I don’t often get to go to the library with the family, because they usually go during a weekday, when I’m at work. But we went all together one evening this week. I helped Calfgrit6 pick out a couple of books on hamsters, (his newest animal interest), and then I looked over the graphic novel section.
As a comic book geek, I’ve heard of Batman: The Killing Joke a few times over the years, (it was published in 1988), but I’ve never read it, personally. I like the stories Alan Moore wrote for Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, (both of which I own), so I figured he’d tell a good Batman story, too. But this story left me all “What the hell?”
It starts out with Batman going to Arkham Asylum to have a heart-to-heart chat with the Joker. And I’m not using “heart-to-heart” as a euphemism for Batman growling and hitting, either. He actually says, “I’ve been thinking lately, about you and me. About what’s going to happen to us, in the end. … I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome.” Batman is sitting across a table from the Joker, and the only person missing is Dr. Phil.
Well, it turns out that Joker has already escaped and Batman is actually talking to some idiot in makeup, (which Batman only figures out after he accidentally smears the makeup). Yeah, the World’s Greatest Detective is fooled by clown makeup, sitting within three feet of his arch nemesis.
Meanwhile, the Joker murders a man. Then he invades Commissioner Gordon’s home by shooting Barbara Gordon, (the Commish’s young-woman daughter), permanently paralyzing her from the waste down. He then has a thug beat and capture Gordon while he strips Barbara and takes pictures of her broken and bleeding naked body. He takes Gordon to an old carnival and humiliates and tortures him with the naked, bleeding pictures of his daughter.
Now, I understand that the Joker is a mean SOB. He’s a murderous psychopath. Yes. I’m not writing that above paragraph because I’m surprised at what the Joker is capable of, nor to disturb any readers who may not fully comprehend that the Joker is truly evil and not just “funny crazy.” But explaining the above puts Batman’s actions into context.
Batman goes to Barbara Gordon’s hospital bedside and tries to comfort her. He then gets the Joker’s invitation to come to the carnival. So, of course, Batman goes.
Batman goes a short round of fighting with the Joker, but the Joker gets away. Batman frees Commissioner Gordon, and then goes on after the Joker again. When they fight again, I’m rather surprised at how badly Batman fights, or at how well the Joker fights back. The fight ends not with the Joker unconscious, but with the two of them having the Dr. Phil conversation that Batman wanted to have in the asylum.
As I’m reading everything Batman is saying, I swear, I’m stunned. The Joker is standing there, free, listening to Batman plead for them to not hate each other. As it starts to rain, (which I believe is God trying to give Batman cover for the tears probably about to roll down his cheeks), the Joker tells a joke. Joker immediately cackles, and then Batman starts laughing with him, as the police sirens arrive.
Yeah, it was a funny joke. But the man telling it has, in just the past day or so, murdered a man, shot and crippled a defenseless young woman, stripped her naked and took pictures, and captured and tortured an old man. You don’t plead for peace with such a person, and you don’t share laughter with him. You freakin’ beat him to death. With your fists and boots. Okay, sure, Batman doesn’t kill. I always thought that was because he was strong and had principles. But from this story I see it’s actually because he’s a big ol’ wuss who’s afraid to do what frickin’ needs to be done to make his city safe.