Batman: White Knight Puts Harley Quinn's Heart and Mind to the Test
Batman: White Knight, the visionary DC Black Label series first introduced by writer and artist Sean Murphy in 2017, has given readers one of the more unique takes on the Dark Knight mythos that we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s offered up new perspectives on the Bat-Family and iconic villains like Mister Freeze and Azrael, brought an added, modern-day complexity to Batman’s war on crime and boldly shaken up the status quo, even going so far as to end its most recent miniseries by sending its hero to jail. But one thing that doesn’t get discussed much is that more than any other series, Batman: White Knight has given us all a clear idea of what Harley Quinn saw in the Joker that made her fall in love with him.
We suspect a lot more people will be talking about it after Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn, the new White Knight miniseries which debuted earlier this week, finishes its six-issue run. Scripted by novelist (and Murphy’s wife) Katana Collins from a story she co-wrote with Murphy and drawn by artist Matteo Scalera, Harley Quinn is both a bold new step for the White Knight saga and what feels like its natural evolution.
“I know Sean's always had a fondness for Harley,” says Collins. “I think he always knew that she was going to be an integral part of the story, and I believe it sort of blossomed from there, especially now that she's carrying Joker's twins. There's just so much meat to that. How can you not make Harley her own story? And that's kind of always been the beauty about Harley Quinn, right? When she first premiered on the animated series, she just immediately caught people. I don't even know if they intended for her to become what she is today, but I think that's just the nature of Harley. She tends to make things her own.”
But as the debut issue makes clear, what exactly that means can be surprising. Far from the fourth-wall-breaking hijinks typically associated with Harley Quinn in comics, Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn is a relationship-driven mystery that finds Harley hunting down a murderer who seems to be taking his or her cues from the Joker’s past crimes. It’s a psychologically driven detective story.
“When Sean created this version of Harley, who was now a single mother, it was kind of this natural progression that she would be trying to integrate herself into what she thinks a typical mother should be,” explains Collins. “Also, we were watching a lot of Mindhunter at the time, and I was like, ‘I love this show! I feel like Harley Quinn should be the next Mindhunter!’ And that was sort of the birth of Detective Harley. It makes so much sense for Gotham. I mean, we kind of already have a Batman detective comic, so we’re taking a little bit of that but keeping her fun, playful Harleyisms. I think that there are some ways that maybe Harley has never really known who she is. She's kind of bounced back and forth between a lot of personalities and between being a doctor and being a harlequin with a jester hat. Now Harley is a mom. She’s nothing if not adaptable.”
That approach to telling a Harley tale is a far cry from the wisecracking, mallet-bashing mayhem that’s typically associated with Harley, but Scalera for one is relishing the chance to tell a different kind of story with the character.
“I think my hope for this book is that people will really enjoy its special rhythm,” he shares. “It's something that, especially nowadays, we're not that used to. In TV or movies or whatever, even in comic books, we're used to a really super-fast pace with, you know, a thousand flashy things happening here and there. You always have to catch the attention of the reader, otherwise, they’ll get super distracted, so you're constantly bam, bam, bam, bam! This one has its own rhythm. I'm a fan of Mindhunter too, so when Katana said Mindhunter, I immediately understood it. It was like, ‘Oh yeah, that's something I can definitely see in the story.’”
Scalera is only the second artist to draw a White Knight story other than Murphy, and the first to draw a multi-issue miniseries. Yet, it’s hard to think of an artist who’s better suited for it. A big fan and close friend of Murphy’s for many years, he describes working with Murphy and Collins as working with family and regularly references Murphy’s work when drawing Harley Quinn.