Throughout undergrad, I had a few experiences with graphic novels including Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Marbles by Ellen Forney, and Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware. Usually, I’m a fan of traditional novels. It’s not that I think graphic novels are in any way inferior, but it’s the fact that it’s harder to make myself really pay attention. Sometimes I only get caught up in the text and forget to take in the art, or sometimes I rely on the art and then miss something in the text. So for The Killing Joke I made a conscious effort to not skimp over anything and properly appreciate the story in its medium.
For the most part I enjoyed it. Originally a comic book in the first place, there was nothing forced about The Killing Joke as a graphic novel, the story was able to accurately mesh with the artwork. Honestly, there were details I could imagine being way too confusing to describe with words alone. If I only had text I’m pretty sure I would have had a lot of zoning out moments where I was reading the text, but not understanding it. Especially when Gordon gets thrown on the ride and when we see all of the other carnies doing the Joker’s bidding. Those odd babydoll/elderly infant twins would have been difficult to visualize on my own.
As for the story as an origin story–I can appreciate it and accept it, but I wanted more. Just because it’s a graphic novel doesn’t mean that it has to be short in length or skip over details. After all, Marbles and Jimmy Corrigan were probably the size of 300+ page standard novels. I just didn’t buy into the whole one “bad day” separates the hero from the villain. Really? That’s it–that’s all the nuance we get?
For one, I’d say finding out your spouse and unborn child died in a freak accident constitutes more than just a bad day. Also, it was such a freak accident that it was nearly unbelievable for me. So that begs the question: did those thugs murder the Joker’s wife and child just to make him help them (which he was already going to do) or was it really an accident? There are very rarely accidents in fiction, so that was a loose end that still bugged me by the end.
As for the psycho aspect, that was played out pretty well. While I think it would take more than one bad day to send someone on a descent into evil, I can understand it would be pretty traumatic to suddenly lose your spouse and unborn child. That almost gives the Joker a free pass for going off his rocker. Yet, what about the vat of radioactive waste, or whatever chemicals, he fell into that “turned” him into the Joker? Did it just alter his appearance, or his demeanor as well? There were just some pretty big things where I would’ve benefited from them being explained just a sentence more.
Again, though, the psycho aspect was spot on. The Joker had motive, he looked creepy, he acted crazily, he had the patience to torture without killing…he’s a pretty terrifying creature. A terrifying creature that was really beaten down by the end. When I say “beaten down” I mean that he went from 100 to 0 in a few pages. He almost resigns himself to the fact that Batman could kill him. We almost nearly feel sorry for him–which I know is the point of creating that likable villain, and also one of the most difficult things to do with an antagonist–but he just seemed to give up so easily and I call his bluff. The psycho Joker is just going to take it?
Overall, the things that worked for me in The Killing Joke were the graphics and the psychopath. The artwork was amazing and the Joker had many facets to him as the psychopathic antagonist. I just wish I had more of a full story and not such a patched together tale just to give the Joker an origin story.