One of the most controversial graphic novels of all time...
"The Killing Joke" is one of the most popular and controversial Batman storylines in the history of the character. It owes it's popularity to peering into the mind and origin of Batman's greatest foe, the Joker. And earned it's controversy due to it's treatment of Batman's partner and one of the most popular female characters in comic books, Batgirl.
The story opens up with Batman visiting Arkham Asylum to have a talk with the Joker. Batman warns the Joker that if their battle of good versus evil doesn't end, one of them is going to end up killing the other, an end that Batman would like to avoid. Unfortunately, the Joker that Batman is talking to turns out to be a goon in disguise, and the real Joker has escaped.
The Joker plots to bring his enemies down to his level. He purchases a decrepit amusement park and turns it into a something terrifying and deadly (typical of the Joker). Putting his plan into motion, the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Joker, but not before shooting his daughter, Barbara Gordon, also known as Batgirl. The Joker cripples her, strips her naked, and takes photographs to use for his torture of the commissioner.
The Joker plans to drive Commissioner Gordon insane by forcing him onto an amusement park ride full of horrors and images of Barbara's broken and bleeding body. Batman has to rush into the amusement park to save the commissioner and apprehend the Joker's plot to prove that anyone can be brought down to his level of madness if given just the right push.
"The Killing Joke" is also full of flashbacks that show how the Joker became the Joker. He was a failing comedian with a pregnant wife to support. He turns to crime and helps a small gang break into a chemical factory where he used to be employed. And because of a certain caped crusader, the desperate man becomes one of the world's greatest supervillains.
I consider Alan Moore to be one of the most talented writers in the history of comic books, and I think that "The Killing Joke" shows his skill when it comes to understanding and justifying the philosophy of an evil character like the Joker. Artist Brian Bolland's is also fantastic and though he is not my personal favorite comic book artist, his depiction of the Joker is one of my favorites.
I think that "The Killing Joke" is a must read story for any fans of Batman or the Joker, however you probably noticed from my synopsis that Batgirl is hardly mentioned, and that's because she plays a very small part in the actual story which adds to the controversy. Not only is she broken and stripped, but it has next to nothing to do with her own character development. She is little more than a prop for Batman and the Joker.
"The Killing Joke" is a story about the Joker and Batman and explores their relationship as foes and their similarities as characters. If you're looking for a fun Batgirl story, this is not it.
ISSUE: Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)
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