Review: Batman: White Knight Presents: Generation Joker hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

At some point I did begin to wonder if Sean Murphy’s Batman: White Knight “Murphyverse” had reached its end. Not its actual end — there’s sequels in the works such to span another decade — but for diminishing returns. Last year’s Batman: Beyond the White Knight, for me, seemed to have so far lost the thread of what made these stories great that I wasn’t quite sure it could be regained.

Batman: White Knight Presents: Generation Joker has restored some of my faith. Among the “Presents” books it is considerably tied in, and further teases upcoming elements revealed at the end of Beyond. Mostly what impressed me here was the writers' constant and consistent use of all the various characters they’ve created or recreated over the years. It’s no spoiler to say Generation Joker focuses on Harley Quinn’s children Jackie and Bryce, and that we’ve seen them grow from birth to toddlers to starring in this adventure underscores a key aspect of the “Murphyverse,” how the characters have aged and changed across the volumes.

As well, there seems always some secret history to reveal, something that happened between the panels of an earlier book to now be brought to light. In the best way, using DC characters but freed from the intellectual-property need to always restore characters to status quo in the end, Generation Joker feels more dynamic and alive than other mainstream comics, if not also improving on its own recent entries.

[Review contains spoilers]

I thought the holographic, fourth-wall-breaking Jack Napier in Murphy’s Batman: Beyond the White Knight brought the story down, an over-injection of irreverence at times that the book didn’t need it — not to mention that it seemed out of character for the Jack that Murphy had introduced us to so far. Generation Joker has a story by Murphy but a script by Katana Collins and Clay McCormack, so who brings an improved and more normalized Jack to this volume isn’t clear, but I guess we’ll know for sure the next time Murphy’s on his own.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

With that better portrayal of Jack, we have a story that, in the “Presents” way, is not necessarily so earth-shattering as in the main “White Knight” books: kids Jackie and Bryce must hunt around Gotham chasing the McGuffin of their AI father’s hard drive. But Collins and McCormack do well making Jackie and Bryce likable, along with Jack. As well, again there’s impressive swaths of “White Knight” characters here, from stalwarts like Victor Fries and Marian “Riot” Drews to newcomers like Agents Diana Prince and John Stewart (giving us a taste of what’s to come), plus Harley and the grizzled old Bruce Wayne.

And even again as Generation Joker is something of a side story, it is branching here from the introduction of Riot and Poison Ivy’s relationship in Batman: White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn as well as events in Batman: Curse of the White Knight. I felt at the time that Murphy having Azrael unceremoniously bump off most of Batman’s rogues in Curse cut off potentially interesting story avenues, so I thrilled at the revelation of Joker resurrecting Two-Face between the panels, as well as the cameo by “Ventriloquist’s Daughter.”

In my review of Beyond I registered some pause with the art of Simone Di Meo and George Kambadais on the “White Knight Presents: Red Hood” story, finding it just too removed from Murphy or even Matteo Scalera on Presents: Harley Quinn. Here, artist Mirka Andolfo has clear manga tones, but I still felt she hewed closer to Murphy than others, particularly in Andolfo’s angular Jack and in Harley’s oversized glasses, for two examples. Only in some of the final fight scenes — the giant robot tipping and falling all around, for instance — did I feel the art verged a little unclear.

I appreciate, as with Presents: Harley Quinn, how these “Presents” books fit between Murphy’s main series. Here, I thought Collins and McCormack did particularly well in this interstitial space where obviously they can’t fully use the Justice League as revealed at the end of Beyond, but still we get a little flavor of agents Prince and Stewart, plus Wally West. Plus, as a bonus, there’s the reveal of Director Luthor — when Prince said “director” toward the beginning, I wondered if the writers were referring to just some general real-world FBI director equivalent or if this was headed somewhere, and lo and behold it was.

So, a good “White Knight” volume, one steeped if not outright reveling in the series' history. Batman: White Knight Presents: Generation Joker comes nowhere near the social politics that made the original Batman: White Knight so great, but it’s compelling in the secrets that were still left to be revealed and in Jack’s children’s concern over whether nature or nurture will define their later lives. I’m eager for Sean Murphy’s next volume proper so we can see if this series is back on track or not. (Ought it be housed under Elseworlds?)

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

Rating 2.5


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