I’ve just read this article over at Blastr.com. The piece details a discussion between comic-book legend Grant Morrison and film-maker Kevin Smith.
As the conversation moves onto Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s’s The Killing Joke, long regarded as the greatest Batman story ever written, Morrison reveals that at the end of the book Batman kills the Joker, something that most readers, including an amazed Kevin Smith, missed.
Holy shit. I’ve read that book loads of times, my copy is signed by Brian Bolland and the original colourist, John Higgins, and I don’t recall ever knowing that the Joker meets his end in the book.
I’m not sure if this is a little fact that was aware of at the time, but have just forgotten. I think that I would have remembered something as important as this.
If you’ve not read The Killing Joke, I suggest you stop reading now and go out and buy it. Come back when you’ve finished it!
If you have, great, let’s continue…
In the book, The Joker, having escaped Arkham Asylum, sets about a destructive endgame that involves shooting Barbara Gordon (AKA Batgirl), paralyzing her from the waste down (an affliction that she continued to suffer with until the recent New 52 reboot) and abducting Commissioner Jim Gordon.
At the end of the book, during the final a face-off with Batman, The Joker tells Batman a joke. If you’ve forgotten how it goes, here it is:
“See there were these to guys in a lunatic asylum… and one night, they they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide that they are going to escape!
So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moonlight…stretching away to freedom.
Now the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daredn’t make the leap. Y’see… y’see he’s afraid of falling.
So then the first guy has an idea…He says ‘Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me.
B-but the second guy shakes his head. He Suh-says.. He says “Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across”.
I’ve always found it a funny joke, a lot funnier that Moore’s clown joke as uttered by Rorschach in Watchmen.
The final panel, directing proceeding The Joker’s joke, has at first The Joker and then The Batman bursting into a fit of laughter at which point, for me (and it seem others as well) the story finishes.
Thinking about it, it is quite a cheesy end, like a 70s TV show, with a good laugh before the credits roll.
Looking closely at those last few panels, with Batman and the Joker laughing out loud – Batman seemingly supporting himself on The Joke like an old pal, we see a headlight reflecting in the rain-soaked ground the line of light broken by a clump of grass; it’s like the beam across the buildings in the joke.
The penultimate panel focuses on the broken beam, but the laughing has stopped. The final panel it just the wet ground, no beam, no grass and no laughter.
Morrison is right. In those closing panels, as we gaze on the reflected headlight, I’m pretty convinced that Batman snaps The Jokers neck.
It is act so subtly written by Alan Moore that I’ve not noticed it for over 25 years.
Without a doubt The Killing Joke.