Graphic Novel Review 181/365: The Killing Joke

Please keep up with all of my old Graphic Novel Reviews here as I quest for 365 in 365 days! Or search #GN365 on Twitter.

You might have noticed that I have not reviewed a lot of DC Comics here on the 365 quest.  DC has never really been my thing.  I mean, I dig Batman, but that’s about where my DC reading road ends.  But that’s all about to change because until next Sunday, it’s a DC title a day!  Get ready!  If you do not have much exposure to DC titles, join the club and follow along as I dive right in…eleven days in a row.

DC Day Four:

Title: The Killing Joke   

Author(s): Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

Publisher: DC Comics (1988)

Age Rating: 17+

A few years ago, there was a teacher new to our district that was going to be teaching the graphic novel course.  She did not have much experience with comics/graphic novels, so she Googled “good graphic novels,” and she found The Killing Joke.  So…she ordered a class set.  I was like…wha??  And since then, I have been using The Killing Joke in my classroom.

Considered the definitive Joker book, The Killing Joke is a must for any Batman/Joker fan.  And if you are new to hero books, Batman actually has quite a few graphic novels that are unique to him and can be read as stand-alones, The Killing Joke being one of those books.

This book does a number of things right.  First, it’s paced beautifully.  There are some parts of the book where The Joker’s rants make a bit too much sense, and he gets the reader sympathizing with him, and just when you think the world sucks and everything is pointless, Batman swoops through and punches The Joker in the face, making you feel better, foolish even for letting yourself go to that dark place.  Besides the pacing, this book is also unique in that it gives us a rare look into The Joker’s past.  We get glimpses of him as a young man, trying to support a family through rough times.  We get to see his transformation through one bad day from normal guy to deranged criminal, ultimately causing The Joker to test his theory of all of us being one bad day from madness on Commissioner Gordon.

This is where the book gets its 17+ rating.  The Joker does a number of heinous things to Gordon and his family, and many of them are brutal and unforgiving, but even in the face of it all, he never loses his ability to see the situation for what it is and not lose his mind.  At least long enough for Batman to save the day.

There is a lot to analyse is this book.  There are the many unique themes, the bookending opening and closing pages, the fact that The Joker actually tells a joke that makes Batman laugh, and the ambiguous ending in which people have made solid arguments that Batman kills The Joker.  I do not believe so, but judge for yourself.

There is an animated film based on the book that came out last year.  You can skip that.  It’s terrible.  But the book: solid.  My seniors always have fun discussing it, and you should check out my “Resources” page for the assessment based on this title.

This 1988 classic holds up, and if you engage in enough discussions about hero comics, this one will eventually come up, so be prepared with your analysis!

Happy reading!


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