Batman: The Killing Joke (May 1988)

Story: The Killing Joke (48 pages)

Writer(s): Alan Moore
Pencils: Brian Bolland
Inks: Brian Bolland

Bruce Wayne / Batman, Joker (also as Red Hood in a flashback), James Gordon, Barbara Gordon / Batgirl

Minor Characters / Guest Appearances:
Harvey Dent / Two-Face, Jeannie (the Joker's wife), Alfred Pennyworth, Colleen Reece, Harvey Bullock, Oswald Cobblepot / Penguin

It's a rainy night. Batman meets James Gordon in front of the Arkham Asylum. Batman is there to visit the Joker, Gordon waits outside the cell. Batman wants to talk to the Joker to break their vicious cycle of mutual obsession, that he thinks will lead one of them to kill the other in the end, and he doesn't want Joker's murder on his hands. The Joker sits there silently playing solitaire, Batman grabs the Joker's hand and notices that the white skin is not genuine but make-up. It turns out the Joker has escaped Arkham Asylum once again. The Joker is at an abandoned carnival ground, which he prepares as the scene for his next crime. He wants to prove that anyone will go insane under the right circumstances, that he is not different from the rest. To illustrate this, he tries to drive James Gordon insane. He shoots James Gordon's daughter, Barbara Gordon, causing her permanent paraplegia, assaults her sexually (at least he removes her clothes), and takes photographs of her. He has James Gordon beaten up, then kidnaps him and brings him to the carnival to torture him. There the Joker puts Gordon in a bizarre scenario to drive him mad. Gordon's clothes are removed, a collar is put around his neck, and he's tortured with a tazer by two weirdly dressed midgets. In a ghost train ride he's shown the pictures of Barbara, as she lies naked and injured, again and again, and taunted and mocked by the Joker, who tells him that human existence is mad, random and pointless, and madness the appropriate response. Meanwhile Batman tries to find a lead on the Joker, but nobody knows anything. The Batsignal appears and Harvey Bullock gives Batman an invitation and entry ticket for the carnival that the Joker has sent to Batman. As Batman arrives at the carnival, he and the Joker grapple briefly with each other, but the Joker buys some time by spraying acid at Batman, and runs into the House of Fun. Batman frees James Gordon, who's been put in a cage outside. Gordon didn't go mad, and insists that the Joker must be brought in by the book, to prove to the Joker that their way works. The Joker tells Batman what he wanted to prove, that they are not different, that they both have been driven mad by one bad day, only that Batman refuses to admit to his madness, and insists on pretending that life makes sense when it does not. Batman replies that Gordon is as sane as ever, that not everybody cracks, so maybe it was the Joker himself all along. They fight, the Joker's gun is empty and he admits defeat, and asks Batman what he's waiting for. Batman explains that he doesn't want to hurt him, that he thinks that maybe tonight is the last chance for them to escape their suicide course. He offers to help him, to rehabilitate him but Joker says that it is too late for that. He says it reminds him of a joke, and he tells Batman a joke of two guys trying to escape a lunatic asylum, and though Batman is reluctant to laugh at first, in the end he cracks up too, and they stand together in the rain, laughing, as the police comes to pick up the Joker.
Intercut with the main story are flashbacks of Joker's memories, telling a possible origin story for the Joker: To get money for his wife and the baby they were expecting, the Joker agreed to lead two men from the Red Hood mob into the chemical plant where he used to work, before he gave up his job as a lab assistant to become a comedian. The same day the robbery is supposed to take place, his wife dies in a freak accident with a baby-bottle heater, but the mobsters insist that he still has to come along. They make him wear a red hood and cape, also to draw attention to him, instead of them, but the Joker doesn't realize this. The robbery in the chemical plant doesn't go as planned, because security procedures have been changed since then. Batman appears on the scene, confronting the Joker, because Batman thinks he's "Red Hood," the leader, not realizing that the mask is worn by different people. The joker flees, and jumps into a vat with chemicals to escape through some sewage system, but the chemicals transformed his face, skin and hair to his "Joker" appearance, seeing this he goes mad, and becomes obsessed with Batman.

Important Continuity Events:
- The Joker offers a possible origin story.
- The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, the bullet hits her spine, this results in her paraplegia. [p. 14]

Bruce Wayne Character Details:
- Batman is convinced he and the Joker will end up killing each other. He wants to avert that outcome, to save or rehabilitate the Joker. [p. 5]

Barbara Gordon Character Details:
- Barbara worked at the library. [p. 13]
- Barbara had nightmares as a kid about the Joker, because her dad told her stories about him. [p.13]
- She has yoga classes with her friend Colleen. [p. 13]

James Gordon Character Details:
- James Gordon keeps scrapbooks for newspaper articles relating to Batman, Catwoman, and possibly other costumed heroes and villains. There are at least so many that Barbara thinks he needs a filing system. [p. 13]

Joker Character Details:
- Before he became the Joker he wanted to work as a stand-up comedian, but wasn't very successful. [p. 8]
- He and his wife Jeannie were expecting their first child. [p. 8]
- He felt he was a looser. [p. 9]
- Jeannie thought he was funny and good in bed. [p. 9]
- Joker was a lab assistant, but quit to be a comedian. [p. 16]
- To get money for his family he gets involved with crime, he agrees to get the others through the chemical plant where he used to work. [p. 16]
- The Red Hood gangsters ask him to wear a bow tie and a suit since it's their trade mark. [p. 23]
- His wife died as she was testing a baby-bottle heater. [p. 23]
- The Joker is disfigured as he jumps into a vat with chemicals while running from Batman, terrified by Batman's appearance. [p. 32]
- He goes mad seeing his disfigured face on top of loosing his wife, as he realizes what a black, awful joke the world was. [p. 33]

Note about the Joker origin story: The Joker himself says, he prefers to have multiple pasts and that he remembers different versions, so it isn't certain that his memories here are the "true" origin story. [p. 40]

- Harvey Dent's number in Arkham is 0751. [p. 3]
- The Joker's number in Arkham is 0801. [p. 3]
- Batman has a "family" photo in the Batcave, it shows Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Alfred (?), another woman in a costume (she's ?), another man in a regular suit (he's ?), a dog, and a small child (or maybe a puppet ?) in a bat costume. [p. 11]
- The visible trophies in the Batcave are a dinosaur, the huge penny, and some penguin. A Bat-gyrocopter is also visible, it's suspended from the ceiling with a chain. [p. 11]
- The newspaper articles seen in Gordon's scrapbook are "Asylum Security Uproar. Maniac Escapes Again. Crimefighter Unavailable For Comment. Vicki Vale Exclusive" in the Gotham Examiner, for the current day incident, and one from the first time Batman encountered the Joker, saying "Bat-Garbed Vigilante Critically Injures Murderer. Disfigured Homicidal Maniac In Hospital" [p. 13]
- The Joker's gun has two barrels, one for the bullets, another one where a flag with "click click click" written on it comes out when the gun is empty. [p. 44]

Posted by RatC