Hi everyone! Friday means it is time for another review. Today I am reviewing the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke.
Batman: The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, was initially released in 1988, although this deluxe edition was released in April 2008 by Titan Books and is 64 pages long.
The story follows Batman as he attempts to battle the Joker and save Commissioner Gordon from the brink of madness. After being released from Arkham Asylum – again – the Joker hatches a plan to prove that “one bad day” can drive anyone insane. To do this, he kidnaps Gordon and tortures him mercilessly in an attempt to break him. Batman has to race against time to find the Commissioner before it is too late.
Batman begins the story by visiting Arkham Asylum, wanting to reason with the Joker. He has realised they are both on a path to destroying one another. Usually, Batman and, therefore, also Bruce Wayne is shown to be cold, keeping his emotions in check (at least for the most part), but here, we see him being more human and understanding, wanting to try and talk sense into the Joker and put their feud behind them. This, however, is where he discovers that the Joker is not the Joker, but a decoy, with the real Joker having escaped.
Batman’s part in the ending has an ambiguous air. Depending on your take on the finale, either Batman strangled the Joker or broke his neck, or he simply gets caught up in the moment and finds the Joker’s joke funny. I feel it is the latter; the Joker’s joke tickled him, and Batman realises how ludicrous their lives are.
Barbara’s character only appears briefly in the book, but even so, her part in the story is crucial. While she’s just living her daily life, there is a knock at the door. Barbara’s expecting her neighbour, Colleen, whom she has planned to meet for yoga. Unfortunately, though, it’s the Joker.
Immediately upon answering the door, the Joker shoots Barbara, paralysing her. Because he is a sick and twisted individual, he strips her naked and takes photographs of her which he uses to torture her father later on.
The violence toward Barbara is shocking and even more so if you are not expecting it, and lots of people have had issues with it, which I thoroughly understand. Firstly, Barbara, aka Batgirl, is a well-loved character, and we hate to see the characters we love being treated horrifically. Secondly, there are too few mainstream female superheroes – even fewer when this comic was first released in the 80s. The Killing Joke essentially took Bargirl out of the game, although we did get a great character in The Oracle, whom a differently abled Barbara Gordon becomes later.
Having badly hurt his daughter, the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, holding him prisoner at a run-down fairground. He is stripped and chained up while the Joker shows him the photographs of a naked and injured Barbara.
The Joker intends to drive Gordon insane and make him lose his grip on reality. Gordon, however, remains strong, and in the end, he is able to keep hold of his morals, telling Batman to bring the Joker in “by the book”.
This story gives us the “failed comedian” version of the Joker’s backstory. He begins as a comedian who wants to earn money to support his pregnant wife, but things take a turn when he agrees to lead some criminals through the chemical plant where he used to be a lab assistant so that they can rob the playing card company next door. Things are made worse for him still when he learns that his wife and unborn baby have been killed in an accident. Grief-stricken, he tries to duck out of the robbery plan, but the criminals will not allow it. His fate is sealed when he falls into a vat of chemicals while trying to escape Batman, giving us the man we now know as the Joker.
Moore’s writing is superb; he perfectly captures both Batman and the Joker’s characters’ motivations while also exploring deeper themes about morality and justice. The dialogue is tight, with every conversation necessary to further the plot and the development of the characters.
The Killing Joke is quite dark thematically, exploring ideas like morality, revenge, justice, and mental illness. It examines the relationship between Batman and the Joker on a deeper level than most other comics have done before or since. Their relationship is complicated, with both characters feeling hatred and admiration for one another. This duality is explored throughout the plot as we learn more about their motivations and goals.
In this deluxe edition of the book, the artwork has been mostly recoloured with a few callbacks to original colouring being carried over, such as Barbara’s striking yellow shirt.
Bolland’s art complements Moore’s writing perfectly; his dark but detailed and vivid illustrations convey emotion in every panel without being overly flashy.
From detailed facial expressions to dynamic action sequences that leap off the page, the artwork adds visual and emotional depth, which helps drive home some of the story’s heavier themes.
I watched the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke before I read the graphic novel, and I loved it. However, there is just something about reading the panels of a comic book that sparks the imagination differently, making experiencing the story all the more fulfilling.
Whether you are just getting into comics or have been reading them for decades, this book should undoubtedly be on your list!
If you want an entertaining read with plenty of substance, you cannot go wrong with The Killing Joke!
I am rating Batman: The Killing Joke 8/10.
Have you read Batman: The Killing Joke or seen the animated adaptation? What are your thoughts on the story?
As always, thanks for reading my review. Have a fantastic day!
Until next time,
© 2023 GLT
Categories: Book Reviews, Reading
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