There are a plethora of Batman Elseworld titles, but very few of them have the staying power of Batman: The White Knight. The alternate universe title, which is created, drawn, and written by Sean Murphy, is currently on its third chapter, which takes readers into the future and through the Murphyverse iteration of the Batman Beyond series.
Beyond the White Knight #3 hits comic shops and digital platforms on May 24, and ahead of its release, Newsarama spoke to Murphy about the series. Read on to find out what he had to say, but be warned: the conversation strays into some major spoiler territory for issue #3 and beyond. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Grant DeArmitt for Newsarama: Sean, starting off, you shared a pretty huge spoiler on Instagram recently when you posted a panel from issue #2 of Beyond the White Knight where it’s revealed that Harley Quinn and Batman are married. Why post that?
Sean Murphy: I was talking with marketing and PR, and they said maybe dropping a few big spoilers will increase sales. They said normally the creators don’t want to spoil things, but some people think marketing-wise that it’s okay because it actually does work out in the long run. I chose to be like, “Yeah, let’s try it. We’ll put out the fact that they’re married.”
Nrama: Do you mind me asking if it worked?
Murphy: I’m not sure yet. Of course, I’m always trying to get the sales number as high as possible. But it’s tricky to tell with chain supply disruption and COVID and all the things that are going on. It’s hard to get a read on it now but I’m hoping in the next month or so I will be able to tell if our numbers are back to where I want them.
Nrama: Tell me about the Harley Quinn/Batman relationship. It’s been something you’ve been hinting at since Curse of the White Knight, what inspired it?
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Murphy: Well, they’ve always been close. My wife is a romance writer and she told me, “You have this really interesting will-they-won’t-they.” I thought if a lot of people hear about Harley Quinn and Batman and they’d say no, but she said that if there’s any book that could do it, maybe it’s yours. I think a lot of people might make an exception, especially if you queue it up the right way. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
I think Bruce might feel something for Harley, but he’s going to have a hard time admitting it to himself because of their history, because of the Joker and how the Joker died. What brings them together, what bonds them, is that they’re both the biggest victims of the Joker.
They’ve both been forever changed by Joker. That gives them this bond. Also, Bruce is always bad at acknowledging his feelings and sorting things out in his head. But, it wasn’t like a romantic marriage with the white dress and all that stuff.
It was just a convenience, just so Harley wouldn’t have to testify against Bruce because of spousal privilege. So I thought, okay, readers might be fine with that. I hope it’s something interesting to play with that no other Batman book can do. We’re going to try to keep pushing it and see what we can get away with.
Nrama: It definitely feels like new territory. Speaking of new territory, there are some new characters in this book. One of them is Jackie, who is the Joker’s daughter in both DNA and in spirit. Can you talk about her character and what you see her role as in the series?
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Murphy: My Joker is sort of set-up like Two-Face; he has this split personality. A lot of people really like the Joker and it’s kind of hard to say, “I really like this serial killer.” So by having Joker be Jack Napier and having Jack be this good character inside Joker, it makes it ok to like the Joker. So I thought that would be something that readers would be into.
Then I thought, what if he had twins? Each twin has one side of this personality. That’s something that I could plant the seeds for and may be used later on. By the way, we don’t know which one’s good and which one’s bad. Jackie is the one that’s seemingly Joker-obsessed and seems to have this dark streak. But who knows? It could be her brother, Bryce.
Murphy: It’s fun to draw Jackie as a mini punk rock Joker. That definitely goes back to my roots with Punk Rock Jesus and all that. It feels like a similar character. Actually, I think her jacket is literally what Chris from Punk Rock Jesus is wearing. So it’s fun to bring that back.
Nrama: Very cool. I’m glad you brought up character designs since they’re really a unique thing about this book. For example, in issue #3, Bruce gets a new suit that’s a prototype of the Batman Beyond suit. What was the idea behind that … how did you come up with it?
Murphy: Bruce has convinced himself that he can’t be Batman, that Batman was bad and it was a mistake. So when he breaks out of jail to basically be a vigilante again, he refuses to wear the costume. He gets back to this knockoff Batcave that he has set up in Gotham, where he’s got all these Batsuits from years past.
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He actually takes them apart and reconfigures them to where it’s something that he can wear and do what he has to do, but it’s not Batman. He takes the ears off, he wears a trench coat instead of a cape, and he spraypaints over the yellow bat symbol.
I think a lot of readers will look at that and be like, “come on, you’re obviously still Batman. Who are you fooling?” Which is exactly what Joker says to him.
And then, after Bruce is swinging through the city, Joker has a moment where he’s like, “You know, I wasn’t liking the suit at first, but it’s kind of growing on me. This part kind of looks like the ears, and the trench coat looks kind of like the cape. I could definitely see myself buying the action figure.”
Nrama: Hopefully there is one.
Murphy: I hope so too. I might send pictures to Todd McFarlane. And actually, I might tell him, if you’re doing it, you should include a Joker head.
Nrama: What do you mean?
Murphy: Well, this is a spoiler, Joker is going to have to inhabit Bruce’s body in a scene in issue #5. Bruce is incapacitated and Joker takes over. So Batman is a hologram now, and he’s trying to help Jack like, “Punch that guy, duck under here, jump through this fence!”
It’s a really fun scene and putting out an action figure like that would be pretty cheap. All we have to do is make trenchcoat Batman. Actually, we’re calling him Obi Wayne, because he looks like Obi-Wan Kenobi.
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Nrama: I love that. With the coat and the beard.
Murphy: Yep. More people are calling him Obi Wayne now. I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t. My readers came up with that. And if Todd wants to do a Joker action figure for this series, we could tell him to make the bottom half translucent because he’s a hologram. Seems like something he’d be into.
Nrama: Definitely. Well, on the subject of new suits in issue #3, and since you don’t seem to be afraid of spoilers, would you want to talk about Duke Thomas?
Murphy: Yeah, Duke becomes our Robin, which I’m really excited about. I sort of co-created him with Scott Snyder years ago in Detective Comics #27, and we got a lot of buzz about an African-American Robin. Scott eventually named him Duke Thomas and worked him into the main line, and then turned him into The Signal.
When I did White Knight, I really wanted to use Duke, but I wanted to have an older one who’s more like Luke Cage. I’ve really enjoyed writing Duke this whole time, and my plan was to get him into the Robin suit for years. I just never found a way to do it. Even in volume one, all the colors he’s wearing are Robin colors. Bruce at one point says to him, “You would have made a good Robin.”
So in this book, when he decides to quit the GTO, Barbara asks him to work for her undercover and she gives him a Robin suit. I think DC might have been worried he was going to be wearing green booties and a yellow cape, which wouldn’t look right on Duke. But I assured them he would look more like a Mortal Kombat character, something more rugged.
Nrama: Very cool. Really quickly, I wanted to talk about Derek Powers, who Batman Beyond fans know as Blight. Although four issues in, he’s still very much a normal human and not a glowing skeleton man. What about Derek Powers makes him an appealing villain to you?
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Murphy: White Knight has always talked about local politics, you know, city funding, this Batman Devastation fund. I know people don’t want to read comic books about paying taxes and how things are funded, but I did want to throw in some stuff along those lines. Imagine you were stuck in traffic because Batman blew up a bridge. Would you really be a Batman fan after that? How do these people feel to have their city ravaged? I like to play with those questions.
Derek Powers allows me to do that because we find out that he has been secretly helping Bruce build Bat-technology for decades. Derek was actually one of the first to ever figure out Bruce’s secret identity, and he threatened Bruce when he tried to shut Derek down. He said, “I will tell everyone you’re Batman, or I keep this secret and you keep funding my R&D. I’ll create more Batmobiles for you.” So they have this uneasy truce over the years, and Derek has kept his promise.
But when Bruce tells the city who he is in volume 2. and goes to jail, Derek uses the opportunity for a hostile takeover of the company. He confiscates a lot of the Wayne fortune, stopping Bruce from giving it away like he intended to. Bruce figures this out and realizes that, not only is that obviously really bad, but there’s a good chance that Derek is actually behind the stolen Batsuit. So Derek isn’t really a supervillain yet, he’s just this typically greedy business tycoon who is manipulating Terry.
But in issue #5, there’s going to be an accident and it will definitely turn him into Blight. So there’s a spoiler for you as well. Actually, I just posted on Instagram a sketch of the cover of Blight. It’s not the final but if you want to put that in the article you can.
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Nrama: We probably will. Alright, last question for you. We know that after issue #4 we’re going to get a brief interlude – Batman White Knight Presents: Red Hood. How does issue #4 set up the Red Hood? What’s that story going to be about?
Murphy: I actually made a mistake in volume 1. when I made Jason Todd the first Robin. It was something I decided not to correct because I didn’t think it was a big deal, and I thought maybe this is a way to make this work out. I’ve been trying to dig my way out of that hole for two volumes now.
So Jason is the first Robin, and I know he’s usually the angry Robin, but in my universe Dick is also very angry. In order to differentiate between the two of them, I have a Jason that’s obviously older and I thought, “What if he had forgiven Bruce? What if he had closure?” Yeah, he was mad for a while, but he realized that you can’t be mad forever. Bruce is not a perfect dude, you know?
I wanted to do a story that talked about why Jason was able to move on, and the way he gets closure is he starts training his own Robin. It’s a girl, a Mongolian immigrant named Gan and she’s a Robin fangirl basically. When she meets Jason, she’s like, “Oh my God you were Robin. You’ve got to teach me everything.”
At first he says no, but then he decides it could be a good way to get back at Bruce. He can prove that there is a correct way to raise a Robin. So he takes her under his wing, and after a while, he realizes that he really likes being an older brother figure. It’s really rewarding. He starts to empathize with Bruce, and I think that’s what gives him closure. His relationship with Gan.
Two issues are going to set that up, and then Gan and Jason are going to get involved with the Bat family for the rest of Beyond the White Knight.
It seems like DC is adding new Robins all the time, Gan included. But only a few of those have made Newsarama’s list of the best.