Batman: The Killing Joke (2009 SC edition) – Alan Moore

4 out of 5n

I get where writer Alan Moore is coming from; I get where artist Brian Bolland is coming from. Both creators have spoken somewhat disparagingly about their late 80s Batman creation, The Killing Joke – Moore about its limited depth; Bolland about John Higgins’ colors, and in both cases, yeah, I’m with ya: metaphor is pretty on the nose in The Killing Joke, and our lead characters read like reactions to characterizations instead of actual fleshed out parts, and the coloring either feels forcefully cinematic gritty or too garish to bring out some of the emotions Bolland worked hard to put in.

But: it’s still a damn good Batman tale, and if you separate the legacies of these guys from the book and read it without that in mind, it’s definitely leagues above a common comic, and certainly one of the best examples (as there are many) of the whole thin line ‘tween hero and villain paradigm.

The story is pretty simple: Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and subjects him, essentially, to psychological torture, all in the hopes of proving to Batman that the only difference between crazy and normal – between villain and hero – is one bad day. The visual structural techniques used to emphasize this (mostly mirroring panels) feel like a lesser variation of Moore’s employment of this in various other works of his, but Bolland gives it class and precision, and adds in a lot of cues from Bats’ history to enrich the cyclical nature of the story. The book _is_ very mean-spirited – a continuation of Moore’s odd love / hate with comics, making Killing Joke and interesting parallel to Grant Morrison’s decades later run on Batman, which promotes the character as an eternal embodiment of something more iconic and willful, while Moore apparently sees him (and Joker) as suckers for mutual destruction, as urged on by we slavering readers – but unlike less cultured writers who might take up this torch, Moore’s invectives are delivered thoughtfully. The way Batman and Joker chat up one another does _not_ sound like any version of the characters we know outside of this issue, but it’s perfect within the context of the story: it’s an otherworldly, cynical “explanation” of what keeps the sick joke of their conflict ticking. And because it’s an argument so succinctly and cleanly presented, it makes sense that this initially standalone tale was wrapped in to continuity – whether you agree or disagree with Moore’s take; whether or not the gist and presentation feels layered or shallow, you _remember_ reading The Killing Joke and will likely return to it again, if only to confirm that, yeah, it’s a pretty good argument, and it only took a linear, 48-page story to make it.