Known as the definitive starting point to the Joker’s origins, Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the series’ most well-received graphic novels to date.
But what makes this gritty portrayal of Batman and The Joker’s festering rivalry such a central part of popular culture, especially amongst die-hard fans?
Is it the unflinching violence that the Joker displays throughout? Maybe.
The trials and tribulations that Bruce Wayne must suffer to rise up against his new arch enemy? Possibly.
Or the ferocious speed at which the two collide, along with the collateral damage that follows? Definitely.
I should point out that when it comes to graphic novels, I’m certainly no Batman-guy. My loyalties have always lain with X-men and Daredevil.
Batman: The Killing Joke shows the twisted origin of The Joker (Red Hood) and how he came to be the series number one supervillain.
In attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane, The Joker pushes the boundaries of comic-book decency, or rather Alan Moore does. This includes shooting and paralysing Barbara Gordon, the commissioner’s daughter and then kidnapping the commissioner in an attempt to break his mind; forcing him insane.
With the help of Batman, Gordon manages to cling to his sanity in a last ditch effort to dethrone The Clown Prince.
Brian Bolland heads up the artwork throughout, and as you can see, each panel is spectacular. Intricate details, dark atmospheres contrasting with the Joker’s over-the-top colour palette.
Throughout there are flashes of brilliance; The Joker’s origins, the sadistic lunacy he shows towards others and the ever-building presence of Batman.
However, when it comes to the story, it starts to fall flat. It pains me to say that about a graphic novel by Alan Moore, V for Vendetta is brilliant, but this not so much.
Questions linger over the amount of ‘torture’ that is done to Barbara Gordon, including shooting her, stripping her naked and taking photos of her to send to the Commissioner. It’s also implied that The Joker went a step further, but this is never clarified.
Both origin and main plot are told in parallel, which in a graphic novel works well, but again they are not compelling enough to grip the imagination.
The transaction from Red Hood to Joker works but the breaking of Commissioner Gordon seems manic. Now I know a lot of fans will say ‘but The Joker doesn’t have any morals or any motivations.’
In my opinion, that’s lazy writing.
No motivation means that you can write whatever you want without any real backstory because hey, The Joker’s crazy, right?
While we’re on the point, insanity is supposed to be The Joker’s primary weapon, yet he can’t even use it against Commissioner Gordon to good effect.
The fact that The Joker’s plan comes to nothing; Batman saves the day, and ultimately Gordon was strong enough mentally to withstand the pressure put on him, makes the whole thing feel pointless.
Despite being published in March 1988, the graphic novel still holds up from both a stylistic perspective, as well as its sense of terror. Unfortunately though the same can’t be said for the main plot.
While The Joker’s origin story is average, and the main thread of driving Commissioner Gordon crazy only being a little better, the whole thing seems to be a messy cluster.
I’d only recommend The Killing Joke to die-hard fans, and if that’s the case you’ve probably already read it.
If you agree with my points or have a point to argue against my review, then leave a comment below.
I would love nothing more than for somebody to point out why The Killing Joke is so great because if that’s the case, I completely missed it the first time around.