Sean Murphy returns to his Batman universe with Batman: Beyond the White Knight #1, which starts strong as Bruce faces a new world beyond prison.
Introduced as a dark vigilante with a strong moral sense, Batman celebrated the 83rd anniversary of his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 on March 30 this year. Since this first appearance, several writers, artists, and directors have contributed to the imagery and persona of the character, taking the Caped Crusader through transformative changes and giving him a strict moral code. After years of Elseworlds stories exploring different avenues of storytelling, only a few can be as sublime a piece of subversive deconstruction as Sean Murphy’s Batman: White Knight. Stripping a mythological pop culture beast from the very core of his beliefs about him, White Knight presented the harsh truth through a socio-political drama, mindful of current cultural upheavals. With writing and art by Sean Murphy, colors from Dave Stewart, and lettering by AndWorld Design, the latest sequel, published by the Black Label imprint of DC Comics, presents the same commentary in a new setting.
Batman: Beyond the White Knight #1 takes place 10 years after the events of the last volume. Batman has kept his promise to him and stayed incarcerated while his allies have moved on with their lives. Gotham, now a neo-futuristic landscape, has changed a lot as a tense accord between the Barbara Gordon-led GCPD and Derek Powers-backed GTO keeps the peace in the streets. Bruce is shocked to learn that Powers has stopped the majority of his welfare programs from him and instead used that money to turn Gotham into a military zone. What breaks the camel’s back is the news of someone stealing his tech from him and masquerading as the new Batman. Determined to put a stop to this madness, Bruce breaks out of jail.
Sean Murphy continues his grounded take on the Dark Knight as Gotham awaits a new storm. Batman: Beyond the White Knight #1 is a dialogue-focused, character-driven opening issue that relies heavily on exposition, be it monologues or character interactions, to explain the timelapse. Throughout the book, Bruce serves as the viewpoint character through whom the readers get acquainted with the current status of the world. A decade is a long time for a man to reflect upon his past mistakes of him, with Bruce taking the time to lament the missed opportunities of being more than a guardian or father for all the wards he had fostered and inducted in his war against crime . While the exploration of character dynamics gives the story an emotional touch, the dependence on continuity bogs down the script. Murphy spices up the book using a non-linear structure with multiple narratives running in different directions, stretching the plot down exciting paths that have never been tread.
Sean Murphy is one of the few in the comic book industry who can back their intriguingly thought-provoking writing style with equally explosive artwork. The visuals in Batman: Beyond the White Knight #1 are laced with long shadows and low-key lighting, with Murphy’s signature hatching and inking style creating a gritty and dark atmosphere, perfect for a nocturnal outing. Murphy’s art is so dynamic and precise that one can feel the power in the kicks and force in the punches as the characters often pose centerstage in splash pages. While time has subtly crept up on the others, design-wise Bruce has the most changes, with a world-weary look in his eyes aging him more than his compatriots. Colorist Dave Stewart douses the backgrounds in dry, muted colors while splashing the characters in bright tones so that the complete focus falls on them as they deliver their heartfelt monologues.
One of the most awaited titles this year, Batman: Beyond the White Knight #1 knocks it out of the park with an enthralling start to what will surely be another blockbuster series. However, there is a lot to unpack in this first issue itself, as drama and suspense grip the tale from the very opening scenes. Sean Murphy has finally brought one of the most iconic Batsuits and fan-favorite characters into his Batman universe, along with creating new ones. It is an exciting prospect to see them grow, mutate, and mold with the storytelling that is a socio-political melting pot. Neo-Gotham is a technological marvel but a world beyond Bruce’s recognition where he would need help if he wants to see his mission through. Batman: Beyond the White Knight #1 ends with the unexpected return of a long-dead character, a shocking reveal, and a narrative hook bound to bring readers back for the next issue.
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