Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1
Written by Sean Murphy
Art by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by AndWorld Design
Published by DC Black Label
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Sean Murphy finds pulpy fun in Gotham’s past in the muddy debut of Batman: Curse of the White Knight. Standing as a sequel to last year’s sales juggernaut, Curse of the White Knight follows up on the aftermath of Jack Napier’s civic crusade. The Gotham Terrorist Oppression unit is still going strong, Arkham Asylum is about to undergo some much-needed renovations, and the city is relatively peaceful. But still Batman is troubled, reeling from the death of Alfred and another escape from the Joker.
While the issue’s main story is a bit stock standard Batman fare, Murphy throws a new kink into this sequel. Leaning into the titular curse, we are introduced to ancestors Lafayette Arkham and Edmond Wayne, who battled over the land Arkham sits upon all the way back in the 1600s. Cutting to the present, the Joker, himself reeling from his out-of-body experience with Jack Napier, wants the ancient Arkham’s body for some nefarious purpose. The only problem is, we don’t get nearly enough time in the past, and the stuff in the present isn’t exactly as engaging as the comic book wants it to be. Though rendered in Murphy’s lithe, energetic pencils and given a stony color scheme by colorist Matt Hollingsworth, Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1 thus far only adds up to half of a great sequel.
Starting with the good, the opening of this issue looks ripped straight from a Hammer Horror movie. We open in 1685, General Lafayette “Laffy” Arkham and Lord Edmond Wayne are locked in a pitched sword fight in the halls of Arkham Manor. Laffy shouts about curses while Wayne holds his ground, eventually winning the duel and casting Arkham down a well to his grave. It’s an absolutely tremendous opening, one that makes great use of the pulpy and swashbuckling bedrock of Batman in a bravia fight sequence. Though they obviously aren’t their costumed ancestors, Murphy and Hollingsworth get a great deal out of this opening as these ancient foes clash and leap across the hard angled manor hall.
But from there, the rest of the issue fails to live up to the energy of the opening. We then move back to the present, where the Joker is staging another escape and the Batman is brooding. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Though the first series had a bit of novelty in the worldbuilding around Jack Napier and his influence in the city, Curse of the White Knight has no such novelty. The world is already built and now we just have to live in it. That makes the main story of this sequel series feel a little like check-ins with Murphy’s version of reality here. It also doesn’t help that he isn’t really moving beyond another cat-and-mouse game between the Joker and Batman.
The plot gets a little bit of jazzing up thanks to the connection to the 1600s, but Murphy is still keeping those cards pretty close to his chest for now. We don’t get many details beyond the stolen body of Laffy and a mysterious journal left by Alfred, but once we’re introduced to dying soldier Jean Paul Valley, it definitely gives the issue a bit of weird, historical mystery energy that it so sorely needs. Had this issue had a bit more of this stuff, we might have had a really good debut on our hands.
But there is no denying that Curse of the White Knight #1 looks fantastic. Making up for the lacking script, Murphy and Hollingsworth come alive in the past, delivering a cold open ready made for a Tyrone Power movie. The present scenes are a definite downgrade in action, but the highly designed expressiveness of Murphy’s pencils are still alive and well. Couple that with the noirish colors from Hollingsworth and you have visuals that are more than at home in Gotham, on a Batman title. If I had one complaint with the visuals is that we don’t get many looks at the redesigned Nightwing and Batgirl, who make quick appearances here, but that said, Murphy and Hollingsworth still bring it with this sequel on a visual level.
It’s not easy being good in a world gone mad, but one would expect a little bit more fireworks to the inner conflicts that have established Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1. While the return to Sean Murphy’s dark world looks great and opens with a bang, the slow reintroduction of Batman, the Joker, and new wild card Azrael (with a new origin to boot) just doesn’t have the same spark as watching a newly sane Joker cleaning up the city. Despite the mega hit debut that spawned it, the real Curse of the White Knight might foretell a follow-up slump.