Best Shots Review: BATMAN - CURSE OF THE WHITE KNIGHT #5 (8/10)

DC Comics December 2019 solicitations
Credit: DC
Credit: DC

Batman: Curse of the White Knight #5
Written by Sean Murphy
Art by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by AndWorld Designs
Published by DC / Black Label
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Following the death of Jim Gordon, there is a sea change coming for Gotham, with Batman, the Joker, and Azrael making big moves that will affect both sides of the Dark Knight’s war on crime. While some of the historical elements of Batman: Curse of the White Knight hampers the overall momentum of Sean Murphy’s story, he’s churned through enough of the exposition to deliver some fun and beautifully illustrated sequences for each of his three main leads.

In a lot of ways, Curse of the White Knight #5 is the best realization of the series’ high concept thus far, as Murphy finally juggles Batman, Azrael and Joker in a way that feels meaningful for all three characters — while Batman dives under the shores of Gotham for some needed detective work, both Azrael and Joker begin to assert their independence in ways that feel organic for the world Murphy has created. While one might argue that some of the political intrigue of the White Knight universe might be considered half-baked and overblown, Gordon’s death actually crystalizes these different factions and agendas in a way Murphy hadn’t previously.

But through it all, Murphy is an artist first and foremost, and the great strength of Curse of the White Knight is the way he’s able to so seamlessly inject visual energy behind some ephemeral high concepts. It’s not just Batman chiseling away at the mystery of Edmond Wayne, but Murphy portrays him in an elegant diving arc — even Edmond himself, unquestionably the odd duck in this whole storyline, looks like a swashbuckling Errol Flynn type, and a little with him goes a long way. Meanwhile, the Joker goes on a stroll down memory lane that is portrayed effectively thanks to an ever-shifting psychological setting — but perhaps most exciting of all is Azrael’s rampage, where he carves a swath through all manner of Gotham lowlifes, before getting a redesign that will thrill ‘90s kids everywhere.

If there’s anything that holds back Curse of the White Knight #5, it’s that the emotional content of this chapter feels a little lagging — so much of this series is remixing the concepts of the ‘90s era, so genuinely heart-rending moments like Bruce Wayne missing his best friend’s funeral or Jack Napier fighting out of the Joker’s grip to meet his children get glossed over quickly to set up the next bit of Murphy’s overarching story. (Indeed, a lot of the edge that Murphy’s Batman had in the previous White Knight series feels dulled down already, to the point where this feels similar to mainstream continuity Bruce Wayne.) Additionally, the concept of “waste not, want not” popped into my head a bit towards Murphy’s finale, as he mows down plenty of promising villains for future installments of this series.

Regardless of hiccups along the way, Batman: Curse of the White Knight #5 is a solid midpoint that does justice to Murphy’s core cast of characters. While there may be bits of the narrative that feel inconsistent, Murphy’s artwork is unimpeachable, with his Azrael redesign being one of the most striking Batman images in ages. Where the collision course between Batman, Azrael and Joker goes remains to be seen, but just based on sheer artistic talent alone, you could do far worse than checking this book out.

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