The Killing Joke
Alan Moore, Brian Bolland
”There were two guys in a lunatic asylum...”
If someone were to ask me what my favourite Batman GN was, I wouldn’t hesitate to say The Killing Joke. Not only do I think it’s the best Joker story ever written, but also one of the best Batman stories written PERIOD.
The Joker has always been a fascinating character; mainly as we know so little about him. We know he’s disturbed, that he takes great pleasure in others pain, yet we never knew how he got his chalk white skin or his trademark smile. And that’s what makes him interesting. We, as the sane average citizen, can be shocked by his antics and appearance, and therefore admire him much more as he is so bizarre, and can get away with the abnormal.
But for me, the most interesting aspect of the Clown Prince of Crime is his mind set towards society, and how we function as a whole. Writers like Paul Dini have mastered this trait, particularly when giving insight to Joker’s feelings towards the Dark Knight. My favourite Joker quote of all time comes from this outlook upon modern day life –
”I’m not mad, I’m just differently sane.”
- Batman and Robin #14, Grant Morrison
It’s dialogue like this that really gives you an insight inside the mind of this maniac, and how he functions. And, as you can guess, it’s also the main reason why I love The Killing Joke.
Watchmen creator Alan Moore was a definitive writer for DC Comics in the 80s; and a master of dialogue. For him to tackle something as precious and debated as the Joker’s origin story seemed... insane. Yet he still teamed up with stunning artist Brian Bolland to publish The Killing Joke in 1988. The impact was incredible.
The story has now become the canon origin for the Joker, and Barbara Gordon’s paralysis also entered mainstream continuity, creating the persona of Oracle (although Barbara returned as Batgirl in the New 52 in 2011). I think it’s also important to add that this was probably the first time a writer had looked so in-depth into this character’s psychosis. As I said before, one of my favourite things about the Joker is his outlook upon society, and this is explored many times throughout the novel, most infamously in the Hall of Mirrors –
The iconic ‘One Bad Day’ speech is so influential as it can be applied to anyone in society; once again mocking the ‘normal’ person, and make us question our own sanity at times. This is pure perfection of the Joker; a man who ridicules society’s norms and exploits the benefits of insanity (the song midway through the novel is a perfect example of these characteristics).
I’ve heard some complain before that this portrayal of the Joker is too sympathetic, but in all honesty, that’s a GOOD thing. As fun as it is to watch Batman and Joker to kick the living hell out of each other, I really enjoyed watching Joker contemplate about his own creation. The events that take place during the flashback sequences are sheer tragedy, and well written at that, but are made even more tragic knowing that Joker himself cannot remember these images. One of my favourite elements of the novel is how each flashback transits back into reality, with the next panel mirroring the layout of the previous dark memory. Touches like that are fantastic. The tragic and human elements of the character's story, contrasting to the typical devious crimes we know he will commit in the future, makes him a much more three-dimensional, almost irredeemable human being.
I also like this GN a lot as it can be interpreted as a Batman vs. Joker story. And for the majority, that’s how I see it. It examines their bizarre relationship in detail, with both of them questioning why they fight one another. Batman in particular sees a far greater enemy and threat in the Joker, who has tortured Commissioner Gordon and paralysed his daughter. The fight scene between the two is brutal, and we can understand the hatred/compassion they feel for each other when doing so. Neither wants to kill the other, and both know they cannot reverse this destiny they share. The ending to the novel is a fantastic example of this, showcasing the arch nemeses as equals. This was something I’d never seen in a comic before; the bad guy and hero were on the same page. The ‘one bad day’ happened to both characters as if by some twisted fate. This is what makes the relationship between these two characters so iconic, and for me, what makes this GN such a great BATMAN story.
Meanings aside, the artwork for this novel is also incredible. It’s a shame Bolland doesn’t do much other than cover art nowadays, but this is probably the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. The lines, the expressions, the attention to detail – all add to this demonic world Moore created for the novel. Cue possibly the most stunning comic panel in history –
I mean, just look at it. Do I need to add anything more?
As a proud owner of the Deluxe Edition of the GN, I can say that Bolland’s colouring in the revised addition is also incredible. They just spring out of the page, almost like a 3D image. The vivid colours add a strange sense of realism to the book, whilst the muted greys of the flashback scenes match the sombre tone (and the odd splash of red during these panels is a great foreshadowing for later events). I know others prefer the garish mix of purples and oranges from the original, but it’s all down to personal preference.
All in all, The Killing Joke is a classic. Even if you aren’t a Joker fan, the themes of fate and sanity are so well written within the novel that you just HAVE to check it out. The Clown Prince of Crime has become one of the most famous fictional characters of all time – and The Killing Joke is the GN that cements this statement.
Review Supplied by TheJester