It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Sean Murphy corner of the DC Universe. Every design choice has left me pleased, every universal twist has gripped me to read more, and the characters all feel fresh.
With over 90 Batman associated titles being released in October and November in PREVIEWS, like many I am welkl and truly Bat-Fatigued. The Murphyverse however takes all the best Bat-Bits and adds a new spice. Its debut volume took the Batman Joker relationship and gave it a much-needed refreshment. Volume two introduced us to Azrael and delivered further delight. Harley Quinn also had some much appreciated development, and now Harleen is being unearthed from being the Clown Prince of Crime’s sidekick.
NOTE: The following will contain spoilers for both White Knight & Curse of the White Knight. I not only suggest you read these first but beg you to read them, as they are truly something special.
Writer(s): Katana Collins, Sean Murphy
Artwork: Matteo Scalera
Release Date: 29th June 2021
White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn directly follows the events of the previous two instalments, but pads out some previous events with a new perspective. Consulting with the G.C.P.D., Harleen is tasked with using her skills in behavioural psychology to uncover a murder of celebrity Gothamite. Why Harley? Well, Batman/Bruce is currently behind bars and the G.C.P.D., now under Rene Montoya’s leadership, is stretched thin following the attacks on Gotham following the Azrael takeover.
Harleen is trying to juggle life with her twin toddlers and hyenas while struggling to make ends meet. My fears with this Murphyverse outing was the over inflation of Harley Quinn. You know, like Suicide Squad’s first cinematic outing, or Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Margot Robbie’s giant ego? Fear not however, as this story is actually a pair of love letters.
The above picture maybe one of my favourite panels from the previous Murphyverse instalment. This is the scene when Batman (and the readers) discover Harley is pregnant with the twins of Jack Napier/Joker. By the time White Knight Harley Quinn comes around we are introduced to the toddler children. The first love letter I speak of is to those single mothers. Viewed by the public as a villain and known to few as one of the heroes of the prior arcs, Harley is stretched thin. The children are not truly a narrative plot priority but more of an grounding for Harley, and all of her decisions are influenced by her kids. All four of them.
Readers will be delighted to know Bud and Lou are as loved as ever, but Harley has some real mum problems. Not enough arms, mounting jobs and being too proud to say she needs help when sometimes she really should. Juggling super-mum and superhero life is every bit the struggle you’d think it is. Even she thinks she isn’t a good mother. Unfortunately, even the best parents often think this. The subtilties of background imagery like a build-up unwashed dishes, the lack of adult conversation and the lack of someone to look after her makes Harley feel more like a real person and not a fanboy mascot. In modern comic literature, this is becoming rarer and rarer.
The second love letter is to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Many pages and the central plot are honouring the creation of the Batman Animated Series and the birth of Harley Quinn. The murder investigation has ties to the Joker with many signs pointing to the deceased clown being the culprit. Actors of Gotham are being targeted with a spree of murders, each bearing subtle calling cards that only Harley can decipher with her psychology and personal Joker background.
Simon Trent makes a solid cameo. If you do not remember him, please rewatch one of my favourite Batman Animated episodes season 1 episode 18. Memory lane takes us though the animated era Harley timeline, patching details in her past that are relevant to the case. Nod after nod to the BTAS and comic outings are sure to keep long-term fans delighted. This also serves as a further reminder that I really want more Rene Montoya and Leslie Thompkins in comics. Certainly Leslie, as it’s rare to see Bruce with a surrogate mother figure.
The murder investigation is perfectly serviceable and is installed perfectly in the Murphyverse. I do feel the investigation takes the back seat to the personal story of Harley. This is in no way a bad thing, but it’s probably something to be aware of if you are looking for an in-depth mystery. With a broad supporting cast and several returning characters, both the mystery and outcome is satisfying. I want to clarify the mystery is good but the focus, at least for my reading, was on Harley herself.
The Murphyverse knows its strengths and with each outing is sure to lure in more and more fans. My only hope is that we get more issues continuing this narrative for the tired Bat-fan, while also drawing in new fans with characters like Azrael and Harley getting very solid spotlights. This is once again proof that Murphy knows Batman and his fans, and makes it a perfect three-out-of-three belting reads