Batman: The Killing Joke

The Long Halloween
Cover art to Batman: The Killing Joke (Deluxe Edition)
PublisherDC Comics
Publication DateMarch 1988
Written byAlan Moore
Art byBrian Bolland
Edited byDennis O'Neil
Number of Issues1

The Killing Joke is a graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland. The story features how the Joker came to be in flashbacks, and how the Joker plans to turn James Gordon insane. The book is regarded as one of the best Batman comics ever, and has had numerous praise from reviewers and people with a connection in the Batman world, such as Tim Burton and Tim Sale.

[edit] Plot

After arriving at Arkham Asylum to meet with the Joker, Batman discovers that his greatest foe has escaped the premises. Throughout the story, the Joker works to drive Commissioner Gordon mad in an effort to prove that even Gotham’s most upstanding individuals can be mentally crippled. Flashbacks help tell the tale of how the Joker became the psychotic criminal he is today.

Starting out as a successful laboratory assistant, the Joker (who’s real name remains unknown) became a stand-up comedian in hopes of earning enough money to support himself and his pregnant wife, Jeannie. Struggling in his new line of work, the Joker is approached by two shady individuals who offer him a surplus of cash for his assistance in robbing a card company located next to the facility he used to work for; Ace Chemical Process Co. While the group plans the operation, the Joker is approached by two policemen. They tell him that his wife, Jeannie, has died following an accident involving an electric baby bottle heater. Stricken with grief, the Joker tries to pull out of the robbery, but the two men threaten his life if he backs out of the deal.

Making their way to the Plant, the Joker is forced to put on a red helmet as he becomes the infamous Red Hood. The disguise is meant as a way to throw all of the blame for the robbery onto that persona. As the Joker instructs the two men on the best way of making their way through the facility, the group is caught off guard by a police officer. A shootout ensues after backup arrives, leaving Joker’s allies dead on the ground. The Joker tries to escape, but he is stopped by Batman. Frightened, the Joker jumps over the railing into a pool of chemicals below. As his body itches and burns, he makes his way to the nearby bank. With his hair turned green and skin completely white, the Joker is driven insane from the accident.

In the present day, the Joker stands outside of a rundown amusement park as he purchases the facility from its previous owner. Saying goodbye, the Joker shakes the mans hand while wearing a laughing gas injection buzzer on his hand, leaving him dead with a smile on his face. As Jim Gordon and his daughter, Barbara Gordon, spend time together in their home, the two are greeted by the Joker and two of his henchman. The Joker shoots Barbara in the stomach as his goons tie up Gordon. The Joker strips Barbara of her clothes and takes photographs of her bloody body. Afterwards, the Joker takes Gordon back to the amusement park and attempts to break him physically and mentally, using the images of his injured daughter as a means of crushing his emotions. Following the torture, a naked Gordon is thrown into a cage where he is made into an attraction of “the average man”, one of the weak humans suffering through life.

Batman finds out about the incident at the Gordon residence and goes to visit Barbara at the hospital. Promising to find her father, Batman receives an invitation to the amusement park from the Joker. Arriving on the scene, Batman is squirted on the arm by a flower full of acid by the Joker as he escapes into the fun house. Gordon, who retains all of his sanity, pleas with Batman to bring Joker in “by the book”, to prove that they are better than him. Eventually tracking the Joker down, Batman dives through a mirror in the hall of mirrors and tackles him. The Joker retaliates by smashing a two by four over his back, but Batman regains his composure and kicks the Joker outside on the ground. Defeated, the Joker tells Batman to hurt him more in retaliation for his crimes. Batman refuses, remembering the words Gordon told him. Instead, Batman insists that their feud must end now, offering to help the Joker get out of his life of crime. He believes that otherwise the two of them will continue of fighting, resulting in their eventual deaths. The Joke refuses to end his ways, and instead tells Batman a joke. It ends with the two of them standing in the rain, laughing together, as police arrive on the scene.

[edit] Final Joke

"See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum... and one night, one night they decide they don't like living in an asylum any more. They decide they're going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light... stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend didn't dare make the leap. Y'see... Y'see, he's afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea... He says "Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I'll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!" B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says... He says "Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You'd turn it off when I was half way across!"

[edit] Critical Reception

The Killing Joke has been praised over the years for its great storytelling and magnificant portrayal of the Joker. IGN notes that "The Killing Joke isn't about how the Joker came to be, it's an examination of human nature" and how it "is a masterfully told story. Each scene features perfect transitions, allowing the story to easily weave between present and past as the Joker attempts to force his insanity on James Gordon."

Comicmix adored The Killing Joke, saying it "is without question one of the greatest encounters between Batman and his nemesis, and the real reason is that the story serves both as a zenith for the Joker's depravity and for his pathos."

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