Reading Batman: The Killing Joke was such a treat for me. I’ve never read a graphic novel and the last time I picked up even a comic book, I’m sure if it had been as well written as this, it would’ve gone straight over my head. I have to also admit that I had to read through the book twice because the first time around, I was distracted by the pictures. It was almost like watching a movie with subtitles. You need to read the subtitles to know what’s going on, just so you don’t miss any details. But the pictures tell the story, as well. Together, they complement each other in such a way that you know you’ll miss something if you neglect either.
As it stands, I really connected personally with the message in this book. There are times I wonder about the freedom of insanity. I think it must be liberating to not care about what one is supposed to do or needs to do, but to just follow every whim that comes along. Of course, this is dangerous because polite society relies on the constraints of law and sanity to maintain order. If everyone allowed the boundaries to come down and acted however they wanted, this tenuous thread of control would break and mayhem would rule the world.
The Joker had a bad day in which not only his wife and unborn baby died, but he was also set up for a string of robberies he had nothing to do with. To top it off, he falls into a liquid chemical and emerges with the deformations that would mark him as The Joker. Pretty bad day in my book. And while I sympathize with The Joker, I don’t think even those occurrences flipped him to the crazy side, at least, not permanently. He had already agreed to the robbery before he found out his wife was dead. Up to the point that he made the decision, the only bad thing that had happened was he hadn’t gotten a job. While it’s true that bad days are relative to whoever is experiencing them, he still crossed that line before the truly bad things happened.
I question whether The Joker can truly be considered psychotic. I would definitely label him cruel and murderous. But not necessarily psychotic. He has too much knowledge about what it takes to consider someone psycho, and he seems to be able to control his tendencies. The song he sings to the commissioner while he has him captive is very telling of this fact. He sings, “Mister, life is swell in a padded cell, it’ll chase those blues away…you can trade your gloom for a rubber room, and injections twice a day” (Moore and Bolland, 24). Crazy for him is simply a vacation, one he takes when things are rocky. But if he can willfully weave back and forth over the line of sanity and insanity, then perhaps he is simply tired of life sometimes and takes a break.
Then he questions Batman’s sanity by admitting to him that he can tell he’s also had a bad day, and that his reaction to the events was to change into Batman and start fighting crime. The Joker knows there’s a choice when someone who really isn’t insane decides to act so, just to get a break from the ills of life. And throughout his conversation with Batman, he shows himself to be aware of that choice. He simply decides to choose the other side, the side of crime.
The ending joke and the graphics were simply genius. I loved the analogy The Joker made between him and Batman as two crazy men living in a world as crazy as an asylum. In their own ways, each man wants to escape the insanity that surrounds him, but they have different ideas about how to make that escape. He then further likens Batman to the first man, who leaps right into his new life with no problems. Once he sees that his friend hasn’t made the leap so easily, he offers a helping hand, one that The Joker likens to a beam from a flashlight. The Joker stays on the side he is on, telling Batman that they both know that flashlight beam is exactly the illusion it seems to be. Pretty much that Batman’s own trek to the other side may also be an illusion. Then we see in the illustrations that the two men are laughing at the joke, together, and that dirt from The Jokers’ side of the line and Batman’s cape both cross the line over to the other mans’ side. Then the line that separates them, supposedly sane and good and supposedly insane and bad, becomes invisible in the rain. As if both walk a little on each side and are capable of both good and bad, sanity and insanity.
Moore, Alan, and Brian Bolland. Batman: The Killing Joke. New York: DC Comics, 2008. Print.