Batman

Batman: White Knight #8 (July 2018)

Batman: White Knight #8White Knight is fine. Murphy finishes it fine. The art is great, there’s some really cool action–imagine if a Schumacher Batman movie vehicle setpiece were good–and the dialogue’s occasionally really strong.

It’s not great. The sequel setup stuff is weak and a copout as far as character work goes. There are other copouts on the character work; Barbara and Dick are accessories, so’s Gordon. There’s nothing to them.

Other than the art. And Murphy’s love of all things Batman.

After dawdling through multiple issues, Murphy runs out of time in this one. Not just the sequel setup nonsense, but also with the action sequence. Nightwing gets lost. And the action sequence develops to something Murphy could really go wild with and he doesn’t.

It’s too bad White Knight wasn’t great. The art’s great and there’s some really cool things about it, but it didn’t achieve that initial promise of a new great Batman comic. Murphy should have tempered his ambitions, as they all turned out to be empty anyway.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #7 (June 2018)

Batman: White Knight #7Murphy really likes deus ex machina plot devices. He uses three or five of them in White Knight #7.

Given where the series goes, I’m not sure he really needed eight issues–this issue seems like the always intended, not drawn out, penultimate issue. There’s a lot going on, a lot of crowded rooms with exposition, a lot of rushed character moments, a handful of revelations. Murphy recenters White Knight on Batman this issue, which almost comes as a surprise. Whether or not it’s successful is going to depend on the finale–Batman makes some hard promises as he gets out of Arkham and teamed with Jack Napier. Murphy’s going to have to keep some of them.

He can’t just have it turn out Thomas Wayne was a secret agent fighting the Nazis. The series’s early success came from Murphy’s willingness to reveal red herrings to be real herrings.

There’s a lot of awesome art–including the “Batman” TV show Batmobile getting some action–but the panels are mostly tiny. Grizzled Batman gets way too many big panels while Murphy’s gorgeous design work gets relegated to little ones. It might be Batman’s comic again, but it doesn’t mean he’s the most interesting thing to see. I mean, Jake Napier’s Jokering out uncontrollably, which Murphy does like a hybrid homage to Bolland and Sienkiewicz. It’s awesome art.

So Batman: White Knight might make it. Not the heights it initially promised, but some significant ones.

It’ll probably make a good trade. It could be a great movie (but not one of those animated ones… and most certainly not a live action one with Ben Affleck and Jared Leto).

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #6 (May 2018)

Batman: White Knight #6The issue starts a humdrum cops chasing Batman, with lots of fast scenes of the cops (including Nightwing, Batgirl, and the Joker) coming up with ideas and then cuts to the Batmobile. It’s a little obvious, a little tedious. The action pacing isn’t right.

Then the Burton Batmobile shows up and nothing matters for a few pages except getting to see Sean Murphy draw a Batmobile sequence with the Burton Batmobile.

Sigh. It’s like if DC had validated the movie fans when I was eleven.

Then there’s a weak fight scene between the Joker and Batman. Batgirl goes to Mr. Freeze and finds out Papa Wayne was just a secret agent who brought Nazis to the States for science. He’s morally bankrupt but not a Nazi. Mr. Freeze, however, isn’t morally bankrupt–he hated his father, who–retcon alert–hated Freeze’s Jewish wife, Nora. It’s an okay scene though, even if dreadfully cheap. Murphy should just do a Batgirl series.

The end has what ought to be an amazing Joker sequence but flops. Brian Bolland’s safe for now. The problem? Murphy runs out of space. He’s been too busy with his action movie back-and-forth exposition dumping again.

Still. Burton Batmobile alone makes it worth it. For an exceptionally select number of readers.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #5 (April 2018)

Batman: White Knight #5Watching grizzled Batman bicker with White Knight Dick Grayson almost feels like a grimdark version of early eighties Batman but not exactly. Murphy has definitely made White Knight its own thing–down to Harley Quinn being the voice of reason–and there’s only so much to do with it.

Most of the issue has to do with Batman not wanting to join the Gotham Terrorist Oppression (GTO), which is the super-cop team setup by the Joker. The “good” Joker. There’s also Neo Joker, but she’s the replacement Harley Quinn gone rogue.

Then there’s the Neo Joker finding out the Wayne fortune is probably based on Nazi gold. Murphy even suggests there’s going to be some meat on that subplot.

White Knight has three issues left and Murphy could pretty much do anything in those three issues. But there’s no reason he needs eight. Whatever he’s doing he could’ve fit in six, because there’s nothing essential here. There’s some excellent art–with grimdark Batman being the most visually boring character (after Dick Grayson in his GTO uniform).

Murphy’s burnt through all the initial goodwill and is keeping White Knight moving. With issue #5 though, it’s clear it doesn’t really have anywhere interesting to move. Neo Joker might give the series some big set pieces and some drama, but she’s none of the big ideas Murphy promised to tackle at the start.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #4 (March 2018)

Batman: White Knight #4This issue of White Knight is pretty much what I was expecting from the book, best case. Murphy’s been excelling past this level and it’s a pretty significant drop.

Especially since I couldn’t tell the mayor from Bullock. They’re both obese white men. Murphy draws them the same.

There’s a lot of “politics” in this issue, but the politics are mostly how Black Gothamites feel like they’re getting the shaft from the rich white people. Murphy teases arguments between people over race, then immediately backs off. It’s kind of annoying. He’s implying edginess, nothing more.

He’s also gotten to the point he doesn’t want to have the Joker as protagonist, but subject. There’s some history with Harley Two, which intentionally makes light of her being suicidal for a sight gag.

On the other hand, there’s a Batman 1989 reference. The two things don’t balance out. Especially not since the Joker’s master plan is similar to Tony Stark’s Civil War plan.

It’s a shrug of a comic. I hope it’s not a trajectory change but the story’s pretty thin. Real Harley’s character development has entirely stopped. Though she and Mr. J do go clubbing a la Suicide Squad, just as yuppies not criminals. Yawn.

And the soft cliffhanger tying the Wayne family fortune to Nazis?

I’m now worried Murphy’s just doing DC’s version of Nazi Captain America.

Or maybe it’ll end with a Jim Gordon monologue about how “all lives matter.”

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight 3 (February 2018)

Batman: White Knight #3White Knight is all right. Look, it rhymes. There’s less Batman brand reverence this issue, which is kind of too bad since Murphy does it so well (there’s a great panel with various Batmobiles), and there are some plot twists.

There’s a big one and a smaller one. The big one is too much a spoiler (though maybe not depending on where the story goes) and the latter is Dick Grayson being the second Robin. Jason Todd was the first. It’s an interesting detail, but Murphy doesn’t do anything with it. Not yet. It’s unclear if eight issues is going to be enough to get through all the stuff Murphy’s packed into the series.

Frankly, probably not. There’s just too much. Including Murphy going into the cost of Batman’s “War on Crime.”

Murphy’s still raising some interesting questions for a superhero book–especially one like Batman–and his art’s still phenomenal; White Knight is going to make it through its eight issues fairly well. It’s just (still) unclear what, if anything, Murphy’s is going to make with it.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight 2 (January 2018)

Batman: White Knight #2Two big things happen this issue of White Knight. Sort of two steps back from Murphy. First, he gets into the Joker’s sanity and gives him a thoughtful reconciliation with Harley Quinn. It humanizes the character a lot. Maybe too much. Harley’s sympathetic. Joker’s not, because the comic is about waiting for the reveal. Joker’s really just as bad as Batman always thought he’s been. The return to the norm. How long can Murphy put it off?

Only maybe he doesn’t and he does more with White Knight. But the second thing he does is implying not. Bruce Wayne is finding out Batman’s war on crime has turned all of the rich Gothamites into real estate scumbags. Murphy explains it but it’s just more of the blah blah blah. White Knight has a lot of it, with Murphy apparently trying to do Dark Knight Rises and its “Occupy Wall Street” subplot over again.

Along, hopefully, with some of Batman & Robin. Though maybe not. But maybe. I mean, he calls Mr. Frost’s wife’s disease and Alfred’s MacGregors. That name is from Batman & Robin.

Whatever. Back to Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t like how it turns out all his rich friends are crap and racist too and he’s just never noticed it, not until the Joker took off his makeup and told Bruce (and the world) about it.

Great art. Nice twist at the end, not like the other two.

White Knight is kind of a crazy thing–it’s an event Batman book worth reading. Murphy’s story wouldn’t be worth it without his art, but also his earnestness and ambition. He’s not cynical about writing the comic, he’s thrilled to be writing it. And that enthusiasm makes it all very engaging.

At least, so long as there’s also the art.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight 1 (December 2017)

Batman: White Knight #1Batman: White Night is ambitious. Writer-artist Sean Murphy, after years of drawing excellent Batman in middling Batman comics for high profile writers, is trying both hats. And he’s not going to do anything small. He’s going to do the Joker, because Murphy’s not going big and new, he’s going big and old. A deconstruction of the Joker and Batman’s rivalry. Complete with “Batman: The Animated Series”, Batman ’89, a Killing Joke reference, lots more. Maybe a Bat-Mite.

But it’s all modern with Murphy doing the TV talking heads arguing–a little a la Miller, but also just “cable news” and whatnot. He can’t write that scene. His fascist defender of Batman doesn’t have any arguments. So it’s not going to be perfect. Murphy’s hitting a lot of demographics, a lot of zeitgeist, and he’s got it pretty well balanced, but it’s extremely calculated.

And maybe there’s something to the concept–what if Batman’s actually just a fascist brute and the Joker gets cured and decides to save the world from him?

The art’s amazing. Murphy’s got a lot of Batman love on display, from Nightwing, Batgirl, Gordon, Bullock, whoever else. It’s going to be amusing for its details, beautiful for its art, and who knows what for Murphy’s big idea. I hope it stays afloat. The Joker’s whole backstory is already silly–he’s a Batman stan (stalker slash fan) who was a criminal to improve Bats’s crime-fighting.

Anyway.

Maybe it’ll pan out. Maybe it won’t. But it’ll have great art and fun references.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman (1943, Lambert Hillyer)

For the majority of Batman’s fifteen chapters, the serial has a set formula when it comes to the action. Batman (Lewis Wilson) and Robin (Douglas Croft) get into fist fights with the same five or six thugs. Croft gets beat up early while Wilson takes on at least two of the villain, then two or three of the thugs beat up Wilson. They either put him in danger, triggering the chapter’s cliffhanger, or Croft just wakes up and helps him. Or, in the subsequent chapter’s resolution at the beginning, Croft wakes up and helps him.

Even on the rare occasions it’s something different, elements of the formula remain. Screenwriters Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser don’t have much plotting ingenuity. Especially not for fifteen chapters. Other variations to the fight and cliffhanger formulas include whether or not Wilson abandons Croft to the thugs or, you know, whether or not Wilson kills someone. Sometimes he means to kill them, sometimes it’s incidental. The only time he ever stops to worry about it is when it’s bad guys–as opposed to when he kills an innocent civilian through his ineptitude–and, in that case, the bad guys turn out to be dead anyway.

Not much of a role model, this Batman, despite being an official government agent. Or, maybe, because of it.

In addition to Wilson’s careless crimefighting, he’s not really good at investigating. Despite fighting the same group of thugs throughout the serial–and even bringing some of them to his “Bat’s Cave” for rather ineffective interrogation–Batman doesn’t even discover his adversary’s identity until the final chapter. He’s dreadfully bad at his job.

The villain of Batman is J. Carrol Naish. He’s playing an evil Japanese scientist, in full yellowface. The serial is exceptionally racist. Even as wartime propaganda, Batman is a lot to take. The first chapter narration makes special mention of the just internment of Japanese Americans. It, and the way the serial’s heroes are, you know, heroic for their stupid ignorance when they meet Naish, is astoundingly gross. The racism does not, however, distract from the serial’s utter stupidity. Sometimes, though not with Naish’s thugs, it manages to be gross and stupid. Usually it’s just stupid, with occasional flakes of racism.

The worst part of it? Naish gives the best performance in the entire thing. Even though he’s a coniving villain, out to use a giant radium gun to wreck havoc (it’s actually entirely unimportant as the serial progresses), Naish gives the role a lot more characterization and personality than anyone else gives theirs’. He even figures out Batman’s secret identity at one point.

Besides Naish, the best performances are from Charles Middleton and William Austin. Middleton is a radium miner, which seems likes it’s going to be important in the middle chapters of the serial. It’s not, but it does at least give Batman a chance to get off the backlot and go on location in the mountains. Director Hillyer does a little better with those exteriors. He never does well, but he does do a little better there.

But Middleton’s not around for long and, even if he were, it’s doubtful the screenwriters would give him anything to do. Middleton as bearded, folksy mountain man brings energy to Batman, something the serial sorely lacks. Hillyer doesn’t direct the actors’ performances–at least, one hopes he doesn’t, because then it’d be even worse–and Wilson and Croft aren’t engaging. Croft even less than Wilson.

The one time Wilson and Croft do get energized is opposite Austin, who plays Alfred the butler. Austin drives Wilson and Croft around town most of the chapters, whether they’re crimefighting or not. Occasionally, he gets roped into helping them in the crimefighting, which is usually at least mildly amusing. Austin’s got fine comic timing. Timing is another thing Batman tends to lack. Editors Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner are better than anyone else on the crew, but Hillyer’s a lousy director and James S. Brown Jr.’s photography is rarely competent. Lots of bad day for night in Batman. Lots.

Shirley Patterson plays Wilson’s love interest, who just can’t figure out why Batman is always around once Wilson leaves the room (or vice versa), and she’s got almost nothing to do. The serial treats her like an annoyance or a victim or a damsel in distress. Wilson usually just treats her like a pest, condescending or dismissing her. For a while, those moments are actually Wilson’s best as an actor. Until he puts on a fake nose and pretends to be a thug to get in with the gang. Shockingly enough, Wilson’s engaging during those scenes. It’s a downright treat when he skips the Batman costume for a chapter to (stupidly) investigate in his disguise.

Some of Naish’s thugs actually give decent performances–Robert Fiske the most, but also George J. Lewis and Warren Jackson. Competency helps a lot in Batman. There’s not much of it, so when someone isn’t terrible, it’s a big deal.

Sadly, Charles C. Wilson is atrocious as the moron police chief who occasionally pops up to answer Wilson’s questions about bad guys the Batman has apprehended. Even though Naish spends at least half the chapters assuming Batman has died (in the lame cliffhangers), he’s still too savvy to get taken down by the bumbling “heroes.”

The script has no character development, no character relationship development (it’s not like Wilson treats Patterson any differently as things go along, he always treats her like crap), it does nothing with Naish’s various schemes, just kills time. In the end, only the first two and last two chapters are relevant to the narrative. The rest could be chucked… if only we could be so lucky.

But we aren’t. And Batman trucks along, its best chapters never even registering mediocrity, Austin and Middleton’s contributions for naught, Naish’s relative success a debasement.

Though Lee Zahler does eventually get to some good music, albeit only in the last couple chapters.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; director of photography, James S. Brown Jr.; edited by Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner; music by Lee Zahler; produced by Rudolph C. Flothow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Lewis Wilson (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Douglas Croft (Robin / Dick Grayson), J. Carrol Naish (Dr. Daka), Shirley Patterson (Linda Page), William Austin (Alfred Pennyworth), Gus Glassmire (Martin Warren), George J. Lewis (Burke), Robert Fiske (Foster), Charles Middleton (Ken Colton), Warren Jackson (Bernie), Dick Curtis (Agent Croft), Ted Oliver (Marshall), and Charles C. Wilson (Police Captain Arnold).


Batman (1943, Lambert Hillyer), Chapter 15: The Doom of the Rising Sun

Titling the final chapter, The Doom of the Rising Sun, might give away whether or not J. Carrol Naish succeeds with his awful plan–which Batman never quite defines and sort of forgets about anyway. The screenwriters try to drum up some excitement as Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft finally face off with Naish. It’s rather lackluster.

Oddly, even though the cliffhanger resolution is fairly predictable–just like the previous chapter forecasted–there’s enough built around the resolution to make the reveal nearly interesting. And it gives Croft and William Austin a decent moment.

Then Doom just turns into a rush for the finish. How fast can Austin get the cops, how fast can Wilson chase Naish, how fast can Wilson tie up the bad guys–the only time Batman and Robin prove competent in a fight and it’s the last chapter in the serial.

The last few minutes tie up plot threads from the first chapter. Nothing in between mattered much, apparently, and it goes out with Wilson being a jackass to Shirley Patterson again. It reminds why it was so nice for him to do something else for a while.

Technically, the finale doesn’t attempt much–all the action takes place on existing sets, using already introduced foils. Though it is maybe the first time Lee Zahler’s score is all right, even if it’s just momentarily.

The biggest letdown, besides Wilson’s Batman being just as much of a bigot as the narrator and the serial itself, is how little anything in between the first chapter and this final one mattered. The rest–almost ninety percent of Batman–was prattle.

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; director of photography, James S. Brown Jr.; edited by Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner; music by Lee Zahler; produced by Rudolph C. Flothow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Lewis Wilson (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Douglas Croft (Robin / Dick Grayson), Shirley Patterson (Linda Page), William Austin (Alfred Pennyworth), and J. Carrol Naish (Dr. Daka).


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