Batman: The Killing Joke (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland) is highly regarded as one of the best Batman stories ever written. It is hugely popular and fanboys the world over embrace it like it is some sort of geek bible. It tells the origin story of the Joker and gives us the event that leads to Barbara Gordon’s transformation from Batgirl into Oracle. It essentially covers a lot of ground for only being 48 pages.
Being written by Alan Moore (Wathcmen, Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) adds a certain level of credibility and mystique to this tale. That being said, for me, it doesn’t live up to the hype and the fanfare. The story isn’t bad but it just doesn’t develop into something all that thought-provoking, which is what one would expect from Alan Moore.
The Killing Joke gives us one of the many Joker origins and the one presented here has seemingly become the most popular. The thing is, there have been several different Joker origin stories told by several different writers that all vary to large degrees. In fact, in Batman canon, no Joker origin story is considered to be “the one”. The mystery of the character is that we just don’t know what his true origin is and frankly, I think it should be left that way: open for debate till the end of time. Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight plays off of this, as his Joker goes on to tell varying stories of how he got his scars. Even the film Joker’s beginnings are unknown.
When it comes to the character’s origin, I’m more in favor of what was written by Michael Green in Batman: Lovers & Madmen. If you haven’t read it, I suggest that you do. I found it to be a better story than The Killing Joke.
The one thing that The Killing Joke has going for it, especially at the time of its release in the late 1980s, is the amazing art by Brian Bolland. The scenes are fantastically orchestrated and Bolland’s ability to convey emotion through his subjects is pretty spectacular. This definitely upped the ante at the time and brought a new level of artistry to the comic book industry, which was in the midst of a big evolutionary jump at that time. The inks and colors were also incredible and gave this book such a vibrant presentation. More than reading this graphic novel, I just liked to stare at its pages in awe.
I do thoroughly enjoy The Killing Joke but apart from the revolutionary art, it lacks in meat and potatoes, which is pretty uncharacteristic of Alan Moore. I think a lot of people embrace it simply because Moore’s name is on the cover, as he has become a comic book writer who has been deified by the fan community. I’m not saying that Moore hasn’t earned that distinction but this book isn’t on the literary level of someone who has reached that level of worship.