Batman: The Killing Joke


Holy See! It’s an Agoraphobic Reviewer first. Today’s instalment is only on that most maligned of print genres: the graphic novel, specifically, Batman: The Killing Joke. The idea for this post arose from a conversation with my fellow agoraphobe and reviewer, Banjo Fett, who has promised to lend me said publication only after I’ve reviewed it. It’s a done deal! Here’s the review:

The panels of this graphic novel are a sweet gumbo of blurry butcher’s shop faces (a la Francis Bacon), wild orange hues (think the Fanta adverts but oranger) and self-consciously lame squiggles (like Sin City but, unlike that comic, deliberately so). Together these elements combine to make a heady soup for the eye, which fools you as it pours smoothly and easily into your pupil and then sticks a jagged crouton bang in your iris. Yowzer! This is one kickass palette.

For centuries, the legend of the ‘Killing Joke’ has been known only to a secret cabal of comedians. Des O’ Connor once wrote a pamphlet on it for the BBC newsletter, but covert forces of a morally ambiguous persuasion intervened to prevent its publication. The article was shredded and Des was duffed up vigorously. The giblet-voiced, pudding-faced radio DJ Chris Moyles even once tried to tell the Killing Joke live on his show, but, inevitably, forgot all of the words and got it in the wrong order. No harm was done, the secret remained unrevealed and so, alas, no retribution was inflicted upon Moyles.

In this graphic novel, Bruce Wayne AKA Batman is the keeper of the Killing Joke secret. Indeed, unbeknownst to most fans of the franchise, Wayne moonlights as a sort of deadpan observational comedian. ‘What’s the deal with tax deductible charity organisations?’ he asks at a gig, referencing both Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ and his own splendid wealth. ‘If I needed to scrimp on tax I wouldn’t give my dollars to some bleeding heart assholes. I’d fuck off to Buenos Aires and have myself a tax evasion party. You know what I’m saying?’ (this, it should be added, is not the killing joke). His hard-hitting satire reflects the uncompromising way in which he pummels villains’ noses in, as Alan Moore points out in the introduction to this tome.

The plot of this draw-piece gets its narrative on when, one day, the Joker gets wind of Batman’s knowledge of the Killing Joke. He is furious and vows to obtain the joke by any means necessary. ‘I am the Joker and I kill people, therefore I should be privy to the Killing Joke’, he reasons, with an uncharacteristically plausible syllogism. ‘By the heavens that gag shall be mine’ he howls. ‘Hey, Joker, take a chill pill’ quips Mr Freeze who happens to be sauntering past the Joker’s window at that very moment on his way to the newsagents. The Joker seethes silently, unable, for the first time in his mysterious life, to think of a cogent riposte.

After the Joker kidnaps Robin and threatens to castrate him, Batman finally agrees to reveal the secret. Batman tells the joke, with a kind of Bill Hicks-esque insouciance, intermixed with Jerry Seinfeld-style shrugs and eyebrow raises. The joke is in such bad taste that the Joker vomits all over his own purple plus-fours and screams. Seizing the opportunity, Batman kicks the Joker in his ears and rescues Robin, who has, alas, already been eunuchised.

Unable to forget the gruesome imagery and inappropriate references both to taboo social practices and several separate historical instances of genocide, the Joker renounces his life of crime and becomes a landscape gardener. Batman AKA Bruce Wayne goes on to play Madison Square Garden. Some say he has sold out and lost his edge, catering more to the tame comedic tastes of middle America. Moore tactfully avoids confirming or refuting this position and draws the story to a graceful and pastel-coloured close.


5 Responses to “Batman: The Killing Joke”

  1. Banjo Fett Says:

    As our friend the Joker might say: ‘Ha-haa-he-hoo-ha.’

    And as our friend Christian Bale might say: ‘You done a right bleedin’ job on the ol’ Batboob. Stitched ‘im up proper, like. Grumble, grumble.’

    And as our friend Heath Ledger might say: ‘…’

  2. oldrope Says:

    I too wanted to read this tome, but if it’s owt like that then frankly you can keep your sodding joke. Why does everything these days have to be about clowns and Chris Moyles. For shame.

    Your oldest of ropes,

    Old Rope

    • johnlebaptiste Says:

      You love it OR. I’ve seen you send your CVs off to Chris Moyles in the hope of becoming his new ‘Comedic Dave’.

  3. Banjo Fett Says:

    Old Rope obviously didn’t get the memo that clearly stated, and I quote, ‘EVERYTHING these days MUST BE about clowns or Chris Moyles.’

  4. johnlebaptiste Says:

    If Chris Moyles were a clown (professionally, not just in point of fact) he would be called Mr Ro-Hypnols.

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