Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Spoiler Free Look at The Killing Joke
I’m still not going to spoil the Killing Joke here, but I do feel the need to address why I love this story in light of the negative press it is once again receiving. And much of this press is rightly deserved in my not so humble opinion as the writers made choices I personally wish they had not made. The main writer has also expressed regret over some choices he made while writing it, so I am not alone in my critique, but I also see how those choices do work in the narrative of the story and actually makes sense in the demented outlook of the character driving the story. They are choices I would not have made, but do not distract from the overall story for me.
What makes the Killing Joke unique and special to me is that Alan Moore took a character famous for his lack of motive and gave him a very strict focus; a purpose. Joker was not out to “watch the world burn” as Nolan’s Joker did. He is not engaging in some comical criminal plot as a device for a child’s cartoon. He is not seeking vengeance or any other contrived comic book villain plot in any way, shape, or form this time. This time he is seeking something everyone can relate too: understanding and vindication of who he became. He needs to know that what he became is not his fault and that anyone would have followed his path if given his circumstances. It is the most human motive I have seen for a comic villain outside of Magneto’s desire to prevent another holocaust. It is a motive even Batman himself could relate to.
Again, without spoilers, Joker believes his life is the end result of “one bad day.” He then surmises that Batman’s life is also a result of “one bad day.” If “one bad day” can make Batman into Batman and Joker into Joker, then “one bad day’ should change anyone. He finds the most honest person he can find, Commissioner Gordon, and subjects him to a truly bad day in the hopes of proving his theory correct, thus vindicating himself and showing that he could have just as easily been Batman and, more importantly, Batman could have just as easily become him. It is the details of this “bad day” that have caused so much controversy around The Killing Joke, but it does fit within the context of the “bad day’ Joker himself suffered. And yes, we do get an origin story for the Joker, but even he admits it could be pure fiction.
What makes the Killing Joke such a monumental comic and story is that the writers took two huge figures in American Mythology, a hero and a villain who traditionally are at odds with one another, and showed they were more alike than they were different. It showed us that anyone could become a hero or a villain based on the circumstances of their lives and makes us wonder, if given the depths of that “one bad day” if we would be Joker, Batman, or Gordon when the day was over.