Batman: The Killing Joke

I’ve been looking forward to reading this comic for a long time now.  I knew enough about its notoriety to know its popular, but I knew nothing about the actual plot.  Having plowed through it in the last half hour, all I can say is:

Wow.

This truly is a fantastic, albeit disturbing, story.  There’s just so much that goes on, yet it all flows together seamlessly.

A super-basic summation is this: Joker escapes Arkham, kidnaps Gordon, and proceeds with his usual hijinks to lure the Batman out of hiding.  All in all, a pretty standard Joker story.

This description does not, however, do justice to the brilliance that exists within this story.  Yes, the above summary holds true, but there is so much more going on here.  First off, we see an extremely brutal and unexpected shooting, of none other than Barbara Gordon, a.k.a, Batgirl:

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I vaguely know about Oracle, so I knew this was coming, but I never expected it to happen this way.  I had no idea that Joker was responsible for paralyzing Batgirl, or that it would occur at such an innocuous moment.  Then again, such unexpected cruelty fits the Joker all too well.

While the main storyline is taking place, the comic is peppered with flashbacks to Joker’s origin, providing glimpses into his life before he became a deranged master criminal:

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An ordinary, albeit slightly unhinged, man just trying to make a living for his young wife and unborn child.

This backstory is less a slow spiral into madness and more a depiction of a series of tragic events that eventually culminate in the Joker’s creation.  A helpless man has had everything taken from him, and madness is his only escape.

I’ve always been curious about Joker’s origin.  I know there are a variety of origin stories out there, and none have been definitively called out as true, but I found this one to be especially intriguing.  Alan Moore painted a very believable picture of a man who’s down on his luck and is doing what he must to survive.  When his whole reason for living is taken from him, he is driven mad by the pain.  The “Joker” persona and physical defects are almost a random by-product, far less important than the psychological change which occurs within the man himself.

It felt believable, and that’s what made it so powerful.

Moore seems to have a certain knack for humanizing even the most despicable villains, making the reader sympathize with the very characters they’re supposed to hate.  This is never more obvious than, when realizing he’s been caught, Joker looks forlornly at Batman and accepts his fate:

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It’s so rare that you see Joker with any expression other than his trademark maniacal grin.  It was startling in a very odd way.  Of all the Batman villains, Joker is the least likely to be humanized.  He’s always been this other, a crazed man with no history, no weaknesses, and no clear motive other than madness. Seeing him show even a hint of humanity is jarring, but not unwelcome.  I always thought the Joker’s appeal lay in the mystery surrounding his character, and the ambiguity of his past.  While I like that his origin story isn’t presented as canon, and could easily be written off as one of many possible origins his psychotic mind has created, it was fun to read a possible history of such an engaging character.  Moore’s presentation of Joker is so well-crafted that the reader is left feeling as though they’ve peaked behind the curtain at his twisted psyche, while countless questions are still left unanswered.

I really have no criticisms of this comic, other than that it’s so brief.  I want to continue reading Moore’s imaginings of the Batman universe, and see his take on different characters, as well as what direction he might take Joker’s story.  I admit to not really knowing how much work Moore did on Batman other than this comic, but for the sake of his readers (namely, me) I can only hope he pops up repeatedly in other Batman comics on “the shelf”.

-Jess

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