The End of Days has come for Batman. A higher power has dispatched an angel of death of vengeance against the Dark Knight. Gotham’s protector will be put through a trial by fire in this follow-up to Sean Murphy’s original story. Bruce will find out secrets that will shake him to his core, and affect how he sees himself and his family. Amid the shocking revelations, change will come that will force Gotham to adapt to the harsh road laid before it. Azrael is here and nothing will be the same.
It would be easy to say that Curse of the White Knight is a repeat of its predecessor. Both books have big overlaps in terms of the themes it talks about. The biggest overlap is in recognizing the full consequences of one’s actions and trying to find a better way. But as I looked back on this book in preparation for my review, I found that this sequel actually presents ideas that serve as a natural progression of the original comic. It is easy to say that things need to change. Admitting that is only the first step towards true progress. If you truly seek growth and change, you will most likely be forced to make some tough choices. And the fallout of those choices can seem overwhelming. If you are serious about what you say, then you may have to make a hard sacrifice. At the end of the original story, Batman reveals his identity to James Gordon and at the beginning of this story, he plans on ultimately revealing his identity to all of Gotham. It takes one of the villains of this story to spell out what exactly that would mean for Bruce if he follows through.
A lot of the revelations that are exposed in this comic serve to progress the themes of The White Knight. Do you want to change how Gotham works? Turns out, it was designed this way from its conception. In order to take on the challenge of breaking the cycle, you must understand how it started. As it turns out, this is tied a lot to the history of the Wayne Family and how Gotham came to be. And we see a lot of parallels to how similar situations played out in our real world. People from different cultures join together with the promise to share power and land equally only for one to betray the other and create everything in their image, often finding ways to profit off what they establish. The struggle between Batman and Azrael becomes more than just a pawn fighting a hero, but rather the descendant of the betrayed seeking retribution for the sins of the past.
This brings up the question of how we should react and respond to the actions of our ancestors. Do we simply try and improve existing institutions and laws? Do we pay reparations to the people that have suffered the most from past actions? Or do we take the scorched Earth approach and tear down everything? I want to share a scene that’s a confrontation between Batman and Azrael and examine it from a couple of different perspectives.
Let’s start with the more literal interpretation. Both of these characters have been shaped by their ancestors to some extent. Both of them are admittedly very similar to the other. Azrael admits as much when he talks about how people like Bruce are plentiful from his walk of life. Soldiers and fighters are willing to do what it takes to defend their ideals and/or their way of life. As Batman points out the obvious difference that he doesn’t kill, Azrael criticizes him for not going all the way and therefore never truly affecting anything. This actually ties in a lot to my observations of Batman based on The White Knight, how Bruce’s narrow view of how to bring change and make a difference either does nothing or oftentimes makes it worse. All he is doing is dragging things out instead of biting the bullet and doing something truly impactful.
Now, the more metaphorical interpretation. There are a lot of people in the real world who talk about helping others and making a difference. Often involving donating money or goods to those in poorer nations. Maybe establishing a charity to more directly help certain communities. But that only does so much. There are institutions - corporations and governments - that will end up protecting the status quo at the end of the day. Not doing anything too significant that might affect how they live their lives. Allowing the elite to become more powerful while everybody else is exploited and discarded. Bruce’s refusal to kill can be interpreted as someone with the means to go against these institutions as his refusal of giving up his way of life. And by doing so, proof that he’ll never be able to help anyone.
And Azrael is right. Bruce is willing to admit it, just as he was willing to admit that Napier was right before. As the comic approaches the final fight, he sends his message out to the people about how he was wrong to view himself as heroic as he used to and pledges to bring real change.
Following the climax, those changes do indeed happen. Gotham seems to be heading down the right path. But there are plenty of questions and issues that will still need to be dealt with as the people move forward.
The criticisms regarding police militarization and not doing enough go hand in hand. Some slack can be given regarding upgrading the police because this is a superhero universe. However, most of the villains we used to know have been killed off by Azrael. So an argument can be made that further upgrades to the police aren’t necessary. While other methods of community outreach such as mental care and social programs are more in need of that funding and drive. The criticism of Socialism is a bit tricky. Considering what has been revealed about the Batman Devastation Fund and the history of Gotham, one can argue that Capitalism is responsible for a lot of problems this world is forced to deal with. This parallels a lot of real-world arguments regarding the flaws and corruption associated with Capitalism and how the people at the top benefit from it. Obviously, my amateur review of a comic book story isn’t the right place to debate Capitalism versus Socialism. But the fact that it is being brought up in this comic is proof that communication is opening up and people can finally start working together as opposed to a small group making decisions behind closed doors. We all need to reckon with the past and understand it, be willing to talk about it if we are to come up with solutions for our current problems.
This ended up being shorter than I anticipated mainly because there is a lot of overlap between this comic and its predecessor. But Curse of the White Knight is also a natural progression and deeper exploration that introduces more complex questions when dealing with the aftermath of hard choices. It can be hard to deal with the fallout, this story shows just as much. However, forgiveness is there for those that take the right steps.