also the asshole who paid for this book.

  • That time I drank municipal water after a tornado knocked out power to the treatment plant, had diarrhea in my sleep and thereby literally shit the bed lying next to my now-ex-wife  

The perverse thing, the thing that eats at the quiet parts of my brain, is that I’m now more interested in reading the folly of a sequel, “Curse of the White Knight.” Maybe Murphy’s learned something about writing and about what comics should be. Maybe it’s not a retread of the best parts of “DKR” and “Death in the Family” along with Murphy’s unresolved teenage angst regarding Harley Quinn. 

Maybe it’s not complete shit.

Yet there’s no way it couldn’t be.

And it will still sell, even as legions of smart, creative books will die without sniffing the numbers that Murphy has given DC.

Happy fucking Batman Day.

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