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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Batman: The Killing Joke – The Deluxe Edition

Title:
Batman: The Killing Joke – The Deluxe
Edition







ISBN:
9781401216672


Price:
$17.99


Publisher/Year:
DC, 2008


Artist: Brian Bolland


Writer:
Alan Moore


Collects:
Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: Black & White #4





Rating:
4/5





Since
the very beginning, the Joker was there.





Batman's
long-time nemesis has been, at times, a light-hearted prankster. Occasionally,
he was a grim and murderous clown. More often, he's a maniacal psychopath
without a recognizable moral code. He kills, or plays harmless tricks, on a
whim. The only constants are his garish coloring, his unflagging smile and his
obsession with the Batman.





But
how did the Joker become who he is? Where are the roots of his madness? For
those answers, ignore the trite origin given Jack Nicholson's Joker on the big
screen. Instead, pick up Alan Moore's masterpiece, The Killing Joke.





This
isn't a frivolous comic book by any stretch. Following on the heels of Frank
Miller's grim The Dark Knight Returns, Moore's story sets a new standard for
Joker tales. And it's not always an easy read -- the criminal's easy attitude
towards death and his brutal actions towards several principal characters will
make most human beings cringe a little while reading it.





It's
all in the name of proving a point -- in this case, the Joker's theory that
anyone could go mad if they had a really bad day.





The
Joker's own background is explained through a series of flashbacks, excellently
framed within the main storyline of the book. The images as old and new scenes
merge and segue are well executed -- this would have been a brilliant model for
the first Batman film.





The
pre-Joker -- we never learn his name -- is a budding stand-up comedian. He's
not very good at it, however, and he worries how he'll support his young,
pretty wife and their baby, due in three months. So he reluctantly agrees to
one criminal act, posing as the leader of the Red Hood gang to lead the real
criminals through a chemical processing plant, where he once worked as a lab
assistant, to the neighboring playing card company, which the gang intends to
rob. (With this story, Moore very neatly pulls together several key elements of
the Joker's origin as hinted at in early Batman tales. But Moore's version gets
better and better.)





On
the day of the crime, the nervous young thief-to-be is told by police that his
wife was electrocuted in a freak accident. As if that shock wasn't enough, his
partners in crime refuse to let him back out of the heist. So, already half-mad
with grief, he proceeds as planned ... only to run into the city's new crime
fighter, the Batman. His partners are killed and the faux Red Hood takes the
only escape open to him, through the bubbling chemicals and into the river
outside. The chemicals, as we all already know, had a major impact on the man's
complexion.





The
story is simple enough, but Moore builds the events with a dramatic flair
matched by Brian Bolland's excellent art. Bolland in this book delivers some of
DC's most definitive versions of the Batman, the Joker and Commissioner Gordon.





The
Joker's very bad day is vague in his own memory. He knows something happened to
drive him over the brink, but he no longer recalls exactly what it was.
"Sometimes," he tells the Batman, "I remember it one way,
sometimes another. ... If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple
choice."





So to
prove his point, the Joker, newly escaped from Arkham Asylum, selects
Commissioner Gordon. The unfortunate bystander in the plan is Gordon's
daughter, Barbara, also known as Batgirl. She is shot in the stomach, severing her
spine, stripped and violated in unimaginable ways (thankfully not directly
shown to the reader), and left to die ... which she would have if not
discovered by a friend joining her for an evening yoga class. As it is, we are
told, she will be paralyzed for life.





Gordon,
meanwhile, is brutally beaten and degraded. His senses are assaulted with a
wild array of strange sights and characters, and he's forced to view photos of
his daughter's plight.





The
Batman, meanwhile, is tearing apart the underworld in an attempt to find his
friend. He needn't have bothered; the Joker issues him a personal invitation to
witness Gordon's final humiliation. But the commissioner is made of sterner
stuff than the Joker believed, and the Batman isn't in the mood for jokes.





It's
here we learn that the proper sound to make when hit over the head with a large
piece of wood is "HHUT," and the realization you're about to be
punched very hard by an angry vigilante is "FUHHH." The appropriate
response to being knocked through a wall is "UNNF."





The
interaction and character development in this book is some of the finest DC has
ever produced, and the artwork is a credit to an excellent tale. The complex
relationship between hero and villain, and the inevitable path it must follow,
has never been explored as well as Moore has done here, and his (the Joker's)
discourse on the human condition is thought-provoking, to say the least. The
only flaw in the entire book is on the very last page; given the circumstances,
and knowing what the Joker has done to both Jim and Barbara Gordon, I don't
believe the Batman would have found the joke even slightly funny.







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