WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Batman: White Knight #3 by Sean Gordon Murphy, in stores now.
From the start, writer/artist Sean Gordon Murphy’s Batman: White Knight series has explored a different kind of Gotham City, one that strives to be more real and more modern. It’s a series that tries to illustrate the real-life repercussions that Batman’s war on crime would have in the real world, in a real city filled with crime. To do so, Murphy has plunged readers into a DC Universe that is harsher and darker, and where Batman is much more brutal and reckless.
Some of the characters in the series’ the recurring cast are quite similar to their main DCU counterparts, including Commissioner Gordon, Nightwing and Batgirl. But others have been fundamentally changed, with the most obvious being the Joker, who has been cured from his madness, and Harley Quinn, who has been revealed to be two separate and very different characters. In issue #3, there is a new addition to the cast of the book, one that current Batman readers are familiar with: Duke Thomas.
In the main DC continuity, Duke is Batman’s latest partner (not a sidekick) who went through rigorous training to become something other than the next Robin. Instead, Duke has become The Signal, one of the few members of the Bat-family, if not the only one to operate predominantly in the daytime, protecting the Gotham citizens in broad daylight. However, White Knight #3 introduces us to a very different Duke, one who is older, and much more muscular. This Duke Thomas is an ex-special forces soldier, though like his main DCU counterpart, he isn’t a Batman sidekick, either. Instead, he runs the streets of Backport, Gotham’s poor and gang-ridden sector, essentially White Knight‘s version of the Narrows.
We meet Duke when he is approached by the now-cured Joker, now going by the name Jack Napier. Napier has a very special plan in mind for the city of Gotham in order to have it turn on Batman, and it seems like Duke is the next piece of this puzzle. However, while Duke may end up aligning himself with Napier, he makes it clear that he’s no villain. Like in the main DCU, Duke is a good man who wants to help; he runs a youth group, and he has managed to get all local gangs to work together under his guidance, patrolling the streets of an area the Gotham City Police Department can’t be bothered to protect and serve properly.
Duke has become disenchanted by Gotham’s police force, and with good reason. After his turn in the army, he returned home to join the GCPD, only to be fired when he tried to report on instances of corruption. That is why he then chose to do their jobs better than them, in a place where the citizens have no hope. In White Knight, Duke is a hero for the real world — not one who wears a mask and costume, but one who tries to help the less fortunate in any way he can, by giving them protection and purpose.
While we don’t yet know what Napier hopes to accomplish by aligning himself with Duke, the truth of the matter is that Duke himself recognizes that the man in front of him used to be the Joker, and that makes him wary of his guest. The issue ends before we find out if Duke accepts Napier’s deal, but there’s a good chance that he will. The real question is, what will Duke do if Napier is lying, and if the Joker returns?