SUNDAY CLASSICS: Batman the Killing Joke (The Shot Heard Around the World)

Today we take a look back at the most controversial Batman story of all time. A story so famous that it was turned into an animated movie almost 30 years after being written, “Batman The Killing Joke”!


Batman The Killing Joke (The Deluxe Edition)
Writer: Alan Moore
Pencils: Brian Bolland
Colors: Brian Bolland
Letters: Richard Starkings
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: July 1988

What You Need to Know:
From the writer of “Watchmen” and the artist that brought you some of the best looking “Judge Dredd” art, comes the most controversial and talked about Batman tale ever told. A chilling tale about the biggest rivalry known to comic books, with some of the most memorable moments in the comic book industry. “The Killing Joke” is legendary due to what Alan Moore does best; writing a dark tragedy leaving the ending open to interpretation.

The 1980’s were a time of darkness in comics. Due to stories like “Watchmen,” superhero comics became less about the black and white, and more about trying to ground superheroes into reality, which is still an ongoing trend today even though it’s not as overbearing. Now the reason for explaining this isn’t necessarily due to this stories need to be too realistic but more so the fact that it doesn’t really end on a happy note and honestly leaves it up to the reader to decide what happens at the end. This caused mass hysteria throughout the fan base, and the ending of this story is still a matter of discussion in most comic shops even to this day.

The decision to make “The Killing Joke” a canon story within Batman lore is one that some don’t tread lightly. Many find the story too explicit and unnecessary while others (like myself) see it as a milestone in Batman’s history much like stories such as “Hush” and “A Lonely Place of Dying”. This story marks not just a moment in history for Batman, but also for Batgirl and Joker alike.

What You’ll Find Out:
The story starts off with a classic 9-panel layout straying away early on. Batman pulls up in a stylish Batmobile in front of Arkham Asylum. He walks down the hall that some of his most famous villains such as Two-Face are being held, headed to an unknown assailant’s cell.
We soon see this to be the Joker’s cell where he is calmly playing cards. Batman sits down to quickly find out the man is not the Joker, but an imposter wearing face paint.

The story flips to a rundown circus where the owner is trying to persuade Joker into buying the lot. Quickly we go into a sepia-toned flashback where we see some of the Joker’s backstory. The scene shows a young couple in a rundown apartment. The young woman is pregnant, and who we expect is the Joker before the accident talks about his failing comedy career. The scene flips back to the circus where Joker has swindled his way into ownership of the circus, while Batman searches far and wide for a clue on his whereabouts.

Later on, Barbara and her father Jim Gordon enjoy some quality time together, talking about the miraculous foe of the Bat-family when suddenly they hear a knock on the door. Barbara answers the door to the most iconic drawing of the Joker in comic history, with dark brooding eyes he raises his pistol and shoots Barbara, sending her falling into a glass coffee table.
Joker proceeds to pour himself a drink and take pictures of Barbara as his goons kidnap Jim, stating that he’s doing this “to prove a point”.

Joker’s backstory goes on as we end up in a bar, Joker is being talked to by a couple of crooks who ask him to sneak them through his old factory, due to his knowledge of the building so they can rob the card company next door. The crooks show J the well known Red Hood helmet letting him know that no one will see his face, and he nervously agrees.

Barbara wakes up in a hospital where Batman asks her about what happened. Within these fourteen panels are some of the most well-captured emotions shared between Barbara and Bruce in history and Brian’s art captures this beautifully. Barbara cries as she tells Bruce that this time is different, that the Joker is “taking it to the limit” and that he needs to find her father before it’s too late.

Jim wakes up surrounded by circus freaks, getting beaten and zapped as he’s forced out of his cage and dragged to the Joker’s feet. Jim asks what he is doing here as Joker says “You’re doing what any sane man in your appalling circumstances would do. You’re going mad.” Jim is then once again dragged around, this time toward a ride, as the scene transitions back to the flashback.
Shortly before the time of the heist, a couple police officers come to confront Joker. They explain that his wife and child have died testing a baby bottle heater that short-circuited. Manic and distraught, J attempts to back out of the heist realizing the trouble he’s put himself in. Until the other two force his hand, letting him know that no one backs out and stays healthy afterward.

Jim is seen again within the circus ride, naked and afraid. Joker taunts him through the TV screens, shows him photos of Barbara, and nearly drives Jim to the brink of madness in some of the most gruesome and disturbing images found within comic panels. Meanwhile, Batman is looking into every crook and rogue Gotham City has to offer to try to find Joker’s new hangout. As Batman finally closes in, the story brings a close to Joker’s origin.

Joker is seen suiting up in front of Ace Chemicals right before the big moment. Without much motivation, J leads the men carelessly through the factory where they are quickly spotted by security and things start to go downhill.  The two crooks get shot to bits while J keeps running, barely being able to see due to the helmet, as an early in his career Batman leaps towards the scared man causing him to jump into the toxic waste below.
When Joker finally finds land, he quickly takes his helmet off and looks down at his reflection. He starts to laugh hysterically as the iconic “Crazy Joker” panel appears, showing off one of the best shots of the clown prince of crime. Truly capturing his psychotic rage and everything Brian Bolland has to offer the character in the sense of artistic detail.  

p2_35 copy.jpgWhile Joker continues to have his way with Jim, Batman pulls up to the crazed circus where Joker has been hiding. As Batman and Joker stand there silently, the same dialogue from the beginning starts to pop up, and as the two start to famously beat the snot out of each other it continues. Joker runs into the funhouse taunting Batman to follow him, but first, he releases Jim letting him know he will try his best to bring him in by the books. As Batman follows Joker through some wild booby traps the Joker rattles on with one of his best monologues Alan Moore has ever written, even stating that “he likes his past to be multiple choice” leaving the entire origin story in question, before Batman gains the upper hand (and Joker runs out of bullets). After sharing some intense dialogue Joker tells Batman a joke, and as he finishes both begin to laugh wholeheartedly while Batman restrains him and the police sirens begin to blare.

What Just Happened?
While I’m not a big fan of Alan Moore’s bleak outlook on the comic world I will admit that it brings an intriguing dynamic and some phenomenal storytelling to some of the most beloved characters in the industry and “The Killing Joke” is a prime example of this. Every turn of the page brings new information that leaves you on the edge of your seat, whether it is about Jokers possible origin or the dismal story about Jim and Barbara. “The Killing Joke” leaves so much room for interpretation that some parts are still left to mystery with only fan theories and speculation for some of the events that take place within the pages of this amazing one-shot story.

Each character from Batman to Bullock is given so much emotion during this story it’s hard to tell that they aren’t real people, and the art only adds to the sheer characterization of each person. Brian Bolland’s color work to show the flashback was easily distinguishable and made reading each part easy to follow. The Circus ride scene was an amazing use of flashy trippy color, and Brian’s Joker will forever live on as one of the most iconic looks for the character to ever be done. The penciling and line work seen is what you think of when you think of 80’s comics, good use of black with sharp lines and thick shading that says “I mean business”, everything about it just makes you want to enlarge every panel and hang them on the wall.

The deluxe edition comes with an intro by Tim Sale that is very welcoming. Tim has done art on some well known Batman stories, and any opinion of his is intriguing. He talks about the way the story was collected into a single 46-page story unlike any other. Sale goes on to praise Brians art and the newly colored pages found within the Deluxe version of the story.

This version also comes with a conclusion written by the artist himself, Brian Bolland. He speaks about the introduction that Tim Sale writes, and also goes on to talk about the more controversial parts of the story that he had to draw, and wraps it talking about his solo Batman story “An Innocent Guy” which he wrote himself. The story of “An Innocent Guy” is also collected within and tells a story about an innocent man that got his chance to kill Batman… Definitely, check it out in “The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition”.

The biggest place where the Deluxe edition differentiates from the original is the color scheme. Originally the story was colored in a more psychedelic pattern, with brighter exotic colors and fewer mattes and sepias. I can’t say I like this version better but my honest opinion is that it better fits the story. It makes the flashbacks more distinguishable, along with making the main story bleaker and more fitting with the plot.

Rating: 10/10
Final Thought: “The Killing Joke” will forever live on as one of my favorite Batman tales. The surreal tone of this story fits right in with the times it was written, and everything within it is still relevant today. I find these events to be as important to the Batman mythology as the death of his parents, or the death of Jason Todd, and I truly recommend this book to any Batman fan, comic reader or not.

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