Don’t Worry It’s Not That Terrible Animated Movie
Batman The Killing Joke is regarded as a classic by pretty much almost every comic book reader. It shook up the DC universe quite heavily by telling Joker’s (quote) Origin Story (unquote) and placing Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair.
How does the book fit into the canon though? Does it’s short length damage its reputation? Has it aged well now that the standards have changed for modern day comics? Does it better that terrible animated movie? (Yes obviously to that last one)
BUT for the answers to my other questions, check out my review below.
Moore Moore Moore (How Do You Like It, How Do You Like It)
From the off you are instantly hit with the realistic art of the book. The prestige panelling is similar to Watchmen, Alan Moore’s other famous work (that he hates), and it instantly grounds the book in a realistic, straightforward fashion. This is the polar opposite to Serious House On Serious Earth. The story seems methodical and planned from the very start which is an interesting take as with it being The Joker’s origin you would expect chaos to appear amongst the page layouts.
One of the biggest controversies of this book was it’s recolouring by Artist Brian Bolland. Originally the art work was quite zany and all over the place. It’s been toned back heavily for the deluxe edition and I actually think the book suffers because of this. In a Joker story I believe that the colours should fit his personality rather than be muted, however the dulling of the palette does help to ground this book heavily in reality. There is no real definitive answer of which works better but for personal preference, I have to go with the original.
Yin And Yang
To me this book is about the similarities between Batman and The Joker and how they easily could switch roles should circumstances change. It is about looking in a mirror and seeing your opposite looking back. This is even hinted at in the book itself through its art. The graphic novel opens on rain falling into a puddle and ends on it too. It is truly highlighting exactly how the hero and villain are a reflection of one another.
From here Batman visits Arkham to plead with The Joker. The caped crusader knows deep down that eventually one of them will kill the other. Unfortunately, this plea falls on deaf ears as it isn’t really The Joker that he’s been conversing with. This always struck me as kind of a problem, Batman obsessed over the clown every day so how would he not recognise him? However, this is quickly brushed over so it doesn’t leave too big of a bad taste and this is really the only fault that I have with the book.
Whilst others may view this as being non-canon, I actually believe that this is THE Joker’s origin story. I just need DC to admit it too but they never will. To me, it is the only real explanation for his white skin and green hair and I think should The Joker’s beginnings be told again in comic or cinema then this story might be the perfect framework for it.
Jack In The Box
Seeing the young Joker (I’ll call him Jack for the sake of this review) is really heart breaking. I really relate to the money struggles as at the time of this review I am going through something similar and it’s heart-wrenching feeling that you can’t provide for the ones you love. It’s hard not to feel sympathetic for the character. He wasn’t born rich like Bruce was, with nothing to fall back on to keep him stable it’s easy to see why his life would go the way that it did.
It’s interesting when we flash back to Bruce in the Batcave. He struggles to come to terms with how two people can hate each other so much without even knowing the identity of the other.
They do know each other though.
Joker knows that Batman exists and Batman knows that Joker exists. Everything else is just noise that gets in the way of the stark contrasts both characters portray.
This actually got me thinking, what if The Joker has a secret identity that we’ve never known about and much in the same way that Batman does, he plays an identity during the day. This truly speaks volumes to Moore’s work. He enables readers to think for themselves whilst taking the characters in exciting directions.
From here we go to the most famous and controversial aspect of this book. The Joker shooting Barbara Gordon. I wish there was a way I could read this with fresh eyes, however, it sort of has the “Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s Father” (spoiler alert) problem in that EVERYONE KNOWS THE TWIST. It’s been recreated and used in almost all Batman media so it’s hard to view it with fresh eyes.
It’s still as shocking as ever though!
Beautifully orchestrated Moore takes away the text at the turn when Barbara opens the door and sees her attacker. You can tell the tone has completely changed, not only in the book but the DC universe itself. It’s completely out of nowhere and this turn grabs your attention immediately. To me, this was the moment when comics grew up. Gone were the days of Adam West and Burt Ward, this wasn’t Batman fighting aliens on Mars anymore. This was The Joker, showing up to where you live and paralysing you.
It’s a shame Moore has tried to distance himself from this work so much, this was mainly due to DC’s editorial manager at the time telling him to ‘cripple the bitch’ when he pitched this idea. It’s a shame that this soured the work as this part really makes you hate The Joker for all that he is. It raises the stakes in a way that we haven’t really seen in the canon thus far. No more clowning around, even if he is cracking distasteful jokes throughout.
Unfortunately (I guess), I dislike that DC have retconned the paralysis for the New 52 as to me it is a character defining moment and I actually see it as empowering for disabled people. A chair does not limit them and look at all the good that Barbara went on to do. This moment was life defining for her and it didn’t hold her back. She rolls with the punches and takes it on.
It’s impactful, sorrowful and a car crash, you feel so bad for Barbara. Then you remember that she’s a fictional character and get on with your life.
The Randomness Of The Killing Joke
Jack receiving the news that his wife was killed by a Baby Bottle Heater Electrical short speaks volumes to what the character and storyline becomes.
To me, the book is about the randomness of life and how tragedy can be around every corner. The Waynes were killed randomly, Jack’s wife and child were killed randomly and now The Joker is a personification of that chaos.
Batman and The Joker are pretty much the same person and it’s highlighted throughout this origin. Both had a bad day and one chose to do good whilst the other chose the opposite.
Welcome To The House Of Fun
The funhouse that the book climaxes at is terrifying. The Joker has captured Jim Gordon and is showing him photos of what he has done to his daughter, it implies rape and torture and we really feel like it’s nothing that a father should be put through. It’s sick and twisted and this is displayed in the surroundings and the henchmen that The Joker has chosen to aide him in his quest to make Jim’s bad day turn him mad.
Throughout this section we are gifted the backstory of Jack donning the Red Hood and being accosted by Batman. This chapter of the book is a huge standout and I guarantee that there are probably 10,000 people with tattoos of The Joker’s reveal.
This book is just outstanding.
When Batman arrives to save the day and the narration mirrors that of his plea at the start it really hits home how phenomenal this work is. Even down to the dated batmobile it speaks volumes to the planning of the art. The batmobile is dated because so are Batman’s ideologies to The Joker. The Joker sees the world as one big joke. He talks about how wars were started over simple mistakes and how fragile life is. He just has to laugh at how serious people take it.
The Killing Joke
Then we get to the title of the book, The Killing Joke, which is as follows:
“See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum… and one night, one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light… stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend didn’t dare make the leap. Y’see… Y’see, he’s afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea… He says ‘Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!’ B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says… He says ‘Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across!”
It’s hard to tell which character is which during this joke, you could view Batman as the one who is trying to lead Joker out of the lunatic asylum or he could be the one stuck there, unable to escape his own madness. This will probably be analysed for as long as the characters exist and it’s because of this that Moore’s work has really been elevated to the level that it is. We will never know for sure.
Does Batman kill The Joker?
Yes, I believe he does. Grant Morisson talked about this moment greatly on an episode of Fatman On Batman and I have to agree with the Scot. Batman finally broke and realised that he would never be able to correct The Joker and thus had to take him out. Of course, you can argue with me till you’re blue in the face that he didn’t and neither one of us will ever know. It’s just interesting to see how Rebirth has now stated that there are infact three Jokers. It makes you wonder whether Batman killed the first.
I think he did.
What can really be said to summarise The Killing Joke, it’s near perfect in length, dialogue and art, I’ll even concede that the colouring is brilliant even if I do prefer the original. There really is no fault to be had with this book and it deserves it’s place in all of the top 10 lists that it gets on.
I’ve wrestled back and forth as to whether I prefer it over Arkham Asylum and after sleeping on it I think that it just…just….just knocks Serious House On Serious Earth down a peg.
This book is essential!
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.