Writer: Sean Murphy
Artist: Sean Murphy
Thus far, this is the best Batman standalone miniseries this year. It’s intense. Spoilers! We begin in Gotham city, a well-dressed man enters Arkham Asylum, led by the GCPD. He claims he knows his way around. This man is Jack Napier, once known as the Joker.
The prisoner: Batman.
You need to be ready to follow this rabbit hole, and damn does it fall deep. Batman is held in a high-level prison cell, it’s junk and it looks like visitors are rare. Something has turned the Joker good and Batman bad, however, what makes this so good is you’ll understand and sympathize with Mr. Napier.
As with so many of Batman’s rogue gallery, through tragedy, evil is born. Time and time again, we are shown how easily Bruce Wayne could have become Gotham’s worst. Following villains such as Mr. Freeze losing his wife, Johnathan Crane’s insanity and poison, and Two-Face’s mental and physical trauma. Bruce losing Alfred is driving him mad. Flashback a year, where we see how brutal Batman has become. Napier creates a case focusing on the abuse Batman has caused Gotham and himself.
“No more laughter, no more smile, no more make-up, no more Joker, really.”
It’s a compelling narrative. Commissioner James Gordon, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Detective Bullock are featured in the story and they are written very well. Murphy knows these characters, and I particularly love the moments where he gives us real life issues.
For example, a police officer cheering Batgirl on because she’s his “daughter’s favorite.”
And Gordon’s defense of his career: “I spent the last year cleaning up, cracked down on corruption and suspended the officers who sparked the race riots!” My criticism here is that it demonstrates how easy Gordon went with his punishments. Those officers deserve more than suspension. Yet, Gordon still a good man who is trying his hardest.
Another theme is media. The news creates war and trouble, helping no one. In fact, the news is what will aid Napier’s cause to sue Batman and take over Gotham. There are people who stick up for him and forgo his past, how in our reality we have people who defend Nazis and their horrendous beliefs.
The art is spectacular: eerie, beautiful, and violent. Jack Napier mirrors Bruce Wayne; his style, his posture, and smirk. Batman is drawn as monstrous, a quasi-form of Bruce. He is barely relatable and barely human. Extreme dark hues, and shadows alluding to Gotham’s loss once Napier rises and Batman falls. The lines in Hollingsworth’s faces outline emotions strongly; the characters look stressed, tired, in pain. Hollingsworth has called it a “European Art Style,” I suppose from classic noir and the eerie, malnourished looks. He’s a previous winner of the Eisner awards, and one can see why in his work.
The writing is so strong, I had to put the book down for a few moments to handle it. It’s Batman, but he’s driving through the city in an unlicensed tank, destroying millions of dollars of property, and sometimes injuring civilians. They’re such valid reasons to arrest him, even Babs and Dick have nothing to say. A crime is a crime, the law is the law, and Batman breaks it. Napier is out to get justice, not war.
It’s such a political piece. How many activists, fighting for human rights, were forced behind bars, versus the number unjust politicians who create decisions destroying people’s lives? How many shooters walk away with sympathies? This is that story. You see Gordon’s weakness, Batman’s fall, and how evil men rise.
Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment