Rod Hilton's Reviews > Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman by Alan Moore
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Apr 06, 12

bookshelves: comics
Read from April 04 to 06, 2012

** spoiler alert ** Disappointing.

Hot off the heels of reading The Watchmen, I decided to pick up another Alan Moore book, The Killing Joke. I had read that this book was a big part of the inspiration for Heath Ledger's joker in The Dark Knight, so I was quite excited for it.

Unfortunately, I don't think the book holds up very well to scrutiny. First, the good: the artwork is absolutely fantastic, particularly the re-released, re-colored anniversary edition. Some of the panels are insanely beautiful and memorable, let it not be said that this isn't a beautifully drawn book.

Now, the not so good: very little actually happens. I realize it's only a 60-page book, but a lot more could have happened. Joker buys a carnival, kidnaps Comissioner Gordon, tries to drive him crazy, then Batman shows up and tells him to stop. In the meantime, we are treated to a series of flashbacks into who the Joker was before he became the Joker. This was what I had the most trouble with.

The Joker's appeal is partly his completely mysterious past - it makes him into a force of nature, rather than an actual person. This book tries to humanize him to a degree, arguing that he and Batman are both byproducts of a single bad day, and they simply reflected on this day differently. I think this lessens Joker as a character no matter what, but in particular the backstory given to him is terrible. Joker as a failed standup comedian with a pregnant wife, he sets up a heist to help pay the bills, but she dies randomly the day before the heist, which he then goes through with anyway. It also retcons the Red Hood in an incredibly unbelievable way. The whole thing is tedious and silly, at no point believable. I realize that it may not have been "true", since the Joker explains that he remembers his past different all the time, but that's really no better than telling someone a story and then ending with "it was all a dream - or was it?"

Batman's confrontation with the Joker is anticlimactic and lame. He shows up and tells the Joker, who has just tortured his friend Gordon and paralyzed Gordon's Daughter (which Joker somehow knew he did when he shot her), that he sympathizes with him and wants to help. This is the weakest, softest portrayal of Batman I've ever seen. He pleads with the Joker so they don't kill each other. It's just... weak.

Overall, I think this is an unengaging story with a lot of unfortunate retconning that I'd prefer not exist. I liked the Joker's portrayal, and I'm glad it went to influence Heath Ledger's excellent turn, but beyond that I don't think this book is really worth reading.
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