Blogging A to Z Day 13: The Killing Joke

Greetings, everyone! Today, we’re going to be talking about one really bad day, the sort that can break a person entirely. This is the main thought at the center of 1988’s The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, which is often considered the quintessential Joker story. In short, the story focuses on the Joker’s origin told through ultimately false flashbacks to the worst day he ever experienced, coupled with his attempts to give his prime enemies, Batman and Jim Gordon, a day of horror designed to break them, their sanity, and their moral compasses.

That camera in the Joker’s hands on the front cover of the comic is not just a propβ€”it’s one of the primary tools in his bag of tricks. You see, this is the story that gave the DC Universe the character Oracle, the new crime-fighting identity Barbara Gordon assumed after the Joker shot her in the spine (leaving her paralyzed from the waist down), stripped her naked, and took photographs of her in this state in order to show her father, Jim Gordon (also stripped naked and brutalized) to try to destroy his sanity.

Some readers see a further implication of greater sexual assault at this point in the naked and prone Barbara Gordon (and this has become a rather popular viewpoint), though, as my girlfriend Candice pointed out to me after reading The Killing Joke, no one makes that assumption about Jim Gordon, though he is also beaten, stripped naked, and led around on a leash by the Joker’s incredibly creepy BDSM dwarf minions. I understand this is a touchy subject and I in no way wish to make light of it, so let’s move further discussion of it and the recent Batgirl cover controversy down to the comments below.

Though not as divisive as Barbara Gordon’s fate, the ending of the story has also sparked controversy among many fans, some of whom have developed their own theories about the arguably ambiguous finale. As you can see, Batman and the Joker share a rather disturbing laugh as Batman reaches toward his old, monstrous foe with approaching police lights framing them in silhouette. Then, darkness.

Some fans see the exchange as a mocking gesture on Batman’s part before he turns and walks away yet again, holding to his morals and keeping the game alive. Others, however, take a rather non-continuity-based view and postulate that Batman actually reaches out and kills the Joker at this moment, with Barbara’s fate the last straw that finally drives him to permanently remove the Joker as a threat to everyone he is around. Though a powerful and attractive theory, it has no basis in the stories that follow. Indeed, the Joker is still alive and terrorizing Gotham to this very day. After all, were this theory valid, it means the Joker would have won, even in death. He would have succeeded in finally breaking Batman by making him turn against his personal code.

Art by Brian Bolland. Image taken from http://images.sequart.org/images/joke1.jpg

Art by Brian Bolland. Image taken from http://images.sequart.org/images/joke1.jpg

Those large points aside, I do wish to make general comments on the story as a whole. Alan Moore’s writing really captures the nihilistic and horrifying mind of the Joker, and Brian Bolland’s artwork is superbly unsettling, especially when the Joker has any expression other than mirth, all of which can be seen in the image above.

And that’s it for the letter K. Thanks again for stopping by, and I look forward to speaking with some of you in the comments below. I strongly recommend reading The Killing Joke if you never have before. Be sure to check out more of my thoughts on the Joker in the Batman column on Sourcerer here and here, and check out my thoughts on Barbara Gordon over at Part Time Monster here. As a parting treat, here’s Troy Baker (the voice of the Joker in Arkham Origins) delivering one of the Joker’s best lines in The Killing Joke. Enjoy! I’ll see you all again soon.

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23 thoughts on “Blogging A to Z Day 13: The Killing Joke

  1. Excellent summary of The Killing Joke and its significance!

    I re-read this book about two weeks ago, and the main thing that struck me was how the Joker is authentically confused about why Batman and Gordon aren’t doing what he expects. Summed up in his expression in that panel you chose — “Why aren’t you laughing?” He sort of realizes he’s insane, but it seems in keeping with his character that he blames it on what happened to him and thinks anyone would react the same way.

    It’s also interesting/terrible to note that being naked, especially with pictures, IS a sexual assault for a woman. (I spent a while wondering what happened before realizing the specifics don’t actually matter. She was assaulted — after having been shot.) For a man it’s more “generic humiliation with a sexual overtone.” It seems weird to me that Barbara had worse things happen to her but it’s all directed toward Gordon and Batman. Makes sense in that the Joker’s wife (probably) died, not the Joker himself, but he didn’t include a “dunking in chemicals” segment for Gordon or anything… I’m probably trying to make him make too much sense. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    • Um. Yes. Save this until you read. I trust @quaintjeremy on The Killing Joke as much as I trust anyone, and I have only read it once, myself. The story (and the art) raise many questions which are dealt with admirably in this post. But the post assumes you’ve read the thing, and really, those are the best posts πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never read the Killing Joke, but I know I should, now. What is the name of the arc where he kills (the original?) Robin? I remember hearing about it… something about turning him into a toy or marionette, but I never read it, because at the time, it felt too dark to touch for me.

    Like

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