Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke

 

Let me preface this by saying that I do not read comics, I know nothing about the Batman universe or any superhero stuff. So, I will give both my thoughts on the reading, my questions that came up during the reading and what I managed to find in my research on it. I read it twice. The first time I read it, it was purely entertaining and I enjoyed it for the story it told. The second time, I looked at it more critically and became a little more jaded. Ultimately, I don’t know how I feel about it and after learning more about it and Batman in general, I’m just confused.

I enjoy origin stories so I was enthralled with the idea that the Joker was once a good guy and let a string of tragedies turn him evil. I understood his need to prove that he wasn’t just a lunatic, that he wasn’t any different than any other human being. His theory was it only took one bad day to drive anyone mad. I understood his motives more than I did Batman’s. I mean, I get that Batman wanted to stop the Joker from doing harm, but the whole impromptu visit to the asylum just to talk about their future was weird to me. I kept wondering what kind of relationship the two of them had anyway? I mean, he passes Harvey Dent in the asylum, you see him questioning the penguin, so why is the Joker so different for Batman than the rest? Why is he trying to make peace with him and why is he so sure they are going to end up killing each other as opposed to any of the other Batman “bad guys”?

I didn’t care for the naked pictures of Barbara Gordon and I felt like even a psycho like the Joker would potentially hold on to the love and loss of his wife and child. I had a hard time buying that he would or could be so vicious and disrespectful of her body. I mean shoot her, sure, but strip her naked (rape her?) and display her naked body for her father? I didn’t buy that from him. But I didn’t know, I didn’t know who she was or if there was more to her back story that I wasn’t aware of. So, I looked her up and was shocked to discover she was Batgirl and then after the accident, Oracle. And then I read up on the thoughts on this part of the story and found an interview Alan Moore did about tit. Turns out, he was even hesitant about doing this to her and asked a bigwig at DC about it and that person (a male) said “Oh why not, go ahead, shoot the bitch.” Suddenly I had a much bigger issue with this. I don’t think that kind of violence against women is necessary (unless it is) but in this story, it isn’t and it makes me think about other superhero stories. Men in these stories die. They are shot, they are thrown over buildings. Women in these stories are tortured, humiliated, raped, etc. But I digress.

One bad day…Batman (at least what I know from the films) also had a bad day that made him who he is. So, I can see where maybe (if he knows of the Joker’s past) Batman feels a strange comradery with this particular nemesis. They are mirror images of each other. Maybe Batman really does want to help the man. He sees the pain and turmoil that the Joker went through and thinks he is redeemable. Maybe Batman sees what he himself could have become and he can’t bare it. He wants it out of his mind and there can only be two ways to do that: heal the Joker or kill the Joker.

But let’s re-examine the idea that Batman does know Joker’s past. The Joker says he knows something bad happened to him (the Joker) once… “I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another…If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” So, if the Joker isn’t even sure what happened to him, how could Batman know? And if Batman didn’t know, it takes me back to my original question of why the hell does Batman just get a bee in his bonnet one day and goes to have a heart to heart with this crazy man, who as far as Batman knows is locked away in an asylum like the other enemies. So why is Batman so concerned that they will have to kill each other one day? Doesn’t he have the man locked away? Doesn’t he trust doing things “by the book” or that their “way works”? I had a really hard time liking Batman in this story. I mean who is he? Some bored rich guy just looking to stir things up? Is he the sane one? Maybe his bad day turned him into an narcistic, power hungry ego-freak. When he doesn’t have a victim to save, he starts something. I don’t know but thinking this story though, I’m not sure they made their protagonist so much better than their antagonist. Who’s the psycho here? I’m not sure.

Finally let’s talk about the ending. What happens at the end? I don’t know and apparently, no one else does either. I mean, one can assume that one killed the other but we all know both of them live on in other comics. Did the police show up? I mean, what exactly was the point of this comic? What in the entire scheme of things was the reason for this? One thing we learn in this program and craft books is to delete all the unnecessary stuff. Now, I don’t know how comics work, but from what I understand in my limited research is that different writers can come in and says “I want to write about this” and get permission and then they write it. It’s like that game we played in school where one person starts a story and the next picks up from there. Maybe that’s what happens in these stories. In which case, everything is important and nothing is. Kind of bleak final thought, isn’t it? Maybe that’s the killing joke. Everything in life is important and Nothing is.

 

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4 thoughts on “Batman: The Killing Joke

  1. First of all, I love your final sentence. That is a fantastic assessment.
    I’m not a Batman expert, but I love Batman. I don’t always think he’s right, or sane, but I love his stories anyway.
    His history with the Joker is long. The Joker tears up Gotham, Batman catches him, Joker goes to Arkham, Joker escapes and creates more mayhem. That’s kind of their cycle. I think in this story, Batman has come to the realization that they can’t keep going on in this pattern. Eventually, one of them is going to have to die for things to stop.
    I’m not usually one to defend a rape storyline, and knowing what the DC bigwigs said really pisses me off, but if you want to break a father I kind of get the decision. The point is to give Commissioner Gordon the worst day of his life and turn him into a psycho. It didn’t work, obviously. But I’m not sure that just killing Barbara outright would have worked either. That’s not to say I like the choice. They probably could have tried harder to do something else.

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  2. I didn’t go into the back story of the discussions at DC about shooting Barbara Gordon, so my initial thoughts were more skewed. Here they are: The Joker doesn’t care to completely humiliate somebody like that without a purpose. His crimes are for HIS amusement, not for his pleasure. So to see him strip Barbara and allow her to be sexually assaulted like she was, for me, was to further drive Commissioner Gordon mad. He wasn’t dishonoring the memory of his wife and kid, he was going full bore to make his point.

    In light of your discovery, though, to hear that it was such a flippant decision, kinda sours the whole thing for me. It went from necessary to senseless real fast.

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  3. vanessaessler says:

    I’m not a Batman expert, but his stories are probably the ones I know best. I love his villains. The Joker and Batman have a complicated relationship and past. Reading your post, I realized how much this story can lack without knowing all the rich backstory of this relationship. You’re right that they are mirror images (which I believe makes for some of the best arch enemy pairings). Unlike the other major Batman villains, the Joker is a mystery to Batman. He doesn’t know the Joker’s real name or really anything about him other than the what he has learned through their battles together. On the flip side, the Joker doesn’t want to know who Batman is behind the mask. He’s had ample opportunity to discover Batman’s secret identity. The Joker prefers the crazy costumed vigilante to battle, probably because he thinks Batman can understand him on some level, to the normal man he is out of costume. So, their battles are more intense than Batman’s battles with the other villains he walked by in the asylum. The Joker is THE rival for Batman.

    As for Barbara, I always hated this choice of her torture in this work. It made a strong super hero female into just another plot device. There could have been dozens of other ways to give Gordon a bad day without the cliche, “I hurt the woman you care about” plot. I think it would have been more effective to go after his faith in justice than Barbara. After all, Gordon has had two wives, suffered the loss of many family members, had a psychotic villain son, and been through a hell of a military and police career. That man is not going to be broken with just damage done to his daughter. He’s going to just work harder after the ordeal.

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  4. Since others before me have schooled you on the complicated world of Batman and the Joker, I’m not going to add to it. I did love seeing this story from a non-fan’s perspective, though. And your last line reminded me of another last line I’ve always loved: “Everybody matters, or nobody matters.” (Michael Donnelly, author of the Harry Bosch novels)

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