Let’s Get Retro: “Batman: The Killing Joke”

By April 19, 2014

While I may not be a weekly comic book reader, I know what I like – and most of the time, what I like are one-shots and event books.

Today, I’m going to talk about my absolute favorite one-shot on the planet, the 1988 classic, Batman: The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore (Watchmen) with art by Brian Bolland, colors by John Higgins and lettering by Richard Starkings.

Through a series of flashbacks, we meet Jack, a guy who left his job as a lab assistant for a chemical company to fulfill his dream of being a stand-up comic. Unfortunately, he’s not a very good one. Jack’s loving and supportive wife Jeannie is VERY pregnant and since he’s not making any money as a comedian, the lure of “easy money” sees him drunkenly agreeing to wear a red hood (yes, THAT red hood) he can barely see out of and walk two guys through his former workplace in order for them to rob the place next door. It’s then the police tell him that his beloved Jeannie was fatally electrocuted while testing a baby bottle heater, causing a grief-stricken Jack to want to back out of the plan; however, he’s talked into going ahead with the caper.

When it’s discovered the plant has bumped up their security and one of the crooks is killed in the crossfire, the other wounded crook points the finger at Jack, calling him “The Red Hood,” and when confronted by Batman on a catwalk, Jack jumps into the waste pound lock and is shunted through the outdoor runoff pipe. He gets to shore and boom…you probably know the rest.


In the present day part of the story, things get MUCH more frightening when The Joker has a plan to drive Commissioner Gordon out of his mind in order to show that even someone like Gordon can go berserk after “one bad day” (thereby wiping out Batman’s only true ally and friend). He ambushes the Gordons at their home, shooting and paralyzing Barbara (above), taking Jim Gordon back to his newly purchased hide-out (an abandoned amusement park), stripping him naked, chaining him to one of the park rides, and forcing him to look at projected pictures of the helplessly wounded Barbara left naked and bleeding on the apartment floor.

For those of you who’ve never read it, I don’t want to give away what else happens but I CAN tell you that artist Brian Bolland’s images of The Joker are beautiful and absolute nightmare fuel all at the same time. I LIVE for horror films and am rarely ever scared anymore, but I have a fear of white faces, bulgy eyes and long or unusually messed up teeth (see James Wan’s Dead Silence for reference) – and this is EXACTLY what Bolland’s done with his vision of Joker. The messed up thing is I CAN’T STOP STARING AT HIM: Bolland’s Joker absolutely freaks me right the f*** out but I’ll sit and stare for ages.


And as The Joker is known for having MANY origin stories, I actually enjoy and often lean toward this as his origin because it’s the most heartbreaking and seemingly, the most plausible. Batman and Gordon’s storylines are also amazing, but in this book, it’s all about The Joker…and I’m perfectly okay with that.

Everything about this book is bananas and also rather important: this is where Barbara Gordon is shot and paralyzed by The Joker – the impetus for her going from Batgirl to Oracle – as well as the Batman version of “Who Shot First?” only it’s “Did he or didn’t he kill The Joker?”

If you want to read/see The Killing Joke the way artist Brian Bolland had John Higgins originally color it, then pick up the 20th anniversary edition of the book published in 2008 that includes bonus extras (like Bolland’s inspiration for the cover) or grab the digital version – both of which I own!

What say you? If you’ve read TKJ, what’s your favorite part? And if you haven’t read it yet, what seems the most appealing to you?

Coming soon: Batman: Noel, Marvel 1602, Civil War and more!

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Cricket Lee
Star Wars fangirl. Named Best Kisser by Time Magazine. CEO/Host: Girl Gamer; host of Gecken: GeekNation; writer: Dread Central. You'll have a crush on me soon. Vote Quimby. Twitter: @crixlee http://www.imdb.me/crixlee