Batman: The Killing Joke–“Just one bad day”

killing-jokeI’ve only been reading graphic novels for a couple of years or so, but the quality of the stories and artwork in many has made me a huge fan. The current Hellraiser series and, of course, Watchmen are two examples that I highly recommend. Now, Batman: The Killing Joke is another that has been added to my recommended list.

For the uninitiated and up until Heath Ledger’s awesome portrayal, the Joker seems like he would be a joke of a comic book villain. That is not the case, however, as shown in The Killing Joke. He’s capable of extreme violence and torture, which is only made scarier by the joy he outwardly exhibits when he commits crimes. In this particular graphic novel, the Joker tortures commissioner Gordon by stripping him of his clothes, trying him up, and forcing him to look at photographs of his daughter nude and hurt. What is the Joker’s goal in doing this? He tells Batman that by driving Gordon mad, he’s proving that the Joker is no different than anybody else. In a way, the Joker is not wrong.

The Joker gaily commits crimes, but so do many people in real life. Some people revel in making others miserable, or taking what doesn’t belong to them. The Joker may look different, but outward appearances that aren’t exactly normal don’t mean he is completely different on the inside. His inhibitions are no more, which seems to be the only thing that separates him from many people in real life.

What is particularly interesting about The Killing Joke is the parallel drawn between the Joker and Batman throughout the entire story. This begins with Batman when he enters Arkham Asylum and tells the Joker, who ends up being a fake, that one of them will end up killing the other. Batman is completely serious during the conversation. He knows that he will go as far as he needs to if it means stopping the Joker, even if killing him is what it takes. He may not want it to go that far, but it’s an option. The Joker says all it takes is for one bad day to turn a “normal” person into one like him. Batman, although already having had one bad day, needs only one more to prompt him into killing the Joker. The Joker needs to only take it one step too far for Batman to lose it. The end of the graphic novel even seems to show how similar the hero and villain are when they both laugh hysterically at Joker’s joke. The novel ends here with Batman grabbing hold of his enemy. But whether or not he takes him into custody or hurts him is unknown. It’s ambiguous. Even the way that the two men are shown united in crazy laughter shows a merger in their personalities, so to speak, as the words “Ha” and such are all over the frame, and one’s laughter is not easily identifiable from the other’s.

Some people can go through a lifetime of torment and bad days in order to snap. Batman represents this person, the one who is constantly teetering on the edge of insanity but still finds enough footing to stay planted on the side of sanity. Other people need only one bad day, such as the Joker who needed only the day in which he lost his wife and came across a young Batman. The scary thing is, who is who? Can you identify which of your real life friends or family are resilient or those that need only one bad day?


4 thoughts on “Batman: The Killing Joke–“Just one bad day””

  1. I agree with the parallels you mentioned at the end. For a moment they share a connection. One is a psychotic clown and the other is a guy wearing a bat suit. So the line between them sort of blurs. And Batman did have his one bad day, the day his parents died. He was young then, but if he had been older who knows how he would have ended up?

  2. I thought the parallel between the two was a way to answer the question that is asked about killers all the time: lots of people get abused/rejected/hurt–what makes one person snap when the other doesn’t? The 10 pages at the end of the story (the guy who wants to kill Batman just to do something “bad”) seems to suggest that there is something inherently wrong with these people to begin with, but the parallel between the Joker and Batman seems to suggest maybe it is what happens in the aftermath of the trauma. Bruce Wayne had support. He had his fortune and he had Alfred. The Joker lost it all. He had no money, he lost his support system (his wife and child), and he was horribly disfigured. Hard to recover from that.

  3. I considered what my “one bad day” might consist of if I were to become the Joker. My first thought was if something happened to my child, I might snap, although after a while I realized even that wouldn’t make me hurt anyone innocent. I just realized while reading your post that commissioner Gordon has something terrible happen to his child, but he doesn’t snap either. I don’t know if that was added to the story on purpose to negate any inclination towards excusing the Joker’s crimes because he lost his unborn child, or not, but it’s interesting.

  4. I loved the parallels between the two of them. Both have had “bad days,” but Bruce came out of it determined to right the wrongs of the world. Of course, he does it by dressing up as a bat, leading a double life, and sacrificing much to see it through. Perhaps he just straddles the line between sanity and madness, whereas the Joker just took a flying leap over it and never looked back.

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