Arkham gave me a lot of time time to think. About what was really important.
Issue #7 of Batman: White Knight is the beginning of the series’ third and final act, where all the pieces come together and we finally get a glimpse of the puzzle author Sean Murphy has been assembling since issue #1. It’s a surprisingly introspective and violence-free issue, especially when compared with the Batmobile-powered rooftop chases through Gotham City and the clashes with Neo-Joker in previous issues.
Murphy’s art and Matt Hollingsworth’s coloring ties in with this more subdued feeling, with stark, ice-white colors filling each and every page. The contrast is especially obvious when compared with the outside shots of the frozen tundra Gotham has become and the bold yellow color scheme used in the Jason Todd flashback. The intentionally bare, light-blue backdrop draws your focus away from the background noise and toward the emotion each character conveys, because after all that is the main theme of the issue: confronting your inner-self, both for Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Napier/Joker.
Suddenly, everything has begun to come full circle in issue #7. The central theme of the entire story becomes painfully clear. Jason Todd’s torture and disappearance, Nightwing and Batman’s dysfunctional relationship, Alfred’s death, and Mr Freeze’s family ties to the Waynes. Batman’s actions have seemed willfully dangerous, even short-sighted at times, but every decision he made was out of desperation for his adoptive family, the family the Joker tore apart when he took Jason from him. It all neatly ties back to the Joker’s speech back in issue #1.
Admit it. You can’t even build a family because the very thought of one terrifies you! How many innocent children will you ruin with your nightmare?
For the first time in the story, we see Bruce let his guard down when he finally confronts Dick and Babs about Alfred’s death. Much like with Jason, Alfred’s passing has stirred something in Bruce he feels unable to confront. Who will look out for his family when he’s gone? How will Babs and Dick deal with Gotham’s rogue gallery without Batman there to shield them? His incessant need to put himself at the center of every fight throughout the story, to outright ignore his partners and act on his own, stems from Bruce’s obsession with losing those closest to him.
Up until now, author Sean Murphy has superbly masked Bruce’s pain through misdirection. By making the reader assume Batman’s unhinged quest for vengeance against the supposedly reformed Joker was born out of an inability to look past Jack Napier’s former crimes, and his uncharacteristic belief that criminals can’t be reformed, he’s succeeded in hiding Bruce Wayne’s softer side from the audience. His obsession with proving that the Joker will return was not out of stubbornness, but out of fear; fear that when he does return, the Batman will no longer be around to stop him.
In the first few issues of White Knight, I had a sneaking suspicion that maybe Murphy was opting for a Batman closer to that of what we’ve seen in the DCEU films or possibly something more akin to Frank Miller’s take on the character in The Dark Knight Returns. Instead, I’m happy to admit that I was simply fooled all along. This is the Batman we all know and love, simply taken down a peg or two and at the end of his rope. This whole time, we’ve actually been witnessing a Batman without a plan. Everything about this issue has made re-reading the previous six issues that much better, and I implore anyone reading this to do the same once you finish this issue. I haven’t been more excited for issue #8 of White Knight than I have been for any other comic this year. If Sean Murphy manages to stick the landing on the series’ final issue, we may very well have a perfect Batman story on our hands.
Verdict: 5 Tragic Batman Backstories out of 5