WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Batman: White Knight #8 by Sean Gordon Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth, in stores now.
Creator Sean Gordon Murphy flipped the script on the dynamic between Batman and Joker, making the Caped Crusader overly-violent, while curing the Clown Prince of Crime and making him a sane man. In short, White Knight‘s Batman was the villain and Joker, the hero; all part of a sociopolitical tale which challenged Gotham’s social justice warriors to rise to the challenge of bettering the city.
While many will talk about the physical and mental games between these two arch-nemeses here, the rise of the Neo Joker (the second Harley Quinn, aka Marian Drews), Napier actually changing for the better, and last but not least, Batman finally unmasking to Jim Gordon, one of the biggest cornerstones of the book is the original Harley Quinn, aka Harleen Quinzel. Not only does Murphy makes her the voice of reason amid all the chaos befalling Gotham, as the finale shows, she’s the emotional heartbeat and true White Knight of the story.
As the book built to its explosive climax, with Batman and a dementia-stricken Napier teaming up to stop Neo Joker and her brainwashed army of Bat-rogues, many readers believes the series’ white knight was the former Joker. After all, as Jack Napier, he exposed corruption, police brutality, classism, racism, as well as the devastating effect the Caped Crusader’s war on crime had on the city. The poor began to back him, and quickly; Napier became a councilman, media darling and the public philanthropist which not even Bruce Wayne had ever become. But as Issue #8 ended, in typical Batman fashion, the vigilante confronted Harleen in the shadows and revealed the truth: She orchestrated Napier’s campaign and pulled the strings of everyone, including the Bat.
After Harleen weds Napier and he reverts to his Joker persona in Arkham Asylum, Batman discloses he knows she was the one who created the mysterious pills and led the Joker to them in Issue #1. It turns out she manipulated both men into this war, curing Joker to show him he had a sense of good inside him, and also to prove to Batman he was part of Gotham’s problem. Central to Harleen’s master plan was demonizing the Dark Knight, even tricking him into destroying the library she helped Napier build for the urban demographic in Backport. While Neo Joker came out of the blue and proved to be a dangerous wildcard, Harleen’s objective was nonetheless achieved — she gets the public to believe in Napier, and more so, she shows both Napier and Bruce Wayne that deep down, they’re both monsters consumed by darkness, and yet they both remain men who could still rise to the light.
Batman disapproves of her methods, but he does owe her after she tried to save Jason Todd from a Joker beating years before, and this forgiveness goes a long way. Especially because he realizes she’s right and needed to expose his aggressive nature, a black hole which he even admits to Gordon he was losing himself in. As Harleen reiterates, she knows both men better than anyone — maybe even themselves — because she’s seen the duo at their worst and at their best; a conflict she conquers herself when she resists her murderous side and spares Marian’s life at the end.
Harleen makes it perfectly clear to Bruce that while she was atoning for the past, it wasn’t just about her being a hopeless romantic who loved Napier, or tricking people into believing in his redemption, or helping Batman remember he stood for hope and justice. For her, it was all about saving the soul of Gotham itself. But to do so, she needed to turn the mirror on all its citizens and let them see their own reflections.
Sure, her actions may have been a bloody gamble and a risk of serious jail time, but in the wake of the series’ events, she’s helping to rebuild Gotham — a city united and whose inhabitants believe in each other once more, a city whose vigilantes are now working in tandem with the Gotham police force, and most of all, a city inspired to be its best self yet again. Harleen may have played everyone, but in doing so, she changed things forever and, as it stands, for the best.
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