A Challenged Graphic Novel: Batman: The Killing Joke – Written by Paul Lee
I never realized that Batman: The Killing Joke was considered a challenged book. The comic book received the label because someone in Columbus, Nebraska asked for it to be removed from circulation. Fortunately, the library board voted to keep it. We like to include challenged books in our list of must-reads, especially during our Banned Books Month where we highlight the importance of fighting for the right to read – and in conjunction with our #ArrestedReading and #BannedBookMugshot campaigns across all Bookmans locations.
Alan Moore and Brian Bollands’s 1988 Batman: The Killing Joke is an unsettling Batman comic book that has remained a classic to this day. The comic took a headlong dive into the depths of darkness in the Batman universe that had never been seen in a DC comic or any other publication/outlet before. The cover features the Batman’s arch-nemesis Joker smiling malevolently with his rictus grin behind a SLR camera that makes you feel uncomfortable and exposed. It’s a story about duality, violence and justice.
When I first opened this masterpiece of graphic fiction I was beside myself with glee (I also have a sick sense of humor). Finally I had found a Batman story that was written for mature fans like myself and was also a psychologically complex work of fiction. A trained psychologist could breakdown all the elements of psychopathology and fill a book with their analysis.
The last time I read Killing Joke was a few years ago but I recently re-read and watched the new animated version of the comic. Like any great book, Batman: The Killing Joke still thrilled and chilled me as much as when I first read it in my 20’s. The art by Brian Bolland is one of the reasons the book has resonated with fans for over 30 years. Also, Alan Moore’s writing brought the quality of the book to new heights with a complexity of the Batman and Joker’s characters that was seldom seen in mainstream comics.
Where the Joker was a complete mystery in past Batman comics, Joker’s origins were finally explored. Suddenly, one of the creepiest villains in comics was given a touch of humanity which added to the richness of this fascinating character. Now the Joker wasn’t just a malevolent clown for the sake of evil, he became more human when Moore brought to light Joker’s failed career as a comedian and how he became widowed. Tim Burton used this framework for his version of the Joker in 1989’s Batman movie, though he was a gangster instead of a failed comedian.
A controversial aspect to The Killing Joke was when Barbara Gordon, (who’s secret identity is Batgirl and who is the daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon), was brutally crippled by the Joker as he shot her point-blank in the pelvis when he and his thugs arrived at her apartment. To some critics, the Joker’s cruel act seemed to be violence for the sake of shock value. Some critics said that Joker’s attack on Barbara perpetuated violence towards women in comics. There were even interpretations of the comic that suggested Joker took things a little too far with Barbara (if you know what I mean – also, one of the reasons it is a challenged book) but according to the creators he only proceeded as he did to photograph her and in turn, torture Jim Gordon by having done so later in the book.
Admittedly, the Killing Joke is a violent and dark comic but in my opinion, and in comparison to many other banned books, it barely qualifies as a disturbing read. Seeing the violence portrayed in the animated movie made it more visceral but it wasn’t any worse than the average action movie. While I wouldn’t recommend it for kids under 12, this graphic novel is an important work of fiction, and an absolute classic.
Bookmans carries a plethora of comics to suit just about any burning desire to read. From The Killing Joke to Superman, Bookmans is your one stop shop for comics and other graphic novels that are sure to make your list of top reads and make their debut with your #BannedBookMugshot this month during #ArrestedReading.
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