Sunday, 17 November 2013

Batman: The Killing Joke

As its title indicates Batman: The Killing Joke is as much a Joker book as a Batman book. This may not seem particularly noteworthy now, when an entire month’s worth of DC comics can be dedicated to pushing villains to the fore and there are almost as many anti-heroes as there are straight villains. But in the late eighties the approach was still new enough to be a novelty. Even with a big name baddie like Joker. Which was almost certainly a factor when Alan Moore decided he wanted to write it.

The plot is fairly basic. Joker targets Commissioner Gordon with a series of vicious pranks and attacks, his goal bring to prove that anyone can be taken down to their lowest, insane ebb with one bad day. Batman saves the day (natch) by tussling with Joker and saving Gordon from his seemingly overwhelming despair. Along the way we get a look at The Joker before he became The Joker and Barbara ‘Batgirl’ Gordon gets shot.

I'm paraphrasing but that's the basic gist.

The shooting was a rare example of a comic book occurrence that had a long term impact. Barbara remained paralysed until DC’s line-wide reboot in 2011. It wasn’t something cynically dreamt up to create a readership spike, it was something Moore devised to have dramatic impact. It did and does.

As a Batman comic it works. It does something new with established characters without betraying their roots or emotions and captures the gritty feel of Gotham City. As an Alan Moore comic it also works. A bad guy dragging a morally courageous man down to his level just because he can is exactly the sort of thing Alan Moore is known for writing.  

The book is well-written and nicely paced over its dozens of pages. It's entertaining and benefits from some lovely art provided by Brian Bolland (with the deluxe edition currently on bookshelves getting a great recolour job also provided by Bolland). Perhaps most importantly it followed on from the themes that began with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and played into the darkening of the Batman character. That's something we take for granted now as it's been the standard approach for twenty-five years, but it wasn't the guaranteed recipe for success when written that it is now. The approach has been a factor in the character's longevity, and we have Alan Moore (as well as Miller) to thank for that.

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