Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN - THE WHITE KNIGHT #1, SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1

Spirits of Vengeance #1 variant
Credit: Mark Texeira (Marvel Comics)
Credit: DC Comics

Batman: White Knight #1
Written by Sean Murphy
Art by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by DC Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In a world where Batman can no longer be trusted, the Joker must now take on a new role as Gotham’s savior. Writer/artist Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth tackle this strange world in Batman: White Knight #1, highlighting the way that Gotham’s notoriously corrupt police department deals with the fact that one of their best allies has gone off the deep end.

The premise to Batman: White Knight is intriguing and suits the Dark Knight well, with Sean Murphy able to bring in some of the larger real-world fan debates about Batman’s sanity to the forefront with this out-of-continuity tale. “Is Batman actually solving crime?” isn’t the question of the subtext – Murphy uses the Joker to get that question right out in the open, and the rest of the issue works from there. The relationship between Batman and the Joker gets a lot of play here in this opening chapter, and that’s also the issue’s biggest structural problem: establishing the world takes a tad longer than one would want in a 24-page story.

In the long run, when this story is collected into a single volume, the nine or so pages spent on showing Joker challenging Batman to review their relationship to one another will fit, but in the single issue format, readers may find themselves challenged to care. Murphy’s characterization of the Joker is one that readers will find familiar, and that’s the point, as the series will aim to flip both the Joker and Batman on their heads. But that familiarity also gives Batman: White Knight #1 a bit of a “been-there-done-that” feel. It’s unfortunate, too, as the rest of the book is really strong as Murphy dives headfirst into the fallout of Batman’s beatdown of the Joker.

At the center of this is the Gotham City Police Department, and it’s fun to see how Murphy plays with each character. Commissioner Gordon is obviously shaken by the actions of his friend and on the defensive from both the press and fellow officers who knew of his active alliance with Batman. Particularly great is how Murphy handles Harvey Bullock, whose antagonism towards Batman seems particularly well-justified in light of recent events. Murphy also weaves in GCPD’s history with corruption, referencing police brutality and race riots that feels appropriately topical without seeming overly influenced by real-world events. It’s this focus on the GCPD that gives Batman: White Knight #1 a real flavor of its own, and it will be interesting to see how Murphy handles this angle moving forward.

While the story itself doesn’t quite dazzle, the artwork by Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth is simply stunning. Murphy’s penchant for detail and use of varying line weights give Gotham a truly haunted feeling that works extremely well given the story. There are some visual references to other Batman stories within the artwork itself, such as the way Batman’s attack on the Joker resembles a similar event in The Dark Knight Returns. These references show that Murphy is well aware of the fact that some of this material is well-tread, and gives hope to the idea that future issues of Batman: White Knight will discover new territory with the characters.

Matt Hollingsworth’s colors create a kind of horrific tone that permeates through the story. From the blood red that encompasses the background of Batman’s pursuit and assault of the Joker to the bleached out colors of the newsroom, there’s a visceral feeling to Hollingsworth’s palette that echoes the inside-out feel to the story’s premise. The minimal palette not only highlights the detail in Murphy’s artwork, but it brings out the colors in the costumes of Batgirl and Nightwing, further isolating them in a story in which they appear to be the only sane heroes.

Batman: White Knight #1 isn’t quite a spectacular debut, but it does a good job establishing its world before flipping it upside down. How much establishing a world such as Gotham really needed is up for debate, but now that the stage is set, Sean Murphy will be able to further explore the promising angles he has created here. The out-of-continuity setting creates the perfect opportunity for Murphy to bring to the text some of the real world discussion about Batman and it will be exciting to see if he can find anything new to say about Batman and the Joker with this world.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spirits of Vengeance #1
Written by Victor Gischler
Art by David Baldeon and Andres Mossa
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The supernatural returns to Marvel as Victor Gischler, David Baldeon, and Andres Mossa bring together Ghost Rider, Daimon Hellstrom, Blade, and Satana to fight the forces of evil in Spirits of Vengeance. Fans of Marvel’s horror and supernatural books have been clamoring for a title like this for some time, hoping that the united group of characters could keep a title afloat when many of the solo efforts have failed. Unfortunately, Spirits of Vengeance #1 suffers from some first-issue woes that keep it from making much of an impression.

At the heart of the problem that Spirits of Vengeance suffers is that it doesn’t quite know how to get around the “assembling the team” aspect to its premise. Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze (sorry, Danny Ketch fans) gets the most focus this issue, though Daimon Hellstrom gets a decent amount of page-time as well. Unfortunately, the plot is extremely vague, leaving these two characters to do most of the heavy lifting without much purpose. Readers will learn there’s a threat to the world, but the specifics of that threat remain unrevealed. Spirits of Vengeance #1 seems comfortable with simply establishing that the threat is something big enough that the book will require all four of its heroes. Whether or not that’s enough for the reader to want to continue will be down to personal taste.

That being said, Victor Gischler does strike a nice tone with the dialogue between the characters, with some humorous one-liners (John McClane in Die Hard as opposed to Joss Whedon’s trademark quips in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) that really give the book a fun vibe. It will be interesting to see how the entire team gets along (or doesn’t), but it once again stings that the full team couldn’t have been brought together in this opening issue.

The metal attitude of the book really comes through thanks to the art by David Baldeon and Andres Mossa. Baldeon’s designs for the characters are slick in a “these guys will royally mess you up” kind of way, and the new characters, like Curtis, give the series a more grimy feel rather than some of the glossier alternate-world feel that features in books like Doctor Strange and Thor. Andres Mossa’s colors really shine here, with impressive orange flames and great use of silhouettes (the introduction of another character towards the end of the book is particularly badass). There isn’t too much action in this first issue, but what is here will leave readers begging for more.

In many ways, that’s a recurring feeling for Spirits of Vengeance #1. The book is never quite able to escape the seemingly obligatory first issue tropes that plague so many debuts. While Victor Gischler creates some nice interaction between Ghost Rider and Hellstorm, the plot of the issue is a little too vague to make much of an impression, though the art by Baldeon and Mossa does more than enough in that regard. For fans of these characters, Spirits of Vengeance is a no-brainer must buy. For those who don’t really have any investment, the book may not be meaty enough to provide a reason to stay.

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