Revel In The Madness | The Killing Joke
Batman is widely regarded as one of the most popular superheroes to ever grace comic books and film alike, but what makes a superhero great? An even better villain. It’s impossible to talk about Batman and fail to mention The Joker. He is, far and away, the most well-known villain in the DC Universe and quite possibly in the entire comic book world. The story follows The Joker dead-set on proving that just one bad day can turn a sane man mad, and Detective Gordon is his subject to prove this point.
“Oh God, I’m Sorry…”
The Killing Joke excels in expressing the ruthlessness The Joker employs to prove a point, but even more so, it forces feelings of sympathy which escape for but a brief, fleeting moment. There are scenes where The Joker’s (pre-acid bath) flashbacks are set apart from the rest of the novel with the beautiful use of predominately black and white images with spot color. (The change in these scenes coloring was done in the 2006, along with red spot color seen up until the revealing of the Red Hood.) These images elicit the feeling that maybe we should feel bad for The Joker. He is shown struggling to support his pregnant wife, Jeannie, after he quit his engineering job and essentially failed his audition to be a comedian. He turns to aiding two criminals in the robbery attempt of a trading card company that happens to be accessible through the chemical plant where he used to work. They convince him to don the Red Hood, a ploy to make him the number one suspect of the robberies. Things go awry as the criminals meet resistance, and Batman confronts The Joker. To avoid Batman, he jumps into the vat of acid and is later flushed out of a storm drain. Chalk white skin, ruby red lips, and bright green hair, the Joker’s looks and personality finally clash, and he becomes the character we’ve come to know.
“Here’s to crime”
To prove to Batman that any man can become mad, he shoots Barbara Gordon, paralyzing her, taking pictures of her as he presumably sexually assaults her. Then, he forces Jim Gordon to look at him as he is tortured in his house of horrors. This story-arc is one of much discussion. The allusion is clearly there, but it is never explicitly shown one way or the other if he actually did assault Barbara. Personally, I go back and forth with what I believe. On one hand, nothing can be ruled out, as The Joker will do absolutely anything to prove his point. But, on the other hand, it doesn’t seem like it fits his persona. I know the two points completely clash, but with every reread my mind flips on what is the allusion. But one thing that can be taken away, for certain, is that it spawned an outstanding character in Oracle. Barbara’s alter-ego was an invaluable resource for Batman and other superheroes alike. She used her intelligence and technological prowess to create a communication network to keep the superheroes up-to-date on everything happening in the area.
“Y’know, it’s funny…this situation. It reminds me of a joke…”
Although The Joker ultimately fails in his task in breaking Detective Gordon, we are given quite the ending. The Joker and Batman are standing next to each other. The Joker tells him one last joke, admittedly quite funny, but he is the only one laughing. His laughing trails off as Batman grabs him by the shoulders. The scene pans down to the rain-soaked streets until the laughing completely stops. This last scene has spawned an insane amount of speculation as to what happened, and similar to the Barbara scene, I’m not entirely sure what to believe. Also, reading the reprinted version has the last scene with spot color on The joker, adding to the mystery of what might have happened, since the first release showed police lights entering and exiting the scene. But, having said that, I tend to believe that (after this reread anyhow), Batman played it by the book as Gordon told him to. As much as Batman wanted to kill The Joker for what he did to Barbara and Jim, I believe he realizes that it is he who will get the last laugh. The Joker is trying to force him to cross that line and become a killer. But, in doing so, he would be no different than The Joker. As he grabs his shoulder, I picture it as two buddies that just had a good laugh, that the two can somehow share a mutual feeling of being mad, even if one is more so than the other. But, as the scene comes to a close, Batman squeezes his shoulder tighter and tighter reinforcing the stark differences they possess.
It’s easy for me to imagine Batman killing The Joker, but far harder to actually rationalize that thought. It would completely unravel everything Batman stands for, and The Joker would finally “win.” He would, indeed, deliver The Killing Joke and show the world that Batman is nothing more than a killer. But, Gordon being able to maintain his sanity, makes me believe that Batman would do the same. The shoulder grab is key here, as it’s more of a “until next time” type of gesture. Their fates are entwined, and I feel they both are well aware. What a comic arc.
The title has been hyped to the high heavens as the seminal comic book to have ever been penned, and it’s safe to say that distinction is well warranted. The Killing Joke went on to win various awards, including the coveted Eisner Award for “Best Graphic Album” of 1989. Alan Moore also won an award for Best writer in 1989, while it launched a lengthy career for Brian Bolland creating covers for DC’s Animal Man. The graphic novel, while being the basis for future Joker iterations, also spawned one of the most important characters of the DCU (up until the Flashpoint storyline) in Oracle. Whether you are a comic aficionado, or just looking to get into the genre, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.