If you are looking for “controversial” and “Batman”, look no further than 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke, which continues to spark debate and Twitter fire to this day. A huge resurgence of the story’s controversy come from the current release of an animated film adaptation, which has been been both highly fan demanded and detractor opposed for years. It all seems fitting for a story about dichotomy, dependency and “one bad day”.
Alan Moore’s story here is an updated take on the 1950’s story ” The Man Behind the Red Hood” which gives us an origin of the classic villain The Joker. I say “an origin” since it is told in flashbacks by the Joker himself, who admittedly is an unreliable narrator who prefers his backstory to be multiple choice. The population at large however has accepted this to be pretty much the definitive origin story for the clown prince of crime and have seen it utilized or referenced easily hundreds of times in various media, including influencing Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. Alan Moore himself has stated that he feels this is not his best work and not a very good book, though conversely critics deemed it to be the best Joker story ever written and awarded Alan Moore the Eisner award (the Oscars for comics) for it in 1989. The artwork by Bolland is absolutely gorgeous, even if he felt the need to tweak it George Lucas style 20 years later.
The origin story is not the controversial aspect of The Killing Joke, debated yes, but not heated. If you want fire, lets touch briefly on the hot button issues: Is it canon to Batman’s ongoing lore? If so, was it supposed to be? What happens in the story to Barbara Gordon, the at that time former Batgirl, and how far exactly did it go will always be a touchy and sensitive subject, especially among feminist readers. Even more so since it is left open as a hanging plot thread that a non main Batman comic title (Suicide Squad as a matter of fact, which you might have heard has a live action movie coming out shortly) picked up and ran with to create something more impactful and possibly more important than simply a character that could be broken down to “Batman with breasts”. And what exactly happens at The Killing Joke’s end? If one does not consider this story to be canon, did Batman just (SPOILER?) kill the Joker? Is it even a spoiler if the readership can’t agree that is what is implied? Several websites have debunked that it was the intent of Alan Moore, but that hasn’t stopped the debate all that much. The Killing Joke even has inspired controversy over how it was colored by John Higgins. Described as “not how I wanted” by artist Brian Bolland—who after 20 years completely recolored the book and retouched his artwork—including removing the oval outline around Batman’s chest logo, adding another point of debate for fans.
So now there is an animated film, a “R” rated animated Batman film mind you, making its debut. When the first trailer was released, the animation was critiqued and a fan made alternative started circulating which featured the original 80’s color pallet, oval Bat-Logo and a style closer to Bolland’s work. The Killing Joke was just screened for the first time at San Diego Comic Con, after 10pm because of that R rating, but before the lights went out and the projector started to roll, a massive spoiler to a new addition to the story leaked and fired up a proverbial shit storm. Why should the graphic novel alone get all the controversy, right? The Killing Joke as written was not long enough to fill the 74 minute runtime allotted for WB’s animated “DTV” series (DTV standing for “Direct To Video”, which was the intent, but demand demanded something grander) so a new prologue was created which focuses on Barbara Gordon and her role as Batgirl to flesh out her development in the story (if you are familiar with the story, a “flesh” pun wasn’t intended, but I’ll roll with it). Character development sounds innocent enough right, but apparently internet opinion begs to differ that it goes well beyond character enrichment and into, well, new controversial subject matter that may resonate to how later scenes of this adaptation are interpreted. The animated film is getting a special release in theaters. At first is was scheduled to be a one day only, two showings release, but that has expanded to two days now and hundreds of additional theaters making it Fathom Events largest special release ever to date. Digital release is the 26th of July and BluRay/DVD is August 2. The graphic novel has been released over and over again in various editions. The deluxe edition is available from booksellers, comic shops and digitally on Comixology, which is the recolored version (and also includes several other comics which are not connected story-wise). Any older version, or part of a collection such as “DC Universe: The stories of Alan Moore” will be the original John Higgins’ 80’s colors. If you wish to not take a side on the coloring controversy, a black & white “noir” edition is slated to be released later this summer, though I suspect it will have the oval-less art alterations. Bottom line, The Killing Joke is an absolute classic of the comic medium and should be read by anyone who considers themselves to be part of the fandom.
Rating: 5 stars
Title: Batman: The Killing Joke (the Deluxe Edition)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Brian Bolland
Release Dates: March 2008