Since we got our first look at the animated version with Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, we thought we’d take a look at the original graphic novel written by Alan Moore. It’s worth stating that The Killing Joke has inspired hundreds of authors, artists, animators and creators – you can see its’ ripple effect through different Batman-related media like the Arkham games or the 90’s animated tv series.
The story mainly revolves around the idea that Batman and The Joker are psychological parallels of each other, two sides of the same card if you will. And it simultaneously tells us two stories, the origin of The Joker and how he nearly ruined Commissioner Gordon’s life by assaulting his daughter, Barbara. Whilst it’s an excellent comic book style story, it’s also one of the best ways of psychoanalysing the two legendary characters. The Joker has the idea that anyone can be turned evil after just one bad day, and tries to prove this by breaking Jim Gordon’s psyche. What follows, is one of the most popular stories in comic book history, it gives us the story of how Barbara went from being Batgirl to the wheelchair bound Oracle.
The side story to this already fantastically crafted novel, is the origin of The Joker. A downtrodden comedian who falls into a life of crime by accident, giving the audience a sense of empathy for such a twisted psychopath. This makes the rest of his actions seem much more horrifying, as his one bad day turned him into this much of a monster. The Joker turns up to Barbara’s door (unaware that she’s Batgirl) and shoots her through the spine, and begins to take photos of her undressed, it’s suggested that there’s some form of sexual assault but we’re never explicitly told that he does. The Joker then proceeds to capture Jim Gordon and torture him by taking him through a carnival exhibit, with huge photos of Barbara in pain and in various states of undress, and Gordon slowly loses his mind.
Throughout the book, there’s a clear line between Batman and TheJoker, their similarities line up in various ways and they’re so inextricably linked by this. They almost have a mutual respect for each other, but the line between them is Batman’s sense of justice and his moral compass (if hazy in places) faces the opposite direction to The Joker. But we do see that Batman can be tempted to take things to the breaking point, and disavow his golden rule.
The book isn’t all perfect, as we’re told this origin story of The Joker, and then he later goes on to say that even he doesn’t know if that’s how it happened – preferring a ‘multiple choice’ origin. The way it goes back on itself gives as a messy, uneven narrative. But then, that’s The Joker really, isn’t it? The second problem, is how sadistic the book’s treatment of Barbara Gordon is, she’s the only truly important female character in the story, and she’s there to serve the character development of The Joker, Batman and her father. She’s shot, beaten, tortured and possibly sexually assaulted – all so that the heroes can prove that their mentalities cannot be broken.
But at it’s core, the book is a fascinating tale with Alan Moore proving once again that he’s one of the best writers in the business. Be sure to read the classic graphic novel before the animated movie comes out later this year.
With a psychologically fascinating tale, we see the deconstruction of two of the greatest comic book characters ever written.
- The Joker's Origin
- Treatment of women
- Batman V Joker
- Alan Moore's writing