Batman: The Killing Joke

I wish DC would rip off the Marvel Ultimate universe idea and perform their own reboot for new readers. Alternately, I wish that someone would tell me this has already occurred, and what I should be looking for. I know that the constantly renewing TV shows serve approximately the same purpose, but still, something in the original format would be nice to have around. This is certainly one reason why I have found Marvel so much more accommodating than DC since I decided that superhero comics were pretty sweet after all. (The much broader availability of original run comics as data files was the larger reason, despite how much more Ultimate universe I’ve actually read.)

The upshot of this lack is that there are all kinds of DC storylines that I’ve heard people talk about but never gotten around to, while I’m coasting along quite nicely on the other side of the fence. But I did recall that one of the biggest deal stories I hadn’t read was Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, about the relationship between Batman and the Joker. Much to my surprise, it is a story that has consequences I’ve actually seen play out in one of those TV series I mentioned earlier, the short-lived Birds of Prey. So, in addition to my actual reaction to the story, there was that bonus feeling of getting to catch on to an underpinning moment that has defined the DC universe. I dig that kind of stuff, in exactly the unfortunately punning sense that makes me sometimes wish I had gotten my degree in archaeology.

But as to the story itself? First of all, it’s very short, only about the size of a standard annual comic. No run of issues here like you’d expect to find in an “important” story. It’s also very simple: Batman has decided that it’s time to really talk to the Joker, who is unique among the Batman’s adversaries in that nobody has any idea who he is; he is simply an enigma sowing chaos in the world. All Bruce Wayne does know is that they hate each other, and sooner or later one of them will die as a result of it, and being that he is a fundamentally good man despite his anger issues, he wants to try to solve it. Whereas the Joker… in his own words, he wants “[t]o prove a point.” To prove that he’s not really sowing chaos, or at least that any chaos sown is just a side effect. He wants to prove that his reaction to the world is not only normal, but inevitable. And the ensuing clash between these two conversations is dire, bloody, repercussive, and entirely horrible. And it sums up, in only about forty pages, the entire history and future of the relationship between the two characters.

Every voice was perfectly realized, every expression and motion had economy to it. Except for the unfortunate refrigeration of Barbara Gordon, there is really nothing about the story that is not concisely perfect. It should ought to be read by anyone that enjoys either lead character. And also? The joke was pretty good.

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