Bat-mania: Batman: The Killing Joke

Guest Post

“We have to show him…we have to show him that our way works,” half demands and pleads a stark naked Commissioner Gordon out of Batman as the Dark Knight hunts the Joker. Gordon has had his daughter, the semi-retired Batgirl Barbara Gordon, shot and paralyzed in front of him, has been beaten up, has been subject to photos of Barbara’s naked, bloodied, body on giant screens and lastly, has been held captive by the Clown Prince of Crime, in a cage, in an attempt to drive the unwavering Commissioner insane.

Batman has a tough moral dilemma to deal with. He makes no assurances to Gordon as to whether or not he will take him in “by the book” and in the end no one is sure since the last frame is full simply of sirens. As this was initially a one-off our options are open. Batman could have snapped the Joker’s neck. The police could have shot the armor-less Batman. Intriguingly, the Joker even requests a vicious beating and based on the fact that Batman says that “he does not want to,” and that Batman is a trustworthy character, we can believe him.

I would have “kicked the hell” out of the Joker, as the Clown Prince actually asks, and then some. Strong reactions, I know and perhaps, as AO Editor Dan Allen had told me, this is what separates Batman, and by extension, Jim Gordon, from the rest of us, the Joker even, the fact that the two Lawmen have not, to our knowledge, succumbed to the brutality that has shrouded the cold-blooded act.

While Batgirl was a rarely seen second-tier character at the time Alan Moore wrote the graphic novel, and by extension disposable to a point, she was essential to one of my two Batman universes growing up as I learned Batgirl from Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series and never saw her as the wheel chair bound Oracle. Since I never read the comics, perhaps this is why I felt so strongly to the outcome of events.

It took a strong will for the Commissioner not to react appropriately, as I would call it, and it seems that Moore and Bolland have juxtaposed that tragedy with the tragedy of the young Joker, an unnamed chemical genius who threw his promising career as a scientist into the wind for a shot at fame as a stand up comedian. Desperate and frustrated for money to support his pregnant bride, he agrees to do a heist to appease his guilty conscience for not being the proper, financially supportive man of the house. Looking uncannily like a young Gene Vincent, there is a very high level of pathos that made me feel very sorry for the Joker. Even before the heist goes awry, his wife and unborn child have died in a freak accident. Intimidated by the gangsters, he still goes on to commit the crime at the chemical plant where, dressed as the Red Hood, a villain created by the gangsters with a red helmet and cape, he is chased down by the Batman and jumps into a vat of toxins where…his face comes out bloodless on the other side of the sewer pipe and he emerges, sanity lost for certain, tragically transfigured and transformed.

“You had a bad day, once, right,” needles the Joker to Batman as they chase each other through a dilapidated amusement park that has been the Joker’s base of operations in the contemporary continuum of the book. Batman never gives in to divulging why he began dressing sort-of like a bat, but the strong connection between the two is evident, especially as this is nearly at the end of the book, which soon ends with the image of sirens.

Incredibly well written, paced and illustrated, The Killing Joke is a mandatory must read and at only $12.23 from Amazon dot-com or $17.99 retail, there is no reason you shouldn’t pick it up. If you want to be really cheap, the regular softcover is only $5.99 retail. The inexpensive price and relatively short length should help with the multiple readings you will need to ensure full enjoyment from the book. Moore and Bolland make it interesting to see how differently Batman, the Commissioner and the Joker all deal with tragedy. The Commissioner would have likely called the police had he not been police and not have taken matters into his own hands as the arch enemies have so done with polarizing actions and repercussions.

The book was originally published in 1988 and if any of the Joker origin seems familiar, you will be reminded when you pick it up because the title page blatantly quotes Tim Burton who read it as research for Batman and proclaims that “I loved THE KILLING JOKE. It’s my favorite. It’s the first comic I’ve ever loved.” We can only imagine how he would have treated Batgirl had he ever come to make the last two films about the character he planted on the serious and grave side of the comic-book movie map.

Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition
Words: Alan Moore
Art & Colors: Brian Bolland
DC Comics, 2008.
64 pages.