Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the landmark DC graphic novels that explores the quagmire that is the relationship between Batman and The Joker. Being one of Moore’s seminal works, it went on to influence Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) after its publication in 1988. Heath Ledger is said to have referred to it for his phenomenal performance as The Joker in TDK.
In The Killing Joke, The Joker escapes Arkham Asylum and orchestrates a plan to “prove a point”; that one bad day in a person’s life is enough to send him over the edge. He kidnaps Commissioner Gordon after shooting and paralyzing his daughter Barbara Gordon and subjects him to torture. (The Dark Knight drew heavily on this and replaced Gordon with Harvey Dent. The Joker took “Gotham’s White Knight” and brought him down to “their level”.)
The comic seamlessly travels between the present day and the Joker’s past, painting him a poignant past: a failing stand-up comedian and a father-to-be who reluctantly agrees to aid robbers with a heist to make ends meet. Before the heist goes down, his pregnant wife dies in a freak accident and when he tries to back out, he is strong armed into it. Ace Chemicals, the vat, we know the rest. One bad day in a good man’s life.
The comic’s brilliance lies in its exploration of our response to tragedy. Is there some order to tragedy? Or is it random, a product of the chaos that abounds around us?
On another day, separated by space and time, Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered in front of a young Bruce Wayne. A seemingly random act of violence. The young Bruce sets out to make sense of it, to try and understand why it happened, and failing to do so, decides to become the order in a chaotic world.
The Joker loses himself to a different choice and becomes an agent of chaos because chaos, according to him, is fair. He spirals down into madness, trying to blot out that one tragic day from his consciousness.
In The Killing Joke, the Batman and the Joker set out to understand each other. Order trying to make sense of Chaos and Chaos trying in turn, to upset order.
Our world is one of balance. Order and chaos. Like Yin and Yang, Neo and Mr. Smith. Each gives the other purpose. Without Batman chaos would abound, and without The Joker, there is no meaning for order. And in the end when they share a joke, they seem to have come to terms with it.
The Killing Joke is a masterpiece of storytelling. If you haven’t read it yet, you owe it to yourself.