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 prop—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.

Blogging A to Z Day 9: The Hunger Games

I first read The Hunger Games just after they released the U.S. paperback editions. I had some time over the summer to do some light reading, and I’d been hearing so much about the series that I decided to buy the set. I read them in less than a week, and I probably would’ve read them all in one sitting if I could’ve–I’m a sucker for dystopias and for well-rendered, badass female characters.

I knew from the second page of the book that Katniss Everdeen was going to be One of Those. She’s is stalking around outside her district, trying to hunt food without being caught. She is followed by a mountain lion, and she thinks of this creature as a friend for a while. But then the creature starts making too much noise, and she kills it. This is on the second page of the book.

This is a girl that we do not often see the likes of in literature. She is flawed, but she is strong. She’s strong enough to be a little frightening, and we know this immediately.

And then there was the society itself. A post-apocalyptic world with a vaguely familiar geography an exaggerated class stratification, a place where children fought one another in a frightening arena. The class differences were so obvious when they were pitted against one another, when children who’d gone hungry all their lives and never held a weapon had to fight children who’d trained like Spartan warriors for the day they’d volunteer for the battle.

And then it was televised. The death of 23 children every year, forced to fight one another. And all this a reminder  Panem, we find out in Mockingjay, is derived from the Latin panem et circenses-literally bread and circuses, but figuratively the cultural exchanges that happen when elaborate entertainments are used to pacify and to distract citizens from major problems.

Katniss changes things, though. She doesn’t do what the ringleader demands of her, and the circus begins to fall apart. The beauty of The Hunger Games lies in being in the center of the ugliness without actually being there. You’re looking in from outside—and then you realize that you’re in the place of a Capitol citizen, watching (or reading) vicariously while the horrific action unfolds around you.

Advertisements for the films, especially for the two-part Mockingjay conclusion, are very conscious of this framing. Fashion ads for the districts were published in magazines as promos for the film. Trailers aired in first-person-shooter. The marketing reinforced the panoptic feel of the series, and with stunning effect.

Mockjay Part 2 is due out November 1, and since I missed seeing Part 1 in theaters because it came out during my exams, I’m making sure to see this one in theaters. (And I’ll probably read the books before then, too!)

This post is by @parttimemonster of Part Time Monster and Sourcerer contributor. For more A to Z geekery, check out Part Time Monster!

Blogging A to Z Day 2: Batman

Good day, everyone! It wasn’t easy coming up with something to say on this topic today, given how much I’ve already said about Batman over the past year or so. That said, I decided to go broad, give an overview of Batman’s appeal to me personally, discuss the Batman of my heart (as we’ve spoken of our personal versions of Batman before), and open up discussion. Let’s dive right in!BatmanKungFu

Since 1939, Batman has gone through dozens, if not hundreds, of creative interpretations under hoards of comic book creative teams and film producers. Extrapolating from that, there may be as many personal views of Batman himself as there are fans of the character. My own view of the character is manifold.

In his youth, he was as Frank Miller presented him in Year One, and as he grew older he became Denny O’Neil’s adventurer of the late 60s and early 70s. As he approached middle age, he became Grant Morrison’s version of the character, and that is roughly where he stands in my mind. I prefer to imagine Batman as gruff and angry, perhaps in his early to middle 40s, still possessing the strength of his youth but tempered by experience and the harsh education of his mythic role. His later years, to me, have always been a convoluted mixture of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Beyond. Oh, and through all of this he always speaks with Kevin Conroy’s voice.

While all of that is well and good, why do I attach myself to Batman with such fanboy enthusiasm? No, he does not have any superpowers. No, I cannot identify with his wealth or the depth of his early personal tragedies. So what is it?

I believe it is his fearlessness, his ability to direct his own fate. For someone of meager origins, those aspects of the character are enough, but everything else on top of that makes Batman effectively godlike. He is the example to strive toward, the dark and troubled soul with the means to do so actually fighting back against the night itself. How could that not stir that little bit of heroism that lives within all of us? It’s certainly worth thinking about.

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Thank you for stopping by during your A to Z Challenge perusals. I am honored that you chose to read some of my work. Please come back later in the month to hear more from me on fear and fearlessness. Be sure to strike up a conversation in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

.ed — Read more Jeremy! 

Batman image by Chip Kidd, from Death by Design, via KungFuKriticism. Characters, their likenesses, and images thereof © DC Comics or original authors.

IDW Makes Me Long for Baldur’s Gate

Good day, everyone! My post for this week builds off my previous one about IDW. This time around, I want to give a general review and recommendation for one of IDW’s current titles I’m loosely following–the enormously titled Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate – Tyranny of Dragons by Jim Zub and Max Dunbar.

This title (along with the fact that I just recently finished Dragon Age Inquisition, which I may address in another post) really brings my nostalgia for Baldur’s Gate to the forefront of my mind. Though I never completed it or its sequel (Shadows of Amn, which I still consider one of my all-time favorite role-playing games, along with Planescape: Torment–on a side note, Will still has one of my old copies of the game, which seems to be working out for him these days), I still have fond memories of adventuring and questing across the Forgotten Realms with a unique and nuanced team of characters, not the least of whom was the (probably) brain-damaged ranger named Minsc.

Legends of Baldur’s Gate begins about a century or so after the events of the Baldur’s Gate games, and likely several decades after the deaths of many of the games’ main characters, Minsc included. The story begins with an Elven wild mage (D&D, y’all!) named Delina on a personal quest to the city of Baldur’s Gate on the run from some powerful enemies. During her flight, she enters a pavilion filled with the statues of great heroes from the city’s history. Included among them is a statue of Minsc, called the Legendary Ranger at this point.

While using her wild magic to defend herself, Delina accidentally animates the statue of Minsc, complete with his miniature giant space hamster companion, Boo. There’s a bit of existential horror boiling beneath the surface here that never gets its due in the story. Given that this Minsc seems to have all the memories that the real Minsc would have, does this mean that Minsc was stuck as a statue for nearly a century? If not, does this mean that Delina somehow creates a perfect replica of Minsc using the statue as a template? Is the answer somewhere between these questions? As of the end of the second issue of the series, this bit of the story has not yet been told.

Though it’s far from the best fantasy comic out right now, this one is worth a look , if for no other reason than to sate your Baldur’s Gate nostalgia. Also, I do think it has a lot of potential on its own, so try it out if you’re interested in anything I talked about today. The fifth issue of the series will likely be out by the time you read this, so you’ll have quite the stack of material to work through if you choose to follow it.

As has become the norm, this series is my reading recommendation for this week. Check it out on comiXology or go out and support your local comic shops. I’ll see you all next time.

Minsc and Boo stand ready! Swords for everyone!