Since the start, Batman has always bordered on the darker side of comic book history. There are many different versions of the character from many different runs, but at its core Batman explores a man who wants to take revenge for the death of his parents by dressing as a bat and living in a cave. Dark is the name of the game.
But, the writer of the iconic Batman graphic novel The Killing Joke, Alan Moore, has argued that his story took that darkness too far, and resulted in something that was “far too violent” for the mythos, or DCU. The Killing Joke, first published in 1988, is widely considered to be one of Batman’s most brutal storylines as it tells a totally disturbing origin story for one of the best DC villains ever: Joker.
Joker’s origins take him from an ordinary family man to the psychopathic Clown Prince of Crime after he’s finally broken by one very bad day. This origin is shown through flashbacks, while in the present timeline, Joker has escaped Arkham Asylum. He attacks Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara Gordon, permanently paralyzing her and taking photos of her resulting damaged body. Joker then kidnaps the Commissioner himself, locks him in a cage and forces him to view the photos in a gratuitous form of psychological torture. You won’t find that kind of twisted tale while rewatching the DC movies in order.
Batman being Batman, he begins a desperate mission to find the Commissioner in order to rescue him from Joker’s sick plans. It eventually leads to an iconic confrontation between the two best DC characters in which Joker tells Batman a joke that Batman actually laughs at, before apprehending his arch-nemesis. Their scenes together are an attempt to show that Batman and Joker’s lives mirror one another: one bad day led to Batman’s quest for justice, and Joker’s quest for chaos.
On Reddit, fans explained why it’s still considered one of the most disturbing comic stories ever. “Prior to it, we didn’t really have such a villain-centric story like this, let alone one so dark,” said user TheFlyingFoodTestee. “It’s also one of the comics that started off the Modern Age, which led to an increase of darker and darker comics. To top it all off, it was one of the first times that a major comic book character was mutilated in such a brutal manner. It’s also worth considering that this was meant to be non-canon, but the book was so good that they decided to make it canon.”
Others agreed, but the decision to embrace the violence and the disturbing plotline is now one that Moore regrets. “I’ve been told the Joker film wouldn’t exist without [The Killing Joke], but three months after I’d written that I was disowning it,” said Moore, speaking to Deadline. “It was far too violent – it was Batman for Christ’s sake, it’s a guy dressed as a bat.”
“Increasingly I think the best version of Batman was Adam West, which didn’t take it at all seriously. We have a kind of superhero character in The Show but if we get the chance to develop them more then people will be able to see all of the characters have quite unusual aspects to them.”
No matter his thoughts now though, Moore’s The Killing Joke was and remains seminal, almost re-defining its characters. It even be traced to a lot of the darkness found in the best movies of the genre from the past decades (especially the ones with Joker) in Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Todd Phillips’ Joker. It’s likely that its influence will be found in Joker 2, too.
For more Bat-fun, check out our guides to the new movies in the series with The Batman 2 release date and everything we know so far about Superman Legacy, which will begin Chapter 1 Gods and Monsters. Or, if you want to watch the end of this era, keep up to date with the Aquaman 2 release date, and learn about Black Manta.