The Killing Joke is another book that I have mentioned in brief but not gone into depth on. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, it truly is a great work of fiction and one of the most influential comic books ever written. However recently there seems to be a sway of opinion on The Killing Joke, Alan Moore has publically said that he doesn’t like the book, and there has been more criticism launched at the book lately. Is it fair though? Well, that’s what I’m going to discuss heavily in my appraisal of The Killing Joke today.
For what it’s worth, I truly believe that The Killing Joke delivers on a great Batman story that adds a lot of depth to the Joker with simply beautiful artwork. The book brings depth to the Joker in a different way however, being frequently cited as an origin story without an origin, and this is certainly true. You’re presented with what you think is the origin of The Joker and just when you feel you’re finally getting to know him, and understand him, you’re hit with the bombshell by the end of the book that you really don’t know this character any better.
This doesn’t, however, make The Joker any weaker of a character. The idea of The Joker not truly remembering his past, and preferring it to be multiple choice is actually a very interesting decision. There are a number of things we could infer, such as his past being too brutal to truly remember, or that he really is just that insane.
What I feel is highly underrated, however, is the characterisation of Batman. What I love about Batman in this book is that he truly wants to help The Joker; I like that Batman isn’t only about fighting crime but also trying to reach out and help someone, that Batman is more than a vigilante and truly a hero. The fact that he doesn’t want to kill The Joker, despite knowing that one day he may well have to, actually bothers him.
The artwork is simply beautiful, Brian Bolland is without a doubt one of the finest artists ever to work in comics, he had great work on Judge Dredd and it carries over here. The imagery can be dark with the subject matter, however, and the suffering of Barbara Gordon is very disturbing. What I love most of all is the symbolism in the last few panels. The beam of light mentioned in the Joker’s final lines being shown in the puddle thanks to the headlights of a police car, going out, symbolising that The Joker will never be saved.
Perhaps what I love most about this comic though is that while it may not feel like it thanks to the events of the book, The Joker truly does fail; in his desperate attempt to prove the world is like him it turns out that he really is the only person that crazy. He fails to drive Gordon over the edge, despite the suffering, because of his mental strength.
Alan Moore doesn’t care for The Killing Joke however, saying it’s one of the worst things he’s written and that he doesn’t say anything particularly interesting in it. While I do agree that it is far from Moore’s best work, and it doesn’t say as much as his other work, or even other Batman stories, it is iconic and shocking for a reason and while it’s certainly not the greatest Batman story ever written, it’s one that every fan should read.