Comic: "Batman: The Killing Joke"
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Alan Moore
Artist: Brian Bolland
Plot: When the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon after paralyzing his daughter in an effort to drive him insane, Batman has to stop him, but in doing so realizes they have more in common than he would care to admit.
Review: It's been some years since I originally read The Killing Joke, but something recently compelled me to pull it off my bookshelf and give it another read. Despite my fond memories of it and its undeniably influential status, I was surprised to discover upon re-reading that it's a fairly average Batman and Joker story, not nearly on par with some of Moore's other work (such as Watchmen and V For Vendetta).
Though this story has had repercussions that have lasted in the DC Universe since 1988, most notably the paralyzation of Barbara Gordon that eventually led her to take on the role of Oracle, Moore's character study of the Joker falls a little flat for me. The dialog seems oddly stilted compared to some of his other writing, and the opening scene featuring Batman coming into Arkham Asylum for a heart-to-heart with his greatest foe (or an impostor, as it turns out) just comes across as awkward and a little out of character. Batman, with no provocation whatsoever, just randomly decides to roll out to Arkham (must have been a slow night) to try to reason with the Joker about the deadly cycle they find themselves trapped in, conveniently discovering that it's not the Joker they have locked up, just before the Joker hatches his scheme to drive Commissioner Gordon mad? The idea behind this scene is decent enough, but it's misplaced--Batman has never been the kind of guy to make a special trip out of the way just to chat. If he'd had a more practical reason to be there first, I could have more easily accepted it.
The flashback scenes to Joker's (possible) past give some insight into his character, but unfortunately they're all too brief, and I think that's where this comic suffers the most. If they'd taken perhaps 20 more pages to flesh out the story a little better, I think it would have had far more impact than it did. As it is the whole thing feels a bit rushed, particularly the scene where this one-time criminal became the Joker--it doesn't have the kind of gravity that a momentous event like that should. Tim Burton took the idea and handled it much more effectively in his 1989 Batman movie.
At the end of the story Moore creates a scene where the Joker tells Bats a joke as he's being apprehended, and Batman actually laughs, which is meant to illustrate how similar the two of them are. The whole point being that it only took one bad day to completely run their lives off the rails and turn them into the obsessed men they later became. It's certainly an idea that's been explored time and again by many different writers, how Batman is just a reflection of the criminals he finds himself facing off against. But the moment here just feels a bit clumsy and out of character to me--both the Joker's dialog (which seems to be patterned after his more cheesy appearances from the 40s and 50s--probably intentionally) and Batman's reaction. I can't help but feel that there were stronger ways for Moore to have made the same point.
Brian Bolland's artwork is fantastic, and the recolored new printing of the book makes it look far more attractive than the coloring technology of the 1980s would allow. The man has a fantastic command of facial expressions and conveying emotion through his art.
Both movie depictions of the Joker (sorry Caesar Romero fans, but he was way before this anyway) borrow elements from this story, so there's no denying its influential place in Batman's canon. But I can't help feeling a little disappointed after my recent reading all the same. It's a perfectly decent story, but perhaps the relative emotional complexity of (some) modern comics writing combined with the writing I know Moore to be capable of has spoiled me a bit. It's certainly worth checking out, but there are much better Batman and Joker stories that have been told.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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