Sean Gordon Murphy has a damn-impressive artistic resume, lending his unmistakable line-work to collaborations with Grant Morrison (Joe the Barbarian), Scott Snyder (The Wake), Rick Remender (Tokyo Ghost) and Mark Millar (Chrononauts). He’s perhaps the only person in the business known for executing compelling car chases, and for actually enjoying the art of drawing cars. In 2012, Murphy staked his claim as a writer/artist in the black-and-white pages of Punk Rock Jesus, and last year, he catapulted himself to the top echelon of Batman creators with the wildly popular Batman: White Knight. The eight-issue series, retroactively enveloped by DC Comics’ mature-readers Black Label imprint, imagined an alternate Gotham in which the Joker went sane—and helped expose to Gotham just how insane it is to let a grown man in a bat costume operate outside of the law. Featuring expert redesigns of Batman’s rogues gallery, intriguing new twists to familiar faces and the most sympathetic portrayal of the Joker…ever…White Knight flew off the shelves to become one of the past year’s best-selling and most popular series.
Today, Paste has the distinct pleasure of confirming what we all knew was coming: the next installment in the burgeoning “Murphyverse.” Arriving in 2019, Batman: Curse of the White Knight picks up where Batman: White Knight left off—and re-imagines a ‘90s Bat-favorite in the process. That’s right folks: Azrael is back, like you’ve never seen him before. To celebrate this announcement, and the collected edition of Batman: White Knight hitting shelves in early October, Paste exchanged a few questions with Murphy via email, covering everything from hot-button politics to a Harley identity crisis. We’ve also got the exclusive first look at Murphy’s promotional artwork for Batman: Curse of the White Knight (be sure to click through to see it in all its wallpaper-ready glory), along with DC Comics’ first official synopsis for the series. Check that out below, and stay tuned to Paste for more news on Batman: Curse of the White Knight as it’s revealed.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight Promotional Artwork by Sean Gordon Murphy
Batman: Curse of the White Knight
Writer/Artist: Sean Gordon Murphy
Release Date: 2019
In this explosive sequel to Sean Murphy’s critically acclaimed blockbuster BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT, the Joker recruits a savage partner to help him expose a shocking revelation about the Wayne family’s legacy and run Gotham into the ground. As Batman rushes to protect the city and his loved ones from this corrupt conspiracy, the mystery of his ancestry unravels and deals a devastating blow to the Dark Knight. Exciting new villains and unexpected allies will clash across history in this unforgettable chapter of the WHITE KNIGHT saga—and the truth about the blood they shed will shake Gotham to its core!
Paste: There’s a lot to unpack in White Knight, but before we get into any of that—what started you on the idea of a Joker rehabilitation tale? Do you remember the moment when you thought, Hey, maybe the Clown Prince of Crime could turn it all around?
Sean Gordon Murphy: I think I was 12 years old when I first started to put this story together. I remember watching Batman: The Animated Series and thinking, You know—the Joker would be a lot more threatening if he could stop acting crazy and get his shit together.
The older I got, the more I thought about that premise and the more I kept adding to it. And in the age of social media, political spin and controversy wars being waged in the court of public opinion, you can see how the rest of the story came together.
Paste: One of the biggest points of discussion around the book during its monthly run was your approach to politics within the story. You’ve given interviews where you’ve talked about wanting to represent “both sides” of issues like gun control, class conflict, vigilantism, etc. In retrospect, how do you feel about these elements of White Knight? Are you satisfied with how you pulled it off?
Murphy: My goal with White Knight was to write Gotham as a real city, not a comic book city. I wanted to turn the reader into a citizen of Gotham and pose questions about Batman that we would ask in the real world, like, Is Batman a criminal and are the police complicit? Who pays for all the collateral damage when he fights a villain? What kind of white-collar corruption would we expect to see from Gotham’s politicians and business leaders, considering they allow Batman to exist? Answering these questions can get political.
I think the trick to writing a comic that successfully talks about politics is to include diverse characters with diverse opinions, then to do your best to treat those opinions fairly and accurately in a way that would satisfy readers who might share them.
This is especially hard when the script calls for you to bolster opinions you don’t agree with—but if you want to write a balanced story that has the potential to reach people you might not agree with, then there’s no way around it. This doesn’t mean sacrificing your political values as a writer—you can say everything you want through characters you align with (I’m a moderate liberal trying to be a peacekeeper, so I align most with Batgirl). But you need to include characters who disagree, then give them plausible reasons for doing so.
In White Knight, the most heated debates happen between two reporters as they disagree over whether or not the Joker is really cured (he becomes Jack Napier, a supposed good guy running for office). One reporter is a Republican, and the other a Democrat. And it’s interesting to see liberal/conservative readers interpret that scene in different ways, and which reporter they side with when it comes to topics like Batman’s war on crime, how they interpret the racial protests, and how to address the 1% and corrupt politicians. And I’m surprised by how often a liberal reader supports Duke Thomas owning a gun, and how often a conservative reader supports Duke’s reasons for leading racially charged protests against police. Because Gotham is fictional (and because I haven’t forced my personal politics into the story), readers are discussing modern issues without using works like Democrat, Republican and Trump. And I find it’s a lot more civil.
Paste: The biggest surprise of the series was probably your approach to Harley, which found an in-story explanation for the character’s changes during the New 52/Suicide Squad era. Did you get any pushback from DC in portraying the modern Harley as something of an imposter? Is it safe to say you have a preference for the Harley characterization that debuted in Batman: The Animated Series?
Murphy: I got no pushback from DC or from the readers. I think my argument was pretty simple: if one Harley makes readers happy, then why not two? Why not give both sides of the “Harley debate” what they want? My hope is that the second Harley (Marian Drews/Neo Joker) gets worked into the official DC universe.
And while I prefer the original Harley, I didn’t want to abandon the Suicide Harley fans in their “Property of Joker” jackets. So I tried to come up with a plausible premise for a second version, while also acknowledging the obvious abusive relationship between her and Joker.
Paste: Speaking of B:TAS—along with Frank Miller’s work with the character, B:TAS felt like the biggest influence on White Knight. Is that accurate to say? Did the cartoon play a big role in your exposure to the character growing up?
Murphy: I think White Knight’s influences are 10% Burton, 10% Nolan, 10% Miller and 70% Batman: The Animated Series.
My 12-year-old self had never seen a cartoon that took a superhero so seriously and treated their audience like adults. I knew right away that the Batman cartoon was on a different level than He-Man, Thundercats and G.I. Joe.
Paste: You’ve been tapped to redesign costumes for DC before, and it was a thrill to see your take on so many Gotham denizens in White Knight. Are there other Bat-friends and Bat-foes you’re hoping to take a crack at in the sequel? Were any of the redesigns in the first volume difficult to perfect?
Murphy: For Batman: Curse of the White Knight, I’m rewriting a former Batman ally to become a threat far greater than the Joker ever was. But more on that later.
Because I started tweaking so much in Gotham (not just costumes but backstories), we started calling it the “Murphyverse.” For the costume changes, I wanted a unique look that was my own, while also staying true to the spirit of their Animated Series costumes. Neo Joker’s was the most fun—blending Harley Quinn and Joker into one outfit. The hardest was Killer Croc—sticking a crocodile head on a human body lead to interesting drawing challenges.
Paste: You have a reputation for being one of the few artists in comics who both enjoys and is good at depicting cars and car chases, and White Knight leans into that hard. Do you have a favorite Bat-vehicle? And will you attempt to top your chase scenes in Batman: Curse of the White Knight?
Murphy: Yes, I’m a total gearhead! My favorite is the Burton Batmobile, but for the “Murphy” Batmobile I tried to incorporate elements from all previous Batmobiles. I even tried to make the final design look like an early prototype for the Batman Beyond Batmobile.
And don’t worry about Batman: Curse of the White Knight, there’s an even better chase scene I’m working on…