“Thank you. For giving me a chance to learn who I really am. But most importantly, for giving me a chance to fall in love with you all over again.”
The Joker is kind of played out at this point. There isn’t really much left that DC Comics can do to keep him interesting. Yet they keep finding ways to do it! Batman: White Knight (released in a collected edition under DC’s “Black Label’ imprint) sells itself as a bit of a ‘what if…?’ story. Mainly, what if the Joker was the good guy? Naturally, I assumed it’d be similar to DC’s Elseworlds stories. But it is so much than that. It’s not Batman in the Old West, or Batman as a vampire (which I adore, just in a different way). It’s trying to say something potentially ground-breaking about the whole Batman mythos. It’s trying to get us to see Batman from a different perspective altogether. It asks that chicken and the egg question; was Batman a result of the escalating crime in Gotham? Or was the crime in Gotham a reaction to Batman? Certainly, it makes you consider the innocents who get swept up in Batman’s crusade.
The story begins like a lot of Batman stories do – with him and his current protégés racing through Gotham in pursuit of the Joker. After tearing up half the city, Batman and his nemesis end up in a pharmaceutical factory full of pills. After a scuffle, Batman goes a step too far and almost kills the Joker by shoving the pills down his throat. Someone gets it all on camera; the brutality, the disregard for procedure, and Gordon and the GCPD standing around letting it happen. Enter, Jack Napier. The pills had a funny effect on the Joker – they turned him sane. And inside him is a good man, fighting to get out. Using the brutal footage of Batman, we see Napier rise through the ranks of Gotham City, tearing down the caped crusader along the way. But he’s not a supervillain, this isn’t about revenge or one-upping Batman. Jack sees it as the right thing to do. Batman has existed unchecked for too long, there’s too much collateral damage in his quest for justice.
The Batman we see in this story isn’t like any one Batman we’ve seen before. The best way to describe it is that he is every Batman. Through references and easter eggs, we can see that this version of the bat has been fighting crime for “decades” (though appearing no older than 35). He has been involved in famous Batman plots from other comics, films, and TV. And, coolest of all, he has every single version of the Batmobile in the Batcave. He has the Tumbler, the Keaton Batmobile, and the Adam West Batmobile. Like his age, you have to just go with it. He is every Batman. He represents the core idea of Batman, not any one version.
But the Joker is the star of the show, or more specifically Jack Napier is. And it never feels like a gimmick. It feels like a pretty serious look at a man with a violent personality disorder. When we see glimpses of the Joker returning, it’s scary. And it’s sad, this man has suffered more than anyone at the hands of the Joker and he’s fighting a losing battle. Having so much focus on Jack also gives us a good look at his and Harley’s relationship too. And it’s not the usual weird and sometimes uncomfortably abusive relationship (something a lot of people like to overlook). It’s a genuine relationship with some heartfelt moments, not the usual “Puddin’” and “Mr J” that we normally get. That’s fine too, but this is a much more down to earth look at the relationship of two damaged people.
And the story tackles a lot of lofty themes too, from police brutality to the way a lot of people in America feel forgotten – represented here by the Backport district of Gotham, a primarily BME neighbourhood which Napier allies himself with to gain approval. The words “SJWs” and “liberals” are thrown around too when describing Napier and his defenders, constantly drawing back to the politics of the world today (so I do wonder how this will age the comic). It’s pretty politically charged, but that’s what comic books should be. These characters can hold up a mirror to our own world and still be fun and entertaining. If you can see your own world in a different light, but still read about superheroes, we all win right?
That’s not to say the comic isn’t fun though – it is. There is a lot of great action in it, involving the full rogues gallery of Batman villains. And the art is phenomenal. The only downside is that the last issue is a little rushed, meaning some of the themes are not quite explored to their fullest extent. But it’s still an eight issue miniseries so there’s plenty of depth elsewhere. And there’s word of a sequel too.
Overall, this is far and away one of the most interesting Batman stories I’ve ever read. And it’s astounding that they can still surprise us with a character that is almost eight years old. Even if you’re a casual fan, this comic exists in it’s own world, with no ties to other stories – so check it out.
Reviewed by Jack