Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “Batman: The Killing Joke”

A Must Read 300This week I am reviewing something a little different, but that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on: Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore (illustrated by Brian Bolland). This is perhaps the most legendary graphic novel of all time, so when a friend picked up the deluxe edition recently, I just had to tear into it. Originally written in 1988, The Killing Joke provides one of the most personal insights into the mind of the Joker that has ever been put on paper.

Right from the onset of this book, the tone is substantially darker than most Batman comics or novels. Without spoiling too much about the plot (for those Batman fans living under a rock for the past three decades or so), the Joker breaks out of Arkham Asylum and immediately begins his plans for vengeance against Batman. Kidnapping someone close to the beloved Caped Crusader, the Joker does everything in his power to prove that everyone is just like him, deep down inside. Since the novel isn’t particularly long, I can’t give too much more of the plot. Still, it is surprising how little Batman appears in arguably some of the darkest material involving him. The Killing Joke is almost entirely the story of the Joker, and after reading it you have a much better understanding of the character.

Brian Bolland’s illustrations are gorgeous, and give the novel a decidedly Gothic and Noir vibe: an appropriate choice for a Batman novel. But the faces are where Bolland’s work shines. You can clearly read every thought going through a character’s head just from a cursory glance at their expression, particularly the Joker. Don’t mistake this novel for a basic teen-oriented superhero beat-em-up comic book. The point of The Killing Joke is the glimpse inside the Joker’s mind it offers, and honestly is some of the more fascinating psychological looks at criminology and insanity I’ve seen in any medium.

The Killing Joke is a difficult novel to review, because it is almost impossible to quantify how a novel makes you think. From a technical standpoint, the illustrations found within are beautifully detailed, and the writing varies from solidly sufficient to exceptional (especially for a medium that can sometimes suffer in that department). Most importantly, it is a brilliant look into the mind of possibly the most famous supervillian in pop culture, and shows a great deal of depth that can be found in the least likely of places. I can’t stress enough that you don’t have to be a Batman fan to find something to love about The Killing Joke. It is a quick read, and requires very little (if any) prior knowledge about the series in order to be effective. I urge fans of serial killer fiction (and nonfiction, honestly), or even a mild degree of psychological horror, to check it out when you’re looking for a quick fix.

Source: Jake Depew, Assistant Editor