lfred is dead! The Joker escapes Arkham, again! Batman is questioning his mission! And who is mopping the floors of a church in downtown Gotham? All this and more in a grim opening issue. Will all be revealed? Find out what happens in our Major Spoilers review!
Writer: Sean Murphy
Artist: Sean Murphy
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: AndWorld Design
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: July 24th, 2019
Previously in Batman Curse of the White Knight: The efforts of Jack Napier to claim the mayoralty of Gotham have failed, but even in failure, questions are being asked about the true source of the corruption that lies at the heart of this city of darkness. While Batman wrestles with what Napier exposed, Bruce wrestles with Alfred’s death. And in the darkness of a church, an angel struggles to reemerge…
Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1 opens in classic Hammer Horror style – heroes facing off against a vampiric foe in Arkham Manor, with a final, cathartic overthrow of evil. But did Bruce Wayne’s ancestor, Edmond, really kill the vampire that had been lording it over Gotham Valley in 1685? Fast forward to the present day, and the answer is…hazy.
Bruce Wayne and Batman are wrestling with two dilemmas. The death of Alfred before this series began has had a huge impact on Bruce – finally cast adrift from the last link to his parents. Batman faces something equally fundamental – the revelation that maybe all his efforts to safeguard Gotham have been in vain, and that the efforts of Jack Napier to weed out Gotham’s corruption was the better approach.
Amidst these crises of confidence, we have the Joker engineering his escape from Gotham, but not before unearthing something from his old cell, which rests near to the well into which the vampire plunged to its death. His escape, manufactured by the warden of Arkham Asylum, gives a boost to Napier’s allegations that the elite of Gotham use the criminal element to devalue property, so they can step in during the aftermath and hoover up assets on the cheap.
Batman Curse of the White Knight #1 revels in its hyper masculinity, especially through Sean Murphy’s art. All the men are huge physical specimens, dominating their surroundings in a way that casts them as larger than life. But it’s not just the raw physicality that Murphy revels in. There’s a lovely profile of the Joker early in the issue, which captures the essence of the character – the arrogance, the bristling anarchic energy depicted in a sneer. It isn’t just the character design that gives Batman Curse of the White Knight #1 its energy – the brown and gray colors that predominate, moody, russet lighting, the long, deep shadows, the claustrophobic vaults of Arkham all give Gotham that queer energy that is almost as much a character as any of the parade of costumed freaks populating it.
Murphy’s writing doesn’t quite capture the energy of his artwork. There’s a mystery going on here, mainly because Murphy is deliberately holding back what is going on. True, all the elements are there, or at least, what we think are the elements – the Joker has discovered the bones of the vampire, while the corrupt elite Napier talked about are indeed hiding in plain sight. It’s what Murphy intends to do with those elements that gives the opening issue its impetus.
The power fantasy that is the heart of modern day superhero comics is, however, undermined cleverly in this issue. While the visual cues tell us the characters are larger than life, it’s the way Murphy has undermined the support structure for both Bruce Wayne and Batman that is most interesting about this issue. Without Alfred’s support, who is Bruce Wayne? Alfred’s steadying hand is gone, who or what will take its place, and until that moment, how will Bruce cope. Similarly, with Batman facing the idea that his crusade has been for naught, what is the Batman without his fight for vengeance/justice? Just another anarchic element in a city full of crazies? While the answers aren’t forthcoming for either question, it’s hopefully something that Murphy will address in future issues.
Of course, it’s the last mystery that’s revealed (well, it’s not that hidden) that gives life to the other mystery running through the issue and the reason for the title – Jean-Paul, the cancer riddled, broken down old man working as a janitor at a church. Through the Joker’s manipulation, Azrael is reborn in the last pages. The question as to how he plays a part in the rest of the series is left on a cliffhanger, but his reborn ideals versus Batman’s exhausted cynicism will no doubt for a key part of what is to come.
BOTTOM LINE: A DARK, BROODING MYSTERY
A dark, brooding mystery with tendrils back to the dim, shadow-haunted past of Gotham, Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1 is a solid opening issue to a story that has begun weaving many elements together. Many of the themes will be familiar to most readers, and the grim characterization surely won’t be a stranger as well. That said, the artwork is a brooding miracle, and while the story itself doesn’t quite catch fire, there’s enough smoke to tell you when it does, it will blaze as much as Azrael’s sword…
Batman Curse of the White Knight #1
The Batman, the Joker and Azrael all come together in a brooding opening issue that asks many questions, but offers few answers. Not for everyone, the grim tone and menacing atmosphere of corruption and futility will delight many others.