“This is an Imaginary Story… Aren’t they all?”
With those words, Alan Moore opened one story and ended an era at DC Comics. Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow was written to given the story of Superman an official ending of sorts before DC Comics rebooted their continuity with Crisis On Infinite Earths and formed what became known as the Post-Crisis Universe. Before then, any story that took place outside of the established canon (i.e. every wacky story involving Lois Lane marrying Superman) was dubbed an Imaginary Story.
Following Crisis On Infinite Earths, these non-canon stories were published under the Elseworlds imprint. The name may have changed but the base idea was still the same, allowing writers a chance to tell stories set in other realities and timelines. The first of these – Gotham By Gaslight – was set in a world where Bruce Wayne became Batman in Victorian era Gotham City and stalked a clownish Jack The Ripper.
Many of these Elseworld stories – such as Hawkworld and The Killing Joke – were absorbed into the canon due to positive fan reaction. Others, like the western-themed Justice Riders and the alternate-future Kingdom Come, became part of the canon Multiverse formed after Flashpoint. The Elseworld imprint is used sparingly these days but DC Comics still tells tales set in other realities.
Batman: White Knight is the latest of these stories. Set in a reality where The Joker has been cured of his madness, the early previews promised a story where the newly-sane Jack Napier would find himself reluctantly thrust into the role of savior when it becomes apparent that The Batman has gone over the edge in his efforts to fight crime in Gotham City.
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Surprisingly, the early synopses buried the lead on Batman: White Knight. After a three page introduction depicts a gentlemanly Joker confronting a clearly crazed Batman in Arkham Aslyum, the rest of the issue depicts a flashback to One Year Earlier. It is here we see the final battle between The Joker as we know him and a Batman who has begun to prioritize catching criminals over saving lives, much to the sorrow of Batgirl, Nightwing and The GCPD. The end result is a Joker who literally had the sense beaten into him and is determined to deliver justice to the corrupt and incompetent administration that allows a Batman to run riot.
Countless other stories have examined the idea that Batman is just as crazy and dangerous as the villains he fights and the concept of The Joker going sane or becoming a hero. Despite this, writer and artist Sean Murphy has managed to put a unique spin on both ideas with White Knight. Fans will no doubt draw comparisons to The Dark Knight Returns – both because of a similar sequence where reporters argue over the morality of Batman’s actions and The Joker’s monologues regarding the abusive relationship that he and Batman share. Murphy builds beyond these themes, however, and manages some subtle and relevant commentary on the issue of police brutality.
Murphy’s artwork proves the equal of his writing. Rich and atmospheric, with thick inks settling to form deep shadows around the original pencils, Batman: White Knight looks somber even for a Batman title! Ironically, given the title, there is no pure white to be seen anywhere in this world. Even in the brightest moments, colorist Matt Hollingsworth allows no off-whites into the artwork – only muted shades of grey which make the dark night seem all the darker. The final effect is fantastic, making this book a must-read for all Bat-fans!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.