Sean Murphy's 'White Knight' universe has always put familiar Batman characters in unfamiliar roles. The latest entry in the saga, Beyond the White Knight, is no exception.
Beyond the White Knight makes Bruce Wayne the man trying to bring down Batman, Terry McGinnis the loyal soldier of Derek Powers (or is he?), and Jack Napier - AKA Joker - a hallucination brought on by a computer chip in Bruce's brain. With just a few issues left in the limited series, it's tough to predict exactly where the story will take readers, but it's safe to say it is someplace Batman fans have never been.
Issue #5 of Beyond the White Knight (BtWK) hit comic shop shelves September 27, but not before Newsarama had the opportunity to speak with its creator. Read on to hear what Murphy had to say about creating the action for the issue, Joker and Batman's "comedic" relationship, and introducing a fan-favorite Batman Beyond villain into the White Knight universe.
Before you continue, be warned: some spoilers for BtWK #5 follow...
Grant DeArmitt for Newsarama: Starting right off, Sean, issue #4 of Beyond the White Knight ended with a pretty huge reveal. That is, that Terry McGinnis has known all along that Derek Powers is evil. So what's really been going through Terry's head as Powers has been directing him to use the new Batsuit? What are his real intentions?
Sean Murphy: Terry wasn't focused on for most of the story, because there are just so many other characters. I really wanted to make it clear in issue #4 that he's smart. He's not being led along by Powers. He knows Powers is evil and he's working for him on purpose. So when we get into the rest of the book, you know, we have our context for Terry and what he's after.
What Bruce is afraid of is Terry is going to use the suit to kill Powers. I mean, why wouldn't he? Terry doesn't know about the code, about Batman, how he doesn't kill. He was sort of sucked into this thing, and he's got a powerful Batsuit now, stronger than anything. Who's going to take it away from him, you know? So I think that's sort of the hesitation.
It's also Bruce's normal conundrum, as all these children are getting involved in this very dangerous activity. Is that okay? It's something that Bruce has never really had an answer for. He always goes back and forth in his head, you know?
Nrama: I'm glad you brought that up because one of the stand-out characters in this issue was Dick Grayson. So far, Dick Grayson has been on the GTO, Gotham's supercops with Bat-tech. He's been very committed to that cause. What's keeping him there?
Murphy: Yeah, but he's starting to come around. He's spent a lot of years angry. He wanted to end crime in Gotham and he went too far. He doesn't know how to admit that it was a bad idea, and it also cost him his marriage to Barbara. His stubbornness tells him, ‘I just need to stick to this and try to fix it, because otherwise, if I fail, I'll be just like Bruce.'
In the book, the White Knight series as a whole, Nightwing has never been the feature. He's never had his heroic moment like Babs has. In this story, he's sort of the antagonist, even though it's generally a misunderstanding. He still functions as the antagonist to Bruce.
I know a lot of readers love Dick. They don't love him in this book, but they still like the book, which I appreciate. For the next issue or two, I really wanted to win those people back over and show that I love Dick too. Let's give them a big hero moment. Let's make him a big part of the story and give everyone the Dick Grayson that they know and love.
Nrama: Having read issue #6, I can confirm that. Quickly, Have we seen the marriage of Babs and Dick fall apart? Or was that only mentioned?
Murphy: It's there but it's not shown. We know that they have a child. We know that they were together. We know that she proposed to him. But [their marriage] is sort of not the focus of the story. In fact, I'm writing a scene where the two of them are starting to get along again and then want to bring their family back together, but they still don't actually get into the details of what the hell went wrong. You're never really supposed to know; it's whatever the reader wants to imagine. Things got too difficult, whatever it is, you know?
Nrama: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's a marriage under incredibly high stress.
Murphy: For sure.
Nrama: Alright, let's dive into issue #5. One of the best parts of this book is the action - Bruce is escaping this building and at one point, his body is incapacitated. How you handle him getting out of it is amazing. Can you just tell me how you approached this issue? What was going through your head as you were writing it?
Murphy: I wanted this to be a linear thrill ride. This issue is just one long chase scene, one long action scene where we check off a lot of boxes. In my universe, Jack refers to himself as his number one Batman fan. That's sort of what's driven Joker: he loves Batman. He's obsessed with Batman, and he would probably give anything to be Robin in some way, you know?
So I thought, what if they had this Freaky Friday situation, and Jack got his dream? What if he was inside Bruce's body, and he got to feel what it was really like? And he was marveling at how big his muscles were, how fast he was. He's scared, but Bruce is there to guide him, telling him how to be Batman: throw this thing, punch that guy, go over there and do this. And Jack's loving it. I almost wanted this scene to be the entire issue. I mean, I could have written a whole series just of this because, I mean, the book is already set up like a buddy comedy in a lot of ways.
So yeah, that was definitely my favorite moment. I was really looking forward to people getting to that. It's funny, I actually talked to Todd McFarlane about this and said, ‘Hey, you always do figures of my stuff. What I'm thinking is this Batman figure where his face is revealed and Joker takes over his body. So you can sell a Batman action figure with a swappable head, and it could be a Joker figure, too.' And Todd's eyes light up. You've got two figures in one, so hopefully, he'll run with that.
Nrama: Very cool, I hope we get that figure. On the subject of revealing things about characters through the art, I've noticed there's something you do frequently in this book. That is, you give uncostumed characters shadows of their alter egos. What's the reason for that?
Murphy: I think it's that these characters can't escape their past. I try to find things that comics can do that other mediums can't do. You might see that in animation, but you'd never see a Chris Nolan movie where Bruce Wayne's walking around and in the shadows there's Batman. It would just be too weird. So I've been sort of pushing that more and more.
There have been other artists who've done this before, where Bruce is walking around and they want you to know that's Batman. So they'll have like a bat shadow behind him. I definitely wanted it to be a major element of the story because the story is about people, you know, dealing with their past. It's funny; I think people see it in the big moments, but they don't notice that it's actually in every single shadow. Bruce has a bat shadow.
Nrama: That does say a lot about the character, because he keeps claiming, ‘I'm not Batman, I'm not Batman.' But then, visually…
Murphy: Right. Who is he fooling? We all know he's going to get back into Batman by the end of the story. That's just what it is. It's just a matter of Bruce coming around to accept what the rest of us know.
Nrama: Yes, definitely. Ok, well, wrapping up, you've officially welcomed Blight into the White Knight Universe. Tell me about working with that character; how will he drive the story as it's coming to a close?
Murphy: It was fun! I got to use a lot of different techniques for Blight, a lot of dry brush, a lot of speed lines, a lot of layering and textures. It's basically a green, smokey Ghost Rider, which is great. I wanted Powers to be the primary antagonist, but I knew that we should have the Blight stuff happen just to make it more dangerous at the end. If we had twenty issues, I would have spent more time getting into that.
We do a thing very similar to the show [Batman Beyond], where Terry accidentally causes the green goo to hit Powers and he becomes radioactive. His staff has to find a way to cover him with synthetic skin, but it keeps cracking and eventually he just says, ‘Screw it, I'm Blight.' We go through the steps pretty quickly, within a matter of issues.
I really wanted to make Blight/Derek Powers more dynamic in their motivations. The Powers are a Jewish family that survived these terrorist attacks in Israel. So he's always had this fear of somebody coming for him. And then he joined up with Wayne Corporation and realized that the freeze tech was derived from Nazi technology. Being Jewish, he didn't appreciate that, so he threatened to leave.
Then Bruce made him an offer to revamp Wayne Motors, and the two were sort of locked in this uneasy relationship. Derek knew he was Batman, and he was providing Bruce with all this tech over the years. So Bruce couldn't have done it without him. And when Batman shut it down, Derek was upset and thought Bruce had no right to end it. But Derek has a very interesting reason for being scared and pushing this technology further. He's convinced that there's going to be an invasion of some kind, and he feels totally justified doing what he can to stop it.
So he's still a bad guy, and I think he knows he's a bad guy, but his motivation is a bit more dynamic than it was in the cartoon.
Beyond the White Knight now officially qualifies for consideration for the best Batman and Joker stories of all time.