Alan Moore & Brian Bolland: Batman - The Killing Joke
Moore, Alan & Brian Bolland. Batman: The Killing Joke (The Deluxe Edition) (New York: DC Comics, 2008)
In honor of the new Dark Knight film--featuring Heath Ledger's final (complete) film role--I revisited a classic from the Batman comics canon: the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland tale The Killing Joke. The newly recolored hardcover "Deluxe Edition" may seem unnecessarily extravagant at $18 for a 46-page story, but its brilliance outweighs its brevity. Van Jensen's ComixMix review says:
The Killing Joke is without question one of the greatest encounters between Batman and his nemesis, and the real reason is that the story serves both as a zenith for the Joker's depravity and for his pathos. [..] It makes a Joker that's more real, and more terrifying.
The Killing Joke isn't nearly substantial enough to be classified as a graphic novel, but it's a very successful short story and a great example of what talented creators can produce within the comics medium. (This edition also includes an 8-page Batman tale, "An Innocent Guy," from Batman: Black & White. Bolland wrote, drew, and colored this story; it fits well with The Killing Joke, and helps add a little more bang for the buck in this slim volume.)
I read the new Killing Joke side-by-side with the original version, and noted a few minor artistic revisions: the yellow oval around the symbol on Batman's chest is gone, and Bolland admits that "every page has something slightly different on it from The Killing Joke of 20 years ago" (such as the inclusion of a new background figure in one of the panels--can you find it?). Heidi MacDonald discusses the coloring at Publishers Weekly, and Jon Haehnle has several well-chosen recoloring comparisons here. My favorite compare-and-contrast example is this one from the Joker's origin sequence:
While John Higgins did a dramatic job with the original colors, Bolland goes for more contrast (and for bleeding eyes, as many observers have noted):
I'm largely a fan of the newer, more subdued color scheme, although Higgins' more expressive work on the original wasn't bothersome either then or now. Bolland's scene-to-scene transitions remain some of the best I've ever seen, being almost uniformly excellent. Here are the two transitions (pp. 6-8) which bookend the Joker's flashback from his purchase of a dilapidated circus to an incident with his wife about a failed nightclub gig:
After she consoles him, the Joker snaps back to the present:
The first and last panels of the story are identical, which ties the story together nicely. (I wish the Deluxe Edition had preserved the original use of the rain-puddle image on the endpapers, rather than using sickly green.)
Is The Killing Joke the perfect Batman/Joker story? No, although it's one of the best I've ever read. Batman's reaction on the last page nearly ruined the ending of the story for me, seeming quite out of character. <SPOILER> A silently dismissive response from Batman would have been more appropriate and would have echoed the tale's opening in a very intriguing manner. However, doing so may have required changing the story's title.</END SPOILER> The overall excellence of the rest of the book is still thrilling and explains why I--and, apparently, many others--still hold The Killing Joke in high esteem since its initial release two decades ago.
I would have more trouble believing that it's really been twenty years since The Killing Joke came out, but that same time period also saw the Grant Morrison/Dave McKean Arkham Asylum, and the Frank Miller/David Mazzuccelli Batman: Year One story. (Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns is slightly older at 22 years; without the reinvigoration of the Batman franchise provided by it--and, of course, by The Killing Joke--we may not have seen the 1989 Tim Burton film or any of its successors.)
The legacy of Bob Kane lives on!
[chronology errors fixed]