Review – Batman: The Killing Joke
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Brian Bolland
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Release Date: March 1988
Batman: The Killing Joke is an iconic graphic novel that tells one of Batman’s darkest tales. The book was written by Alan Moore and was initially intended as a standalone graphic novel before being integrated into Batman’s post crisis continuity. It has been a hugely influential book over the years. Its influence can be seen as recently as 2019 in Todd Phillip’s Joker movie. Reviewing a Batman story as iconic as the Killing Joke 33 years on, it still managed to hold up as a brilliant read.
The Killing Joke is less of a traditional comic book story and more of a fascinating case study into the idea that given one awful day, any one of us could descend into madness and emerge changed forever just as the Joker did. The comic tackles the vagueness and ambiguity of where the Joker came from and why he is the way that he is in a beautifully tragic fashion. We are made to sympathise with the character and at certain points while reading the book, I really was on his side. This is a very hard thing to pull off considering this is the same book where he cripples Barbara Gordon and brutally tortures the mind of Jim Gordon.
Thankfully a master like Alan Moore is able to weave these elements together to ask deep philosophical questions whilst still creating an entertaining Batman story. I love the way that Moore writes The Dark Knight here, as totally uncompromising and straight to the point. I also love his take on the sheer insanity and lunacy that is the Joker.
The art in the book is also masterful. There is an insane level of subtle detail given in every single frame. From the populated mess of desks and countertops, to the white smear of paint on Batman’s glove after touching the decoy Joker’s hand. I have always been a big fan of Brian Bolland’s work on Dredd over the years, but for me this is his best work by far. I also love the way he uses the panels in the book and his clever use of light sources, or lack thereof.
I am now going to spoil the ending of the book, so if you have yet to read it, I’d suggest going to do that and then coming back to read on.
At the end of the book, Joker is seemingly proved wrong. Batman rescues Jim and he has managed to withstand the Joker’s brutal mental torture. Even after being put through the horror of Joker’s funhouse, Gordon proves that it takes more than one bad day to turn a good person into an insane psychopath.
However, in the last few frames of the book we see something very strange, – Batman and Joker sharing a joke. The two laugh together and it is an interesting moment to see both of them put their mutual hatred aside for a second and share a chuckle. We then see the two silhouetted and Batman puts his hands on Jokers shoulders. They both laugh manically and one of the voices ceases laughing.
It has been heavily speculated that what we are witnessing here is Batman finally breaking and murdering the Joker; choking him to death whilst laughing like a madman. Could it be that although this one bad day wasn’t enough to drive Gordon insane, it was enough to drive Batman to finally cross the line and murder his most notorious nemesis? Whether you think that there is any truth to this theory or not it is a fascinating, if exceedingly dark concept to consider.
This book is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish and definitely earns its place as one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. It still stands up today as one of the greats and is a thrilling ride through the mind of the Clown Prince of Crime. This is also a great one to pick up if you are looking to get into reading Batman comics as it works as a standalone story without any prior continuity knowledge needed.
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