Sometimes, a villain’s message might be stronger than its heroes.
That’s what the Joker sets out to prove, anyway.
For this week’s story, we continue our look at some of the more popular Alan Moore stories that are just ripe for new readers. In the world of comics, author Alan Moore is said to stand at the top of the mountain. I’m here, this month at least, to debate on his behalf. Though, sometimes what I found wasn’t always so pristine perfect.
The thing about Moore, though, is that he always works in some subtle messages beneath the surface of his writing. So while on the top, it appears to be a bombastic explosion of comic book greatness. But, he always has something to say.
Case in point: The Killing Joke.
Some argue that this story, published in 1988 at the near height of Batman popularity (right before the Tim Burton masterpiece was released) is one of the greatest comic stories ever written. It’s most certainly got a lot going for it: Alan Moore writing it. Brian Bolland drawing it. Also, Brian Bolland drawing it. This guy could make painting a wall look interesting if he decided to draw the scene.
Anywho, so, these two guys, masters of their craft, came together to write a story. THE story about The Joker. Accounts vary, in the beginning, of who decided to go forward with the project. Was it Moore? Was it Bolland? However it started, these two were always at the helm, guiding it wherever it went. Now, for those that know Moore, he’s a very meticulous writer. And Bolland, the artist, is just as precise and direct with his artwork as Moore is with his words.
In short, the book took about two years to complete, yet it’s shorter than most other completed collections that we see today.
In recent years, Moore has reflected on what he found wrong with the book. Saying things like it may have not been the best Batman story ever written. Or, how he should have been reined in when it came to the attacks on Barbara Gordon.
Either way, I look at it as all necessary.
Our book begins as Batman visits The Joker in Arkham Asylum. Within the confines of the wall, The Joker sits and plays a game of solitaire. A game, all to himself. As Batman moves through the hallways, other criminals peer out to see.
Batman takes a seat in front of the Joker and speaks some of the best dialogue the two have ever shared.
“Hello. I came to talk.”
The Joker proceeds to play.
“I’ve been thinking lately. About you. About me. About what’s going to happen to us in the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we?”
Within those opening lines, we find the focus for the rest of the story. You see, the Joker wasn’t in Arkham. It was a guard he threatened into taking his spot. The Joker is off, buying a carnival, planning his next big scheme.
A scheme that involves the Commissioner Gordon and his daughter, Barbara Gordon.
One bad day.
At the core of the story, The Joker believes that one bad day can turn anyone into him. He believes, as he sets out, that by cracking Commissioner Gordon and giving him “one bad day” that he’ll turn. He’ll become a lunatic and, suddenly, there will be two freaks in Gotham City.
So, gathering up his circus freaks, The Joker makes a visit to Commissioner Gordon’s house. There, when his daughter Barbara answers the door, she is greeted with a gunshot to her stomach, striking her spine, and paralyzing her.
In a seven panel sequence, one of the most recognizable female superheroes in the world was changed. For a long time after, I might add. Up until a year ago, she remained paralyzed as the other superhero Oracle, a sort of technical-assistant to superheroes in the field. Providing background information, etc. It was a great character decision. However, the point still stood that she was no longer the same Barbara Gordon.
From there, what follows is the worst night of Jim Gordon’s life. The Joker walks him through his thoughts and views of life and madness and how, insanity, and nothing else, is the true way to escape the horrors of the world. Within, a world of horror and torment and circus tunes and pictures of his tortured daughter. The Joker holds true to his word.
One bad day.
Now, the version I reread for the article features new colored work from penciler Brian Bolland. Bolland, as a penciler, is definitely one of the masters of his craft. Small details litter the background. Characters seem to move and interact on their own.
From the Joker’s dotted eyes, hiding in the dark to the throne of broken baby dolls that he sits upon in the carnival of horrors, Bolland brings pain to every panel. Darkness to a world gone mad.
So, the colors. The original 1988 version features colors by John Higgins. Higgins approached the original series with a mentality that, above all else, the colors should reflect the Joker’s state of mind. The carnival of horror sequences, especially, are true to this. As Batman hunts down his nemesis, sickening oranges and greens and yellows fill his eyes. It’s awful and perfect.
However, Bolland did the coloring for the Deluxe Edition Hardcover, the one I used. The colors seem more muted, and I tried to figure out why. It never seemed to add up to the insanity that The Joker tries to permute throughout the entirety of the story. Even as he asks Batman why, why would he never laugh at the joke of life.
Because it’s not funny.
As Batman says, everything that he’s spouting, he’s heard all before. That ordinary people don’t crack. That he had a bad day once, but, instead, attempted to make sense of the chaos.
Our story ends, with not a bang, but a joke. A joke shared by the two.
Some people argue that Moore wrote this story and wrote nothing of value. That, in reality, The Joker merely tortured and terrorized an old man and his daughter. I don’t believe that, though.
I believe Moore attempted to say something stronger. That, yes, one bad day only separates a man from what he could be and what he can be.
One bad day.
Next Week: We look at another one of Moore’s powerful stories that, too, was transformed into a movie. However, this time, his story ides a more powerful piece underneath. Next week, we look at V for Vendetta.
In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, employee and frequenter of Heroes & Villains Comics/Game Store, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about.
Contact him at email@example.com
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