Title: The Killing Joke
Author: Alan Moore, Brian Bolland
Genre: Graphic Novel
Stand alone or series: Stand alone graphic novel, but part of the Batman universe
Summary: (from DCComics.com)
For the first time the Joker’s origin is revealed in this tale of insanity and human perseverance. Looking to prove that any man can be pushed past his breaking point and go mad, the Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. After shooting and permanently paralyzing his daughter Barbara (a.k.a. Batgirl), the Joker kidnaps the commissioner and attacks his mind in hopes of breaking the man. But refusing to give up, Gordon maintains his sanity with the help of Batman in an effort to best the madman.
Why did we read this book: In honor of The Dark Knight, which features the Joker in all his depraved glory, we had to review this classic graphic novel. Tim Burton is blurbed as saying that this is the first comic that he ever truly loved, and Heath Ledger himself used this as inspiration for his portrayal of The Joker.
I made my way to Arkham to CHANGE things. To STOP the both of us from heading down the path we were on. So I went to Arkham, to cell 0801 to see him. THE JOKER.
It wasn’t long before I realized the man in the cell was wearing paint. An IMPOSTOR. I needed to find him before he killed anyone else.
HahahAHAHAHAHahahAHA! CLEARLY one of my best escapes.
I have a PLAN and as far as plans go it is a much better one than to sit down and chit chat. I need to SHOW them. We’re all the SAME, see? But first to find the stage where to set my PLAY.
I look at the card in my hand. HIS card. Got to stop him. Where did he go? NEED to stop him before we start this battle again, and more innocent people are hurt. Where IS he?
A derelict Carnival, ugly, BROKEN, with rides that could easily KILL innocent CHILDREN. It is PERFECT! I am CRAZY about it. After some of the IMPROVEMENTS I have planned, it will be the IDEAL theater to house my MAIN ATTRACTION.
I feel the HATE boiling through my veins. How can we HATE each other so much? Where is he going? GOT to stop him. It doesn’t have to END like this.
I have my main actors – the good old COMMISSIONER and his daughter Barbara. Such a SHAME that Barbie can’t stay long – twinkle twinkle little BAT, SADLY your part is short. HahahahaHAHAHAHA!
Now, SMILE for the BIRDIE little ANGEL! Such a shame she will MISS her father’s grand DEBUT … I then send my invitation to the GUEST OF HONOUR.
Poor Barbara lies unable to move. She begs me to find her father.
I see his CARD again. I CRUSH it in my hand.
The SIGNAL. I go–an INVITATION. He’s at the old carnival. He’s there, WAITING for me to play his sick game. He knows I’ll play. Even if Jim wasn’t there, I’d still PLAY.
The PLAY opens to an auspicious audience – and I take Gordon on the ride of his life.
Remember your daughter Mr Gordon, memories are good FRIENDS sometimes but today A MEMORY can only take you back to what is NO LONGER.
But we can’t LIVE without memories – what is LIFE without the PAST?
To had bad memories it like watching a horror PLAY one that you CAN’T look AWAY. But why not? There is always the EMERGENCY door and If you step outside the THEATER and FORGET. Forgo memory and forgo SANITY Gordon! There is no SANITY CLAUSE in life.
What a difference a day makes, 24 little hoooooouuuurs! It’s all a JOKE don’t you see?
And I SHOW him the pictures I took of his baby, bleeding, naked, ALONE. And I see how an AVERAGE man crumbles under PRESSURE.
Now , I wait. HE is coming and he will SEE.
I get to the Carnival and it’s raining. I fear I’m too late to help Jim, whatever that MADMAN has done to him, whatever GAME he is playing…
I SEE them. Jim is naked. I rush to help him, he’s seen what’s happened to Barbara. What’s happened to his DAUGHTER. I help him up while the Joker laughs. I will wait with Jim until help arrives. HE is getting away. Jim tells me to go, to bring him in.
The RIGHT way.
To PROVE that chaos doesn’t always win. That good can come out of terrible wrong.
That we are NOT the same.
I don’t know if I believe him.
I chase after him through his funhouse. I SEE what Jim has seen. I hear HIM. LAUGHING—
I see he received the FREE ticket I sent. Sweetheart, I drove Gordon MAD and I have PROVEN my point: there is NO difference between me and you or anybody else.
All it takes is ONE bad day. It was like that for ME. Was it like that for YOU?
You had a BAD day and it changed everyTHING. I may be insane but you, you are CRAZY hahahHAHAHAHAhahahahaha. With your cape and a RAT mask!
You are like ME – we are MIRROR images Batman. You and I!
I come at him through shards of mirror glass. I listen to his insanity–or is it? Are we the SAME?
I came to TALK. To TRY at least this ONCE. We can’t keep PLAYING this same game. That’s what I TELL myself.
It won’t ever STOP.
Not until one of us is DEAD. Maybe him. Maybe me. Maybe today or tomorrow. Does it MATTER?
He shoots at me with his TOY GUN. I tell him I can HELP. I can bring him in–it DOESN’T have to end with us DEAD.
No, no, no. It is far too LATE for THAT. It reminds me of a JOKE. I tell him. Heh heh heh—
He tells me. One last JOKE. The rain is still falling.
Heh heh heh HEH–
heh ha hahahahAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA—
Thea: The Killing Joke is unique in that it provides us with a solid Joker backstory–until this point he has been a character whose past has been shrouded in mystery. But, Alan Moore goes where even Brian Bolland was hesitant to tread. Through a series of flashbacks–spliced throughout the novel, ala LOST–we see the Joker before he became the insane criminal we know and love. In the first scene, he comes home after a hard day at work. And get this, he was a failed stand up comedian. And…he has a wife and child.
Ana:He is struggling to make ends meet. They have no money and live in a rundown room. He is desperate to move with his wife and unborn child. So desperate that he ends up part of a gang that is planning on robbing a chemical factory. He is to guide them through the place as he used to work there. But before they go ahead, he is informed by the police that his wife has died in an accident with a bottle heater. At this point he is too involved in the planning to be able to quit and he goes ahead with it.
At the plant things go very very wrong. And the rest is …. history.
It is interesting to note that the flashbacks are almost entirely in black and white (except for a few chosen pieces within each segment) whereas the rest of the novel is extremely bright and colourful. The flashbacks not only gives us a glimpse in the past of one of the most cherished villain of all time by finally giving him a past but also serves as an introduction to the idea that one day can make a difference in the life of a person. Also of note, the fact that the flashback shows us the first time ever that Batman and the Joker meet.
Thea: And…well, you can’t blame either the Joker or the Batman for the series of unfortunate circumstances that ensue during their first meeting.
I loved the illustration of Joker’s past–his nature as a loving but misguided husband and soon to be father, and how…NORMAL, average joe he seemed.
It only takes One Bad Day to change everything.
In the future, the Joker is fixated on this idea (even if he can’t quite recall why he is, or what happened to him in the past). All he knows is that One Misfortune can break a man–because life is all a joke. He says he knows this is true, and Batman’s obsession with dishing out his own brand of terrifying justice, his penchant for dressing up and becoming a creature of the night is all because he too must have had a single bad day…and, well, he’s right. As we know.
One thing I found brilliant and eye catching in the flashbacks, was the presence of a bowl of boiled pink shrimp in a few scenes. In the first scene, at the Joker’s house with his wife Jeannie, a bowl sits on the table, filled with some pink lumpy stuff. It’s grotesque and almost out of place in the flashback–and then later in the bar when the Joker is speaking with the thugs about the heist they are ready to pull, a bowl of pink shrimp is on the table again, and each man relishes in crunching off each leg and slurping out of the shell.
Ana: Another thing worth mentioning is that the flashbacks are from the Joker’s point of view and it should probably be taken with a grain a salt. He is after all a maniac and his version of things may well be one of multiple choices.
“If I’m going to have a PAST, I prefer it to be MULTIPLE CHOICE! HA HA HA!”
Having said that, The Killing Joke is a fantastic (albeit way too short) addition to the world of Batman – it has become intrinsic part of the mythology of the characters shaping up many plot developments from here (including the fate of Batgirl Barbara Gordon who will later become Oracle, one star in the Birds of Prey series) and providing the readers after many decades with the back story of how the two enemies first met.
So, What’s the Big Joke?
SPOILERS ENSUE–SO IF YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW, DON’T READ!
Thea: The story ends the way it begins. With a joke–there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum…
See, there were these two guys in a LUNATIC ASYLUM…
…and ONE night, on 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 MOONLIGHT…
Stretching away to FREEDOM. Now, the FIRST guy, he jumps right across with no PROBLEM. But his FRIEND, his friend daredn’t 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…
“You’d turn it OFF when I was half way ACROSS!”
And in the end, the joke remains the same. In my interpretation–they both really are crazy. Batman is the first guy that escapes, the Joker doesn’t trust him with the flashlight. And in the very last frames of the comic, the Joker and Batman are sown in close quarters–then the laughter stops, and they both disappear. My theory? Batman kills the Joker. What he set out starting this novel to do, subconsciously.
Ana: No doubt in my mind that they are both equally crazy. What differentiates them is the purpose behind their madness – The Joker is mayhem, Batman is order. My theory for the way things end? They totally bond and share a moment there. They laugh together, as two crazy brothers separated only by their beliefs. Batman doesn’t kill the Joker – he could never do it. He just takes him back to the asylum. I am boring this way.
Thea: 9 Damn Near Perfection **Edited to say, what Ana said. The new coloring is beautiful. And I’m giving this a 9 because it was too damn short.
Ana: 9 Damn Near Perfection. Essential to anyone who loves Batman and his universe. Oh, and buy the Deluxe Special Edition with the new colouring. It is stunning.
Reading Next: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller