If you’re like me, you might not have had a single clue of Batman: The Killing Joke’s existence until its animated adaptation appeared recently on HBO Now. (Hey, better late than never right?) Coincidentally enough, the day after I saw the movie, I saw the graphic novel on sale at Target and it was definitely worth the buy!
Why It’s a Must Read
You all know the longstanding battle between the brooding bat and crazy clown, but this novel is more than your standard hero-versus-villain-type story. Alan Moore (writer of the Watchmen and V For Vendetta) takes you on a whole new ride with a refreshing vision on the iconic duo’s relationship which had never fully been explored before its publication in 1988.
Now, more than two decades later, the novel is still widely considered to be the definitive origin story for the Joker and the most influential Batman vs. Joker story ever told. With the 20th anniversary deluxe edition, published in 2008, we get a reincarnation of the story in the original artist’s true vision. Brian Bolland himself was able to color and style each panel which he was not able to accomplish for the original publication. He also gives an explanation for his stylistic choices and the beginnings of the novel itself in the afterward (or the “in between” as he calls it). Thus, you may know the story, but if you haven’t picked up this polished gem, you don’t know it in its entirety.
There are essentially two plots within this comic—one is in the past while the other is in the present. We follow both tales through the Joker as he is the narrator (albeit an unreliable one) of his own beginnings and the perpetrator of Batman’s present-day strife.
With the Joker’s autobiographical narration, we get “just one of a number of possible origin stories manifesting in the Joker’s fevered brain.” These haunting “memories,” as imaginary as they might be, allow us to sympathize with the lunatic. He is shown to us as a victim rather than the usual villain and if you pay close attention, you might even notice how he was a victim of the Batman himself!
With the present-day events leading up to the Batman and Joker’s confrontation, we are pushed to the edges of Joker’s insanity. The actions he takes to prove his ideals (yes, he does have them) might make you uncomfortable. You might not like what he does to our beloved characters James and Barbara Gordon, but this story is not about the picturesque vision we fantasize. It’s about the vision of a madman, the lengths he would go to fulfill it and a hero who is left with only one way to stop him.