Batman The Killing Joke has become such a part of the Batman mythos that it’s hard to imagine what the initial reception was like. A Prestige Format release in the vein of The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Killing Joke had a massive impact on readers immediately.
A sophisticated tale from the British comic team of Alan Moore (fresh off of the Watchmen) and Brian Bolland (a stunning 2000 AD artist relatively unknown in the US), Killing Joke took the contemporary Batman universe and twisted it into a hard unrelenting knot. The character of the Joker was humanized for the first time with a full origin. Shown as the fall guy member of a gang of thugs, The Joker is conned into wearing a strange red hood to give their heist a more dramatic flair. The Red Hood is also a sure way to distract Batman who is drawn to outrageously dressed villains. As we all know, the heist goes sour and The Joker falls into a vat of chemicals that bleaches his skin and dyes his hair, turning him into the maniacal Joker.
The surprising part of Killing Joke is that for all the humanizing of the character of the Joker, it is without a doubt the most vicious and horrifying tale to feature the Clown Prince of Crime. The abduction of Commissioner Gordon and wounding of his daughter Barbara (formerly Batgirl) is just a first step in the torture of the forces of control that the Joker despises so much. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who have not read this classic, but it contains some truly unpleasant moments that added a new level of insanity and danger to the Joker that vivified a character who had become frankly tired (and just in time for the 1989 Batman movie).
The deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition of Batman The Killing Joke is hitting the shelves this Wednesday. Be sure to check it out and see why it is looked upon as the definitive Joker story and one of the most important Batman stories of the last 25 years… wait… it’s been 20 years!?