DC Comics creator and the main man behind Batman: White Knight and its sequel Batman: Curse of the White Knight recently opened up about his approach to politics in Batman: White Knight.
Murphy begins by describing that he focused on making the Gotham City of Batman: White Knight into as real a city as he could. He didn’t want it to be a comic book city. And by making the city as realistic as possible, he wanted to turn the readers into citizens and have them ask a number of important questions about the city they inhabited.
“My goal with White Knight was to write Gotham as a real city, not a comic book city. I wanted to turn the reader into a citizen of Gotham and pose questions about Batman that we would ask in the real world, like, Is Batman a criminal and are the police complicit? Who pays for all the collateral damage when he fights a villain? What kind of white-collar corruption would we expect to see from Gotham’s politicians and business leaders, considering they allow Batman to exist? Answering these questions can get political.”
Murphy then explains that he created a number of diverse characters who have diverse opinions.
“I think the trick to writing a comic that successfully talks about politics is to include diverse characters with diverse opinions, then to do your best to treat those opinions fairly and accurately in a way that would satisfy readers who might share them.”
Murphy would admit that it can be difficult to write opinions that you disagree with, but if you want to create a balanced story and reach a much greater audience, you have to do it.
“This is especially hard when the script calls for you to bolster opinions you don’t agree with—but if you want to write a balanced story that has the potential to reach people you might not agree with, then there’s no way around it. This doesn’t mean sacrificing your political values as a writer—you can say everything you want through characters you align with (I’m a moderate liberal trying to be a peacekeeper, so I align most with Batgirl). But you need to include characters who disagree, then give them plausible reasons for doing so.”
Gordon specifically points to the two reporters he created that debate over whether or not the Joker has really been cured and what the Joker’s real motivations are.
“In White Knight, the most heated debates happen between two reporters as they disagree over whether or not the Joker is really cured (he becomes Jack Napier, a supposed good guy running for office). One reporter is a Republican, and the other a Democrat. And it’s interesting to see liberal/conservative readers interpret that scene in different ways, and which reporter they side with when it comes to topics like Batman’s war on crime, how they interpret the racial protests, and how to address the 1% and corrupt politicians. And I’m surprised by how often a liberal reader supports Duke Thomas owning a gun, and how often a conservative reader supports Duke’s reasons for leading racially charged protests against police. Because Gotham is fictional (and because I haven’t forced my personal politics into the story), readers are discussing modern issues without using works like Democrat, Republican and Trump. And I find it’s a lot more civil.”
Murphy’s discussion on diverse ideas, echoes what legendary Batman writer and the creator of Bane Chuck Dixon recently said on Reveal. While talking with host Al Letson, Dixon explained, “I’ve written impassioned anti-gun speeches for Batman. I’ve laid out in reasonable, passionate terms why Batman doesn’t like guns, and why they are bad. I don’t believe anything of what I put in his mouth, but I wrote it.”
Dixon would go on to say, “When you put the agenda before the story, that’s where the problem lies. Because then you come up with uninteresting characters for the sake of diversity.”
This isn’t the first time Dixon has made this point:
“If you want to put politics in your own comic, go ahead, that’s a great thing. But to put it in mainstream superhero comics and use them as a platform for your own political views is something we object to. And we object to it from both ends. We don’t think these characters should be used for anyone’s point of views even if they agree with us. When I wrote these characters, I didn’t have them present my political views or any political views at all other than their own that are part of their character. Such as Batman is anti-gun. I wrote a lot of anti-gun speeches for Batman that were well-justified and compassionate. I am not personally anti-gun or anti-Second Amendment, but that’s the character. You don’t write it different than what’s established. That was basically our premise, that these were iconic characters shared by generation after generation and should be pretty much just left alone as good guys and bad guys.”
Murphy’s fellow DC Comics writers Brian Michael Bendis and Tom King would also echo those thoughts recently. Bendis would write, “No don’t lecture. I feel like I want to online every day and tell everyone, ‘Don’t lecture.’ Everyone’s getting a little close to lecturing in their work.” King would echo that sentiment, “You can make a point without lecturing.” Bendis would add:
“No one wants to be lectured to. I forget who said this… ‘People who agree with you want to be lectured to less than people who don’t.’ I try to remind people, you can have a great point but please don’t yell. I feel like Twitter is getting into people’s narratives. ‘I’m going to tweet my story’ and I’m like ‘No no, tell your story. Tweeting is yelling, tweeting is lecturing.'”
Chuck Dixon and Sean Gordon Murphy have proven that you can write characters that don’t agree with your own personal political points of view and still create fantastic stories that will stand the test of the time. Let’s hope more comic book professionals take the advice of their peers and begin to focus on the characters and the stories over pushing a political agenda that can end up turning your comic book into a lecture session. No one wants to read a lecture in a comic book!
What do you make of Sean Gordon Murphy and Chuck Dixon’s comments on being able to write characters and stories that disagree with their own personal political view points?