Fanboy in the Basement: Batman: The Killing Joke
Before I begin, let me tell you about the co-creator of Batman, Bill Finger. Bill Finger (like me) was an aspiring writer and a part time shoe salesman (not that part). He became friends with Bob Kane who later offered him a job ghost writing for the comic strips Rusty and Clip Carson.
With the success of Superman in action comics, the editors of then, National Comics, wanted another hero. Bob Kane came up with the Bat-Man. Kane invited Finger over to see his preliminary sketches. Kane created a Superman like character with red tights, two stiff bat wings and a domino mask, swinging on a rope. Finger suggested that he should use a cowl with pointy ears instead of a mask. He also suggested that instead of wings, he should have a cape. Getting inspiration from the Phantom, he also added gloves and boots and changed the red color. Finger also helped with the creation of the Joker, the Riddler and other villains. He is also credited for creating the name Gotham City and Bruce Wayne.
Now for the Killing Joke. This is one of the quintessential Batman reads, not necessarily for what it says, but mostly for what it doesn't say. The Killing Joke is an origin story for the Joker. It's best to say it's a more detailed origin story. The Joker's origin was first told in Detective Comics 168. And this is a basic retelling of that story told in flashbacks. The nameless Joker (and it's not Jack Napier) was a struggling stand-up comedian, with a young pregnant wife, Jeannie. Wanting to make more money for a better life for the baby and his wife, he chooses to get involved with two criminals. Before he was a stand-up comedian, he was a engineer at a chemical plant, the two criminals want him to guide them through the chemical plant so that they can break into the card company next door. So that no one suspects him, they have him dress as the "Red Hood." (Who they plan to use as a patsy) The attempt is foiled and "The Red Hood" jumps into a vat of chemicals to avoid capture from the Batman, and you know what happens when you jump into a vat of chemicals.
The other story is Joker attempting prove that anyone can go insane by having "one bad day." To prove his point, he targets police commissioner James Gordon. The Joker shoots his daughter, kidnaps him, strips him naked and takes him to a funhouse with weird bug eyed midgets, where he shows him nude pictures of his bleeding daughter. Batman steps in to save the commissioner, but he insists that Batman brings him in "by the Book" to show him that the system works. The final battle ends up with Batman victorious and making a plea that their current course will lead to death. Joker pauses for a moment, but then declines. He tells Batman a joke as to why, a joke that Batman finds funny and the two are laughing hysterically in the rain as the police arrive in the background.
It was Moore's argument that Batman and the Joker were mirror images. Both were created by "one bad day." And it's also brings to the understanding that Batman is just as insane as the Joker.
Written in 1988, with art by Brian Bolland, this is one of the few stand alone stories (not effecting normal continuity) that actually had implications in the current time line. The DC Comics editors accepted the crippling of Barbara Gordon and created a new character, Oracle.
Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the essential Batman stories, including the Dark Knight Returns, Batman Year One, Death in the Family and Long Halloween, just to name a few.
Another Bill Finger note, he wrote an episode on the 1966 TV series. "The Clock King's Crazy Crimes" and "the Clock King Gets Crowned." He died in 1974 and was inducted posthumously into the "Jack Kirby Hall of Fame" in 1994 and the "Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame" in 1999. In his honor, Comic-Con International established in 2005 the "Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Writing" which is given annually to two writers who gave us an important work that did not receive recognition.
One day, maybe DC Comics will give him the byline the he deserves. Batman Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
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