Comic Spotlight: The Killing Joke
This week for the Geeked Out Nation comic spotlight I’ve decided to take it back a bit and focus on something I consider required reading for all serious comic fans. The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is by far the greatest Joker story ever told. I chose it because I want to not only bring your attention to a classic story but to also raise some important points. This comic was recently in the news for some unsavory reasons and was criticized unfairly. New panels came out that show some images of Barbara Gordon being sexually tortured and there has been some raised eyebrows and people accusing the book of being sexist. I not only want to tell you why this comic is great but also give some much needed insight on this issue that has been brought up. There are obviously huge spoilers within this article.
“I’ve been thinking lately. About you and me. About what’s going to happen to us in the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me. Perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later. I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome. Just once.” Just reading that gives me the chills. How genius was Alan Moore to write that perfect summation of what the Joker and Batman relationship was, is and will be? This sentiment was echoed in the film The Dark Knight as well. The Joker has dedicated his life to causing absolute mayhem for people, especially Batman, his complete opposite. Or he is? That is just one question raised by this comic. The Joker sets out in this story to prove that just ONE bad day can turn someone into him. Are he and Batman so different? Yes and no.
The book starts with the quote above. From there The Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum yet again and begins his mission to prove his point. His tool this time? Commissioner Gordon. The one supposedly purely good soul left in the Gotham City Police Department. On a typical night, Jim is spending time with his daughter Barbara when The Joker knocks on the door. In the most iconic scene in Barbara’s history, she is gunned down. The Joker then abducts Commissioner Gordon and takes him to his recently created carnival in order to torture him. To drive him into madness because he wants Batman to see that anyone can walk the same path as The Joker because “we aren’t contractually tied down to rationality”. Gordon, at this carnival, is then shown images of the horrific things The Joker did to her.
All while this is happening, Moore shows us something controversial and not done this well since the creation of the character. Moore gives us an origin story. Obviously since this is The Joker we cannot take this as the definitive take. Joker himself says he barely remembers it. The origin given here was so well written. Moore gives us a reason to connect to The Joker. Many fans will say they like The Joker but they never cite any real reason. You often hear, oh he’s designed cool, he’s insane and I like that. Real fans have known this character and have found something more to connect with him on. For me, my connection to this character began here.
I can imagine you readers now thinking how funny of a notion that is. Connect with The Joker? How? You aren’t a homicidal maniac. While that is true, this origin Alan Moore creates gives a whole new layer to The Joker. As the reader you realize that if this is story is true and this is how he became this way, you feel bad for him. If your own life has ever fallen apart, then you have had moments where you’ve wanted to stop fighting. That’s basically what Joker did. He “checked out” and went to the side of madness because it was EASIER. It makes him look weak.
When I first read this I was struck by the reaction of Jim Gordon. If you’re not into superhero stories, he is the reason to read this. After seeing what was done to his daughter, it is admirable that he does not turn to madness. I’ve been through less than that and have almost lost it. When Batman arrives he’s shaken but has not lost his grip. His dedication to justice “by the book” and his strength to overcome what The Joker does to him is admirable. When I first read this I was a teenager and really didn’t know a ton about the Batman comic universe. There was a part of me that expected him to go insane. That he went insane and was out of the comics for a while until he got better. There was a genuine part of me that believed he would not come out of this ok.
As mentioned earlier, The Killing Joke not only stands as the best Joker story ever told but it also gives fantastic insight into the relationship between Batman and The Joker and spotlights that there is a big similarity between the two. Each of them had one bad day that turned their life around. It’s not until Joker mentions it at the end that you really think about it. If The Joker’s origin is to be believed, his wife’s death drove him to become who he is. Had she not died, you could assume that he would not have done that job for the mobsters and would have continued to struggle financially. Batman also had a bad day that changed his life. The death of his parents obviously changed his life. He would have grown up to be wealthy businessman and not a crime fighting vigilante. They are each a kind of insane but work for the opposite side. Always remember that as great a character that Batman is, he’s not totally sane himself.
Recently there have been some news revolving around The Killing Joke. One such story was Grant Morrison’s appearance on the ‘Fatman on Batman’ podcast. He said that he believe Batman killed The Joker in the last panel. Batman does reach out his hand and then we get the comic book equivalent of fading to black. That’s another aspect that makes this book so worth the read. Did he kill The Joker? Was this the very last Joker story ever told? Did Batman finally cross the line he spoke about in the first few panels? I have read this multiple times now and still have not come to my own conclusion. The ambiguity that remains to this day is remarkable.
The other big story is the recent reveal of panels that confirm without a doubt that Barbara Gordon was sexually abused. The shown panels were very torture porn. You can see them at the blog they were posted at. DC Women Kicking Ass. I will not link them because I am disgusted by the theory they presented about this book. They don’t deserve the share on this site. The images were upsetting but not because of her being a woman but because they were horrible things to see. Barbara is tortured and as sad as that is it isn’t sexist. The Joker does not attack people because they’re women. He’s The Joker. He does things to whoever suits his sick purpose. There is no rhyme or reason. He’s killed Jason Todd, a child, and people voted for that. Barbara is the closest person to Jim Gordon. He’s not going to attack another cop or a friend of his. He wanted to prove that anyone could turn into him after one bad day. What worse could happen to Jim if not seeing his daughter shot, paralyzed and then sexually abused in photographs? Nothing worse could have happened to him aside from her dying.
The Killing Joke is not a sexist story. Those who believe that did not read the book close enough. They are assuming far too much and giving The Joker more credit than he deserves. The Joker does not discriminate and that’s what makes him so scary. If he has something to gain or prove from hurting someone he will do it. I recommend this book to men and women who enjoy a good Batman story or at the very least, those who enjoy a good psychological study of superhero characters. The Killing Joke is considered classic for a reason. Do not let recent comments by a blog that has a reputation for “discovering” issues where they don’t exist deter you. The Killing Joke served as inspiration for countless Joker and Batman stories in the last twenty years. Most notably in Scott Snyder’s Death of the Family arc in the New 52 and The Dark Knight film directed by Christopher Nolan. I consider this required reading for all comic fans. Whether you end up ENJOYING the story or not, you cannot deny the IMPORTANCE of this book.