The time has finally come for The Joker to be cured of his insanity, with Batman: White Knight promising to be one of the most refreshing takes on the Dark Knight in recent DC history. Nobody has ever disputed The Joker's intelligence, ability to strategize, nor his determination to lock himself in a life-or-death struggle with Gotham's caped crusader. But thanks to a coming (limited) series by writer/artist Sean Gordon Murphy, fans will see the villain's potential in all its glory - seeking to defeat Batman through politics, law, and the will of Gotham's people.
While some devoted, hard-line Batman fans will scoff at the notion of The Joker becoming a hero and Batman the villain, Murphy and DC are making a compelling case for White Knight. No, it won't be a "canon" story permanently altering the main DC Universe, but an alternate (yet mainly faithful) take on Batman and his supporting characters. In Murphy's version of the story, Joker's ability to rival serious superheroes will be given an upgrade: showmanship, rhetoric, and an obsession with Batman become lethal tools when wielded by a sane man.
For longtime fans, the premise of White Knight means a chance to see scenes brought to life that most never dared to hope for. For modern, socially-conscious readers, it's Murphy's attempt to show that the motivations of these two icons isn't as morally black and white as fans tend to think. After all, as Murphy explains to Wired, even a crazed Joker could argue that Batman is making things worse by tormenting the lowest of Gotham. Give Joker his sanity and mastery of rhetoric, Murphy says, and he's a manipulator in the image of Mad Men's Don Draper:
"My main goal was to undo the comic tropes while changing Gotham from a comic book city into a real city—a city dealing with everything from Black Lives Matter to the growing wage gap... rather than write a comic about the wage gap, I gave those ideas to the Joker, who leads a kind of media war against Gotham's elite by winning people over with his potent observations and rhetoric."
Murphy explains that he initially wanted to title the series Joker: White Knight of Gotham until DC editorial voted him down, giving Batman the title role. The Dark Knight will appear in every issue (along with Batgirl Nightwing, and others), and judging by the artwork Murphy is teasing already, Joker will get the upper hand on his former nemesis at least once. Whatever apprehensions fans may have with little context for Batman in chains, it's worth remembering that if Joker stayed on the right side of the law... Batman is undoubtedly in the wrong:
"We know Joker's a genius, we know he's relentless, and we know he can play the crowd, so why not make him a politician? Why not strip away the psychosis (the thing that's holding him back) and let him challenge Batman unimpeded? And to make it even scarier, what if he did it legally and without breaking any rules, so that Batman couldn't stop him?
"Seeing Gotham for the first time with clear eyes, his psychosis now cured, he starts to understand the absurdity of vigilantism and how Batman's actions are only contributing to Gotham's endless crime cycle. Joker sets out to beat Batman by becoming the White Knight that Gotham really needs."
Since the announcement, Murphy has taken to Twitter with exuberance, fielding questions from fans curious to know just how much the comic will be changing the DCU, who will be appearing, and whether this really is the Joker story they've been waiting for. That of course includes a "classic" take on Harley Quinn, who Murphy promises will finally "get the Joker she always wanted. No more abuse." Other famous members of Batman's rogues gallery have been confirmed, including Bane, Two-Face, Scarface, Poison Ivy, Roxy Rocket, Killer Croc... as Murphy puts it, "most every [Batman: The Animated Series] villain."
Colorist Matt Hollingsworth will be helping to complete the series (five of the issues have already been written and illustrated by Murphy himself), with the artists restricting themselves to just one or two colors per page. From an artistic standpoint, fans of The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus, Tokyo Ghost and Murphy's other work know his showcase on Batman is an opportunity he'll seize.
As for the writing? Well, Murphy claims that he's "pushing Gotham in a new direction," expecting DC to inspect the results before determining which broken ground is too good to overlook. With a story uniting Joker and Harley as intelligent, powerful figures looking to unite Gotham against Batman... we have a hard time believing this ride won't be one worth talking about.
Batman: White Knight #1 will be released on October 4, 2017.
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