Overview: As the Bat-Family copes with a tragic loss, Jack Napier continues to execute his plan to hold Batman accountable. But will Marian Drews, the former Harley Quinn turned Neo Joker, ruin everything?
Summary (spoilers ahead): Marian Drews is at Zoinko’s Joke Shoppe where she dresses up in a new costume that resembles the Joker. Meanwhile, a collection of mind controlled super villains, including Penguin, Killer Croc, Riddler, Ventriloquist, Poison Ivy, Roxy Rocket, Bane, Scarecrow and Two-Face, are leading a coordinated attack on Gotham’s Financial District with their gangs. Batman, Nightwing and Batgirl arrive to break it up and, in the face of overwhelming numbers, Batman decides to round up the leaders and take them to a less populated area. Batman uses the Batmobile to drag Croc and Bane away as the Two-Face gang pursues. Gordon and Bullock arrive in a chopper and Gordon makes the controversial decision to follow Batman despite the police on the ground being in need of air support.
Batman leads the fight to the site of Napier’s new library in Backport because he thinks no one will be there. Batman theorizes that Joker is behind the attack and therefore Joker wouldn’t let them destroy his own library. However, Croc and Bane proceed to do exactly that. Batman pursues on foot, and part of the collapsing building falls on him leaving him severely injured. Batman staggers into the Batmobile and sets the autopilot to drive him back to a secret WayneTech entrance.
Elsewhere, Harleen and Jack Napier are sifting through the damaged law offices of Hill and Hill. Harleen mentions that the plan worked and relates the result to Napier. Napier says that his intelligence is a gift from the Joker, but without the insanity just as he finds a document he claims will undermine everything.
At the secret WayneTech facility, a severely injured Bruce goes to Alfred’s bedside before promptly collapsing. While Bruce is out cold, Napier makes a speech on television that is broadcast across Gotham and uses a child to illustrate how Batman’s crusade has adverse effects on the city. Napier reveals that the document he found in Mayor Hill’s old law firm proves that the city elites have used unethical accounting to create a fund to pay for the assorted damages Batman causes in Gotham. He uses Batman’s decision to move the battle away from the Financial District to Backport as proof that Batman is protecting the one percent. He again calls for the people to hold Batman accountable for his actions.
Bruce eventually wakes up in Alfred’s bed and finds himself hooked up to the Freeze device that was keeping Alfred alive. Bruce finds Alfred dead in an armchair at the bedside with a note addressed to him on the table. After Alfred’s funeral, Dick and Barbara reminisce on the past together next to Jason Todd’s tombstone. Dick reveals to Barbara that Jason was Robin before him as well as how Jason allegedly died. He also mentions that he once tried to run away but it was Alfred who brought him back. Barbara makes an impassioned plea to Dick to help her because, with Alfred gone, there is no one but them between Gotham and Batman.
Back in Backport, Jack and Harleen are taking a walk through the neighborhood when a group of people try to rob them. Harleen fights all of them and wins as an armed Duke Thomas emerges from the shadows. Jack and Harleen ask Duke if there is somewhere they can talk and Duke takes them to the nearest community center. Duke reveals that he has been working with a group of people to maintain an imperfect peace in Backport. Jack asks if Duke is willing to help him with something.
Back at the GCPD, after taking intense heat from the press, Gordon and Batman have a discussion about Batman’s investigation into the recent attack. Batman believes that the Mad Hatter’s device has to be controlling all the suspects they apprehended.
Elsewhere, Marian Drews discovers the hideout where Jack has left a catatonic Clayface and a weak Mad Hatter. Mad Hatter explains Jack’s plan to Marian and confirms that he can override Jack’s signal so long as he is closer to Clayface than Jack is. They both go into another room where they find all the other super villains standing at attention.
Analysis: The third issue of White Knight sees Jack Napier initiate the next stage of his grand plan to cure Gotham of Batman. What I really liked about this issue is that it explores the grey areas of vigilantism and how a personal vendetta can make it problematic. We also see an even more unstable and desperate Batman in this issue. During the attack on the Financial District, Batman automatically assumes that Joker is behind the attack. While he is right in this case, he is making an assumption rather than relying on any tangible proof. He also makes an assumption about Croc and Bane not destroying the library and this instantly backfires on him when he is proven wrong. In this instance, the people of Backport suffer the consequences for his mistake. Batman himself pays a physical price for being wrong, but this does nothing to bring the library back. Batman’s choice of words in referring to Napier as “Joker” also reveals his doubt in the ability of Napier to rehabilitate himself. Bullock is surprisingly the voice of reason in this opening scene as he continues to advise Gordon to have faith in the police and legitimate police procedure.
Batman becoming more isolated is not helped by the passing of Alfred. Again, we see someone else pay for Batman’s mistakes. Alfred feels compelled to heal a severely injured Bruce and does so at his own peril. Rather than recognize the destructive pattern he’s creating for himself and the people around him, we get the sense that Bruce is going to double down on his vigilante efforts because that’s the path he has been going down ever since Alfred has been ill. Barbara alludes to this when she predicts that Dick and her will have to protect Gotham from Batman.
We also get a few more tidbits about how past events played out in this particular continuity. In this world, Jason Todd was the first Robin and Dick Grayson came after him. Here, it’s Dick that feels the pressure to live up to the Robin that came before him, not the other way around. Using Jason Todd as the first and “ideal” Robin works really well for this darker and more sadistic interpretation of Batman. While we have no confirmation that this holds true in this continuity, the Jason Todd version of Robin has always been depicted as being more brutal than any of the others. This version of Batman would therefore have a stronger connection to Jason and consequently be even more traumatized by losing him. Dick, being different from Bruce, would have a harder time connecting with him, thereby exacerbating the distance that would grow between them when he leaves and becomes Nightwing. That being said, Dick seems to be succeeding in trying to be more like Bruce and Jason, and this appears to be driving a wedge between him and Barbara.
There are two new characters that are introduced in this issue who could potentially play major roles in the story in the later issues. While we have already met Marian Drews, this issue is the first issue where she is given a new look and the name “Neo Joker”. In doing this, Murphy has found a way to empower both versions of Harley as Marian is transforming from the Joker’s sidekick to someone who is pursuing her own agenda. I think the Neo Joker’s character design is excellent as it combines elements of Harley with some of the trademark elements of the Joker. Everyone in this book seems to have a signature color that matches their character and Hollingsworth colors the Neo Joker in a light purple and black combo that manages to stand out and be subtle at the same time.
This issue also sees the introduction of Duke Thomas to this story. While Duke is not a costumed vigilante, he is ex-special forces, works at the local community center and has an imperfect system in place to maintain order in his neighborhood. He presents an interesting contrast to Batman because Duke’s method of dealing with crime via vigilantism seems to be more effective and it’s not accruing the same cost as Batman’s crusade. Duke also recognizes that his methods are imperfect, whereas Batman seems to think there are no problems with his methods. In this issue, Batman actually berates Gordon for questioning how he does things. It will be interesting to see how the Duke and Napier partnership unfolds going forwards.
Speaking of Napier, he manages to score a win against Batman in the court of public opinion. What I’ve really liked about this series is how Murphy has been exploring the shades of grey within the characters who are traditionally thought of as being divided into “heroes” and “villains”. Napier is right in drawing attention to the damage Batman causes to private property. In the traditional interpretations of Batman, it’s always assumed that Bruce uses his company to pay for any damages caused by Batman. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case here, as he is letting taxpayers handle it for him. Napier is also right in pointing out that taxpayers shouldn’t have to clean up after a vigilante who has essentially been sanctioned by business people and politicians. However, Napier is also willing to create an attack just so he can illegally obtain the paperwork to prove his allegations. He’s also willing to destroy the library that people need just to score a political point against Batman. The way Murphy indirectly compares and contrasts Batman and Napier in this story is ingenious. They’re both willing to engage in illegal activities to achieve their goals and they both claim to want what is best for Gotham. It’s almost like they want the same things, but only on their terms, while they let their personal vendetta contaminate their intentions. I do not know if this is was Murphy’s intention, but it seems to me like he is making a commentary on the nature of the political climate in the United States.
The art in this issue continues to live up to Murphy’s incredible abilities. The wide panel of the Batcave and the panel of Bruce holding and staring at his cape and cowl really stood out to me. I also liked the panel of Bruce kneeling in front of Alfred’s body. It’s drawn in a way that still shows Bruce as a character deserving of empathy even though his recklessness had a hand in Alfred’s death. Hollingsworth’s yellows on the page of Alfred’s funeral also do an excellent job conveying the sense of loss that Bruce, Dick and Barbara must be feeling.
Final Thoughts: This issue leaves us on a cliffhanger with Marian Drews entering a room filled with Gotham’s greatest villains. Murphy has already said that more of her story will be revealed in the coming issues so I’m excited to learn more about her character as well as how she could potentially throw a wrench into Napier’s plans. I’m also eager to see how Napier’s partnership with Duke turns out as well as what his next move will be. It will also be interesting to see if Batman’s relationship with his allies further deteriorates given his fragile mental and emotional state.