Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore

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.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Tamar says:

    If you want to read about a bad day, then read the first issue of Injustice: Gods Among Us. It’s pretty much the Joker getting tired of getting beat by Batman, so he goes to torment another hero. The theory of one bad day is more believable in that comic than this one, and the plot that follows is insane (but very well done).

    I was so upset by the mediocrity of Joker’s backstory, that I really didn’t feel too much sympathy for him. It just didn’t seem real or tragic enough to create the Joker as we see him today.


  2. Kristin says:

    Reading graphic novels is an interesting experience, especially if you aren’t used to reading them. They rely heavily on word economy and artwork. Paying attention to both can be challenging until you get used to it.


  3. Chad Pritt says:

    While I agree that the story needed more meat and potatoes to come across as a rich backstory, I don’t believe this was ever meant to give us a definitive origin of the Joker. I think this is what he believed happened on that particular day. I think the concept of a man trying to do the wrong thing for the right reasons fit his agenda that day and he went with the story that came to mind.

    At least, that’s what I’m going to choose to believe.


  4. Katie,
    The artwork was definitely amazing and the Joker himself just works. I do think a longer graphic novel would lose some of the story’s impact. The movie was longer, but took a completely different turn that made Barb the focus for most of it. Yes it wasn’t in book form, but adding too much backstiry kind of muddies the pieces that would have a bigger impact. For me this story wasn’ t about Batman, but the Joker. He felt more like the protagonist with his backstory. We are made to feel sorry for him, to try and truly see his way of thinking. But like you said, there are elements to the story that could have been explained more, even the accident.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s