“Batman: The Killing Joke” is a one-shot graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland. Published by DC Comics in 1988, it has remained so popular that it has been in print since then.
It has also been subject recently to censorship efforts.
Looking into the content and subject matter it’s not difficult to understand why, but that- as usual- hardly justifies censorship.
The story’s effects on the continuity of the Batman and, in fact, the entire DC Universe included the shooting and subsequent paralysis of Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Batgirl) by the Joker in his attempt to drive Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon insane. His henchmen strip Gordon naked, cage him in an abandoned amusement park’s freak show, and force him to view a giant screen of his wounded daughter in various states of undress, hoping to drive Gordon insane in order to prove that even the most upstanding citizen can go mad after having “one bad day.”
That theme is presented in a retelling of the fateful day a simple man became the monstrous Joker and its parallel to the Bruce Wayne-Batman transition, brilliantly exploring the idea that Batman is just as insane as the criminals he faces, albeit simply manifesting it in a different way. In an interview, Moore summarized the theme as, “Psychologically, Batman and the Joker are mirror images of each other.”
The Joker delivers the point home in a masterful monologue to Batman about having just “one bad day.”
Critic Geoff Klock summarized those ideas saying, “both Batman and the Joker are creations of a random and tragic ‘one bad day.’ Batman spends his life forging meaning from the random tragedy, whereas the Joker reflects the absurdity of life, and all its random injustice.”
The events in the story also directly led to a storyline shortly after in which the Joker beats the second Robin, Jason Todd, to death with a crow bar. It might be worth noting that fans were part of a long voting campaign to decide whether to kill off Todd’s controversial character.
It has been hailed by critics as one of the greatest Batman stories ever written, with IGN declaring it the third best of all time. The story even influenced Tim Burton’s film adaptation of the franchise as well as Christopher Nolan’s critically-acclaimed persona of the Joker artfully played by Heath Ledger, who used the novel as reference material for the role.
The book has been the subject of feminist critique for its treatment of Barbara Gordon. Author Brian Cronin noted that “[many] readers felt the violence towards [her] was too much.” Author Sharon Packer also wrote: “Anyone who feels that feminist critics overreacted is advised to consult the source material…Moore’s The Killing Joke is sadistic to the core.”
Gail Simone included the character’s paralysis in a list of “major female characters that had been killed, mutilated, and depowered,” dubbing the phenomenon “Women in Refrigerators” in reference to a 1994 Green Lantern story where the title character discovers his girlfriend’s mutilated body in his refrigerator.
Jeffrey A. Brown, author of Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture (2011), noted The Killing Joke as an example of the “inherent misogyny of the male-dominated comic book industry.”
Still, with all of this in mind, the Columbus, Nebraska Public library Board did the right thing and rejected a protest to remove the title from its bookshelves.
A patron had referred to the book as “very adult” and said in the challenge that it “advocates rape and violence,” requesting the book be removed from the shelves where it is currently located in the young adult area of the library yet cataloged in the graphic novels section.
During this week’s meeting board member Carol Keller said, “I don’t find it worthy of being removed from the shelf.” Others agreed, voting 3-0, with two members absent, noting that many comic books and other publications include violence and the patron’s interpretation of rape was “misconstrued.”
Batman: The Killing Joke will now be added to the list of Alan Moore’s books that have been challenged in libraries across the nation such as Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Neonomicon-, which was officially banned from a South Carolina library last December amid a media firestorm and covered here in Banned Books Awareness.
Not only is this a victory for free speech, but it’s a stark reminder that comic books have definitely grown up. Now if only some people would.
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/