Who cares about Batman anymore?
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by Steven Cherecwich
In this issue, we review two graphic novels, “The Killing Joke”, written by Alan Moore, and “Joker” by Brian Azzarello. As might be presumed by the titles, both novels feature the Joker in prominence, with hardly a bat in sight.
“The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore ($12.23 from Amazon.com)
Heath Ledger is dead. It’s true, and it’s sad. Some say that it was playing the role of the Joker that killed him, his playing a madman so over the edge that it pushed the real man over the edge…most likely unintentionally killing himself in the process…but killing him nonetheless. You may want to ask me on this subject, Why So Serious?
The answer is more simple than you might think. Heath had to get his source material from somewhere. He had to learn the character somehow. Enter the graphic novel world. Specifically, “The Killing Joke”. This forty-eight page graphic novel tells multiple stories, all woven within a dark and stormy night.
It tells the story of how the Joker came to be.
It tells the story of the Red Hood.
It tells the story of the need Batman and the Joker have for each other.
It tells the story of how Barbara Gordon became the Oracle.
It tells the story of a descent into madness, and back again…of Jim Gordon.
With so many tales being told, there are not enough pages to cover them as detailed as they deserve. This clearly comes out during the pages as the story shifts back and forth in time, telling the story of the Joker today mixed in with the Red Hood of years gone past. This shift in timelines can be confusing, as it bounces back and forth during the course of the novel no less than five times, which can be a burden on the brain keeping the story lines together and coherent…although this is also intentional on the writers part, as the last few pages bring it all together in a cacophony of insane laughter from the Batman himself.
The art style, as illustrated by Brian Bolland and colored by John Higgins, is naturally dark and dreary, the only light and cheery colors being green hair and blood red lips…and I think you know who those belong to. One of the most interesting aspects of the entire novel is that Bruce Wayne is never seen, not once. This is a novel about the Joker, with the Batman playing a supporting role. In the vast majority of panes where the Batman and Joker share the panel, most always the Joker is in the foreground, giving him the spotlight he has always so desperately craved.
As a longtime Batman fan, I have to say this novel disturbed me. It touches upon the depths of insanity, explaining clearly how the Joker became who he is. There are several images which are not so disturbing in the image itself, but rather in the imagery…it is this artwork which gives this novel the level of excellence it has attained as an art form.
“The Killing Joke” was first published in 1988, but has found renewed interest with the passing of Heath Ledger. While the comic has no official rating, I give it a PG-17 for some excessive violence and mature themes of what it means to be sane.
“JOKER” by Brian Azzarello ($13.59 from Amazon.com)
With the success of Heath’s acting comes a new style, a darker personality twist to the Joker of old. No more Cesar Romero of the 1960’s, and gone is Adam West, relegated to Spongebob cartoons and other spinoffs. In their place, we have a dark and violent tale of death, destruction and revenge.
While Alan puts the Joker front and center, Brian has taken the tactic of telling the tale from a flunky point of view. We never once get the feeling that we are watching the Joker do anything, but we are tagging along; we peer over Johnny Frosts’ shoulder from the first panel to the last. We watch Johnny watch, (no..worship), the Joker.
The Joker himself is portrayed in this novel almost straight from the movie, enhanced by the artistic style of Lee Bermejo’s pencils and Mick Gray’s inking, with some help from Patricia Mulvihill. This triage team has put together a character so close to the movie, you might think Heath posed for the pictures. I found it particular interesting to watch the Joker ‘frown’ in a Charlie-Chaplin-is-broke frame, the scars turning his frown upside down.
None-the-less, the story does have its downsides. My biggest gripe with the storyline is that Brian tries to throw in every major character from the series just to prove he can. Along with the Joker, there is Croc, Harley Quinn, Oswald Cobblepot, Harvey Dent, and of course, Batman. Even for 127 pages, this is still a lot of people to be throwing into one story line for any depth of character.
To be sure, it was a good read. I particularly enjoyed a scene on page 122, which ended with “To mock you”. This one line had many subtle undertones to the story, enhancing the overall psychotic-ness of the Joker.
All in all, I would definitely rate this an “M”, for a few thousand gallons of blood, Harley as a stripper, and the overall lackadaisical ‘kill-em-all’ attitude of the Joker.
With “The Killing Joke” in my left hand, and “Joker” in my right, and only $20 in my pocket, which one do I buy??? First thing I do is hope I in a bookstore with a coffee bar in it, so I can sit and idle through the pages while I make up my mind.
Weighing the two books in my hand, I decide on “The Killing Joke”, for three reasons. The first is that it is Heath’s legacy. Any book that drove a man that far, even as an actor, is worth a read. To that end, this same book which inspired the actor then in turn inspired the second book….another testament to its talents. Thirdly, the book has been around since 1988 and (at least on 12/15/08) ranked #275 out of ALL the books on Amazon.com. What more do you need? A history, a future, and a present. Those are only three (of many) reasons to read this excellent novel.