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06/20/2020 17:19:44 •••

Influential for all the wrong reasons

The Killing Joke is an interesting comic for a lot of reasons. The art by Brian Bollard and the formatting of the panels is absolutely superb, although the decision to recolor the comic for later editions is controversial, to say the least. But for me, the most interesting part of The Killing Joke is Alan Moore's writing, and how later comics took all the wrong lessons from this one.

First of all, let's get the subject of women in comic books being Stuffed into the Fridge out of the way. I want to note that The Killing Joke was not the first to be guilty of this — that would probably be The Night Gwen Stacy Died. While I do wish that Moore had spent more time on Barbara Gordon's characterization, as the movie adaptation tried to do, it's not really a major concern of mine. What is most annoying to me is how Moore's writing of the Joker inspired so many authors' interpretation of the character, but for all the wrong reasons.

Moore himself has stated that he feels that since he didn't really understand the characters very well at the time, his characterization of them was inherently wrong. I don't think so — while he was right about the difficulty of character development in a serial medium with no planned end, I think that writers like Moore, who reinvent and reimagine iconic characters like Batman and the Joker, are the lifeblood of the comic book industry, or of any other franchise for that matter. For better or for worse, his interpretation of the Joker (particularly the Multiple-Choice Past and Straw Nihilist elements) has been massively influential. But what most writers choose to ignore about Moore's Joker, and what I consider so fascinating about him, is his humanity.

Now, I think that portrayals of the Joker like that of Heath Ledger — a total cipher with no name, no backstory and no real motivations — is fascinating in its own right. But the truth is that pretty much every Joker story after The Killing Joke portrays the Joker as a Complete Monster who crosses the Moral Event Horizon in increasingly horrible ways every next issue. And frankly, that's pretty damn dull.

As MJTR said in their review, The Killing Joke is a profoundly human Batman story, which is what makes me so aggravated that more Batman authors haven't followed suit. Sure, we've had likeable Jokers in the past — usually because they're so damn funny — but how often do we get a truly pitiable Joker, one who is genuinely depressed but feels compelled to prove his cynical worldview to others just to validate his own existence? Yeah, there's John Doe from Batman: The Telltale Series and Arthur Fleck from Joker, but those are very much the exceptions to the rule. It may be too much to ask for a future Batman story to match the ending of The Killing Joke, with Batman and Joker sharing a poignant laugh at the absurdity of their perpetual conflict. But it would be nice if they tried.

06/20/2020 00:00:00

Batman and Joker sharing a poignant laugh at the absurdity of their perpetual conflict.

That isn't what they were laughing at. Batman offered to "help" him and the Joker used an analogy about two guys from an asylum as his way of saying Batman was just as fargone as he was. Thus, he's in no position to help him, like the second asylum escapee with the flashlight.

It took a moment for it sink, but once it did, Batman realized how ridiculous he sounded which is why he and the Joker laughed. The Villain Had a Point.

Aside from that, it's a well thought out review. The only nitpick I'd have is I've never understood the fascination people have with the Joker for the very reason you mention: the multiple choice past and no clear motivation, besides his obsession with Batman. It's hard for me to get invested in a villain, or any character, if I can't understand what drives them.

Lupin III also has a multiple choice past, but at least we know what his motivation is and why he's so keen on Zenigata. With the Joker, we've got nothing and we little we do get is subject to change anytime therer's a new writer.


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