Batman: The Killing Joke
Writer: Alan Moore
Illustrator: Brian Bolland
Color Artist: John Higgins
Distributed By: DC Comics
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I had first heard about Batman: The Killing Joke shortly after the start of the Birds of Prey television series. I had been a fan of Batman comics and Barbara Gordon, AKA: Batgirl, had been one of my favorite characters back then. However, events conspired to rob me of the necessary money needed to purchase Batman comic books and, as time went by, I lost track of my favorite characters. Thus, when Birds of Prey began to be advertised, I found myself wondering what had happened to Barbara Gordon. Why was she now confined to a wheelchair and fighting crime under the name Oracle? Both my brother and my brother-in-law pointed me in the direction of Batman: The Killing Joke and all was explained.
It all begins with a visit to Arkham Asylum. Batman, tiring of the battle between himself and The Joker and knowing that it can only end in death for one of them, visits his old nemesis in an effort to change that fated outcome. He discovers that The Joker has escaped. Meanwhile, the newly freed The Joker has plans of his own. He purchases an old, abandoned amusement park and then visits the home of Commissioner James Gordon to set his scheme in motion. Barbara Gordon is shot and Commissioner Gordon kidnapped. What new terrors can The Joker have planned for the heroic cop and his family?
The artwork isn’t what makes this storyline special. No, the artwork is average. It’s the story that grabs you. This is the first time you really see how cold and calculating The Joker truly is. In Batman: The Killing Joke, The Joker tortures his victims all to prove a point – that he and Batman weren’t all that different after all. Stating plainly the chief similarities between the two, The Joker reminds Batman that it was something in The Joker’s past that drove him to become the criminal he is today, just as something in Batman’s past drove him to be the vigilante he has become. As he describes it, one bad day was enough to drive them both over the edge. The Joker believes that there is only a slight difference between him and his nemesis and he aims to show this to Batman in the most painful way possible.
This is the first time we actually see Batman reach out to one of his enemies. Granted, he does so in an attempt to clear his own conscience from what he believes will be the unavoidable ending to his long battle with The Joker, but he does reach out to him nonetheless. It’s a side of Batman most of his fans rarely have an occasion to see and it’s a tad bit surprising.
The story is also important to the DC Comics world at large. One of the characters is changed forever – Barbara Gordon, who once fought side by side with Batman as Batgirl, was now forced to rethink her vigilante career. Her character evolved into something amazing – something empowering to all people with disabilities.
After seeing the latest Batman theatrical film release, The Dark Knight, I had to reread this comic book, because something about The Joker in the movie reminded me of something I had read. After rereading Batman: The Killing Joke, I am convinced that this version of The Joker is the basis of The Joker portrayed in the movie. When The Joker asks, “So, why can’t you see the funny side?” in The Killing Joke, I was immediately reminded of the tagline, “Why so serious?” uttered numerous times by The Joker in The Dark Knight. The fact that The Joker doesn’t truly remember exactly what drove him over the edge – “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.” – is also reflected in the movie. Heath Ledger’s Joker discusses various versions of how he got his “scars” with his victims – no two stories are the same. These similarities, plus the particular ruthlessness of The Joker in The Dark Knight leads me to believe that the script writers studied Alan Moore’s version of the infamous villain before putting pen to paper for their film.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a must read for fans of the Batman, Batgirl and Birds of Prey comic book series. It’s an important part of the storyline of all three comic book series. Fans of the movie The Dark Knight might also want to check out this comic book just to get a glimpse as to where the script writers may have gotten their ideas about The Joker. I own the original 1988 version of The Killing Joke, found on eBay at a terrific price. But if you’re a true Batman fan, the comic book has been re-issued in a hardcover format that contains a bonus mini-comic companion piece. Check it out today – no fan of the Batman or The Clown Prince of Crime should miss out on Batman: The Killing Joke.