If you asked Batman fans what their top 3 Batman stories were of all time you would be hard pressed to find many people who wouldn’t put Batman: The Killing Joke somewhere on that list. It is definitely in my favourite. But why is this so?
In 1988 Alan Moore and Brian Bolland created a story that focused on The Joker, going into his origins and exploring his relationship with Batman. With Moore’s unnerving script, in addition to Bolland’s fantastic art, Batman: The Killing Joke is not an easy read. But it is rewarding.
The idea behind this story is The Joker has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, with the intention of turning him insane. Taking him to derelict carnival, full of demented freaks, The Joker attempts this through the use of violent imagery of a family member. Can Batman save Gordon before it is too late?
While this is a Batman story, the major focus is on The Joker as the reader sees flashbacks to his past. We see him before his insanity and the unfortunate events that lead up to it. The reader gets to see his life as a married man attempting to become a comedian, but with little success. Through these flashbacks Moore has managed to find a way for readers to sympathise The Joker. You want him to get out of the situation he is in, but since you know how he turns out it makes his contrasting behaviour is all the more tragic. The story also explores his madness, with the reader having to decide for themselves as to if he has any motivation to his actions or if he is purely insane.
Batman attempts to be the voice of reason in the story. Throughout the story Batman tries to reason with The Joker as he knows that if the two don’t reconcile one will eventually kill the other. Although, can you negotiate with someone like The Joker? This leads to an exploration of Batman’s hatred for The Clown Prince as Batman’s code of ethics are pushed to the limit.
Although, it wouldn’t half the comic it is if it wasn’t for Brian Bolland’s art. Bolland is able to capture horrific nature and madness in a way that will leave readers feeling unnerved. From the maddening carnival ride Commissioner Gordon is forced to take to the pure insanity on The Joker’s face, Bolland has created imagery that will stay with the reader long after they have finished the comic. He is also a master of detail, which sets the tone for each scene. One scene that I really enjoyed was the bar scene featured in one of the flashbacks. Bolland created a lively bar full of interesting going-ons in the background, such as a drunk vomiting at the bar, but without detracting from the story. You could read the scene multiple times and still find something new.
Overall, Batman: The Killing Joke is a confronting but great read. Exploring the Joker’s origin gives the reader a reason to sympathise with him, if only for a short moment. Bolland’s art is some of his best, creating images that will surely shock, without feeling cheap.
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Trevor Van As
Trevor Van As is the founder of How to Love Comics and has loved comics all his life. When he's not reading or talking about comics he can be found eating frozen yogurt and dancing like no one is watching.