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Batman: The Killing Joke

A dark Batman graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland.

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Alan Moore Does it Right, and Bolland Art Revision is Amazing

  • Nov 11, 2008
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The Killing Joke was a comic spawned shortly after the work of Frank Miller, and is probably the comic that established The Joker as one of the most important fictional villains of the 20th century. Batman had become a well thought out, complex character in recent years, primarily due to the work of skilled writer Frank Miller. Batman had been brought into a gritty, modern world of comic books, but I always felt that Miller's The Dark Knight Returns failed to bring the antagonistic Joker into a new light...well it did, but not in the way the character was meant to be. Alan Moore, with the help of Brian Bolland's stunning artwork helped bring to life what is widely accepted as today's standard for the famous Harlequin of Hate.

He's crazy, he kills people simply for his own twisted sense of humor, but always has a very zany, cartoonish attitude, which I felt was lacking in Miller's interpretation, where Joker seemed much too serious in appearance, dialogue, and action. The Joker presented in this graphic novel truly is a fiendish jester of fate, who for the most part is truly frightening, but never really acts like anything more than a loon. Bolland's art is very helpful in this aspect, not only bringing the Joker's exaggerated, skeletal body to life, but making it perhaps the most anatomically correct Joker ever seen, while still following the style of the 1970s Joker appearances.

The story revolves around the long struggle between Batman and his foe, and their never ending conflict. Joker, having escaped from Arkham Asylum (again), has decided to prove that one bad day can transform any sane man into a monster, such as himself. Taking possession of an old carnival he's ready to do whatever it takes to prove his point, with the assistance of a circus freak show. Meanwhile The Dark Knight questions himself on how this fight will end; coming to the realization that sooner or later one of them would kill the other, unless they tried to reason it out. A hopeless plan by our hero, but he has to at least try a single time to reason with his arch-nemesis, just so he can say he tried.

While Batman leads the hunt for the psychotic clown, Joker decides to prove his theory, kidnapping Commissioner Gordon, and shooting Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) through the spine (she never walks again). This is one of the most villainous acts in the history of comics; simply because of how pointless the shooting was, considering Barbara wasn't even in the character of Batgirl. She was just a bystander who Joker decided to use as a tool for his plot. Everyone is a puppet, or tool in his mind.

He does this act all of this while wearing a stereotypical beach-going tourist's attire, complete with a large camera, the only exception being his wide-brimmed, purple hat, which conceal his eyes. These are the eyes of a madman, and in one of the comic's final pages his eyes are concealed in shadow once again, before they come out and you see him for the hopeless case he truly is.

The story sets the stage for the most widely accepted Joker back-story through a series of flashbacks, showing him as a failed comedian with a pregnant wife, and soon winds up assisting criminals, and falling victim to tragedy. The character is shown to have had one bad day and that is how he ended up as the smiling super villain who has plagued Gotham City for decades. Of course this back-story isn't necessarily true, being that it comes from flashbacks spawned from Joker's mind, and as he famously states in his confrontation with Batman "If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"

Gordon's capture and torture leads to a fight between these two iconic characters, where Batman tries to see if it is possible to reason with Joker logically, but the villain doesn't even try to lie about what is obviously in store for them. He can never be reasoned with, and won't stop until he's dead, and Batman refuses to kill him so it's a sick cycle that goes round and round. In the end of The Killing Joke the roller coaster has only been reset and it will only be a matter of time before Joker is back on the streets, killing again with some new, random scheme which will only make sense to him alone, depending on the mood he's in at the time, or which version of his past he remembers.

Alan Moore's story is sick, it's disturbing, and doesn't fail to leave the reader in a state of awe. The only problem is that by the end you crave for more! The story practically brings you to the point of begging for a sequel, or expansion which will probably never come. This is a one-shot story, and should remain that way, or else the original's impact may be lost. I don't have a single friend who doesn't think The Killing Joke is one of the most twisted, sick, most perfect stories of the comic medium. It's short, but it delivers a powerful punch!

Brian Bolland's art makes this short graphic novel a masterpiece, providing some of the best art ever seen in the characters' long history, only rivaled (in my opinion) by the art of Alex Ross. Joker really is frightening to look at here, because he doesn't look like a real person in most aspects, but Bolland manages to make this character incredibly believable in appearance, without taking any liberties of changing the body type into something more universal. The tall, skeletal body of the 1970s comics is preserved for the most part, except for the narrowing of the chin, which improves the look even further (hence why it's universally used in today's comics).

Recently I got the hardcover anniversary edition of The Killing Joke, with the artwork being edited by Brian Bolland, and re-colored by Bolland personally the way he intended it to be seen. I must say that I love the changes to the colors, more so than the cheery, bright colors of the original, which I felt distracted from Bolland's line-art, because the colors were way too traditional comic book, not fitting the intensity of the art. These colors are dark, gritty, and really captures to mood of the story more effectively than the bright colors of the original release. I especially love the flashbacks being in black and white, except for concentrating on objects that reflect the color red, which leads up to him taking on the garb of The Red Hood, before his first confrontation, leading to his ultimate disfigurement and insanity. This is a seriously talented artist and I only wish he was presented with more opportunities to draw these characters. Batman and Joker look their very best in these images, and I'd be hard pressed to find a comic with better consistency of art quality.

The Killing Joke is one, if not THE best story in the history of Batman comics, and rightfully earns my rating of 10/10 stars.

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More Batman: The Killing Joke reviews
review by . January 30, 2011
    When this book opens, the Joker is in an insane asylum and Batman is visiting him in an attempt to make peace before one of them gets killed. It could be described as “Batman and the Joker sitting in a cell, each of them living in their own private hell.” Of all the super villains that Batman has faced over his career, the Joker is the one most psychologically like the morose and disturbed Bruce Wayne. The Joker is also a character that we can all identify with as …
review by . January 30, 2011
It is no coincidence that the two best Batman movies had the Joker as Batman's main antagonist. There have been many colorful villains on the other side of the bat-punch over the years, but none is more of an alter ego than the green haired one. This fact is used to develop the opening scene in the book.   The Joker is in an insane asylum along with some of Batman's other foes. Batman goes to the Joker's cell and tries to reason with him to call off their "feud" before one of them is killed. …
review by . July 13, 2008
"Batman: The Killing Joke" is one of the seminal Batman comics as well as one of the finest comics ever published. That's hardly a surprise considering that it was written by Alan Moore, the Shakespeare of comic books, who the year before had written "Watchmen," the greatest comic of all time. For "The Killing Joke," he teamed with artist Brian Bolland to craft a psychological look at what made the Joker, what makes him who he is now, and how the threads of Batman's fate are inextricably woven between …
review by . April 03, 2008
Blurbs on a cover always tell you that whatever book you're holding in your hands is better than the best, that you'd probably die if you'd put it back to where it came from, and more of that kind of nonsense.   In this case (in 1988) they had Tim Burton saying it's his favorite and that it's the first comic he ever loved. The poor fellow. Don't get me wrong: I adore Tim Burton. I love everything he did (after Batman), but there definitely are other great comic books out there.  But …
review by . April 10, 2002
Comic books are often dismissed by many people as having no real value. They are usually looked upon as a hobby for boys and nostalgiac entertainment for men who have never really grown up. However, comic books can be and are often much more. At their best, comics can become a moving work of art and a powerful piece of literature all in one piece. Such is the case with BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE.THE KILLING JOKE has become a comic classic for a variety of reasons. The book's illustrations have influenced …
review by . September 20, 2001
The team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon, who combined to hit a grand slam with the now seminal graphic novel, Watchman, regrouped shortly after that and produced this examination of Batman. It's shorter, but that's the only real negative here. Moore's take on the Joker emphasizes the cruel nature of the character, and he includes a plot development here, which some of the other reviewers give away but I can't let myself do, that is shocking in how it affects characters.When I glance at a page of …
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About this book


The plot revolves around a largely psychological battle between Batman and his longtime foe the Joker, who has escaped from Arkham Asylum. The Joker intends to drive Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon insane to prove that the most upstanding citizen is capable of going mad after having "one bad day". Along the way, the Joker has flashbacks to his early life, gradually explaining his possible origin.


The man who will become the Joker is an unnamed engineer who quits his job at a chemical company to become a stand-up comedian, only to fail miserably. Desperate to support his pregnant wife, Jeannie, he agrees to guide two criminals into the plant for a robbery. During the planning, the police inform him that his wife has died in a household accident involving an electric baby bottle heater. Grief-stricken, the engineer tries to withdraw from the plan, but the criminals strong-arm him into keeping his commitment to them.

At the plant, the criminals make him don a special mask to become the infamous Red Hood. Unknown to the engineer, this disguise is simply the criminals' scheme to implicate any accomplice as the mastermind to divert attention from themselves. Once inside, they almost immediately blunder into security personnel, and a violent shootout and chase ensues. The criminals are gunned down and the engineer finds himself confronted by Batman, who is investigating the disturbance.

Panicked, the engineer deliberately jumps into the ...

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ISBN-10: 1401216676
ISBN-13: 978-1401216672
Editor: Karen Berger
Author: Alan Moore, Brian Bolland
Genre: Comics & Graphic Novels, Superheroes
Publisher: DC Comics
Date Published: 1988
Format: Graphic Novel
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