Ethics / Graphic Novel / Morality

The Joke Is This, I’m Crazy For It

Happy April Fool’s Day! This week’s post will take a look at one of comic’s most renowned clowns in his most prominent graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke. Written and illustrated by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, respectively, The Killing Joke was a wonderfully creative take on the background of the Joker and his ever-ambiguous relationship with the Batman. Alan Moore found an entertaining way to illuminate the history on the amoral psychopath that seems to endlessly enjoy antagonizing DC Comics’ most iconic figures, the Batman. This week we will glance at – just the tip of the iceberg – the character that left us in the dark on the difference between a smile and a frown.

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Though the discussion of this graphic novel could go on for days, let’s take a brief glance at some of the most intriguing aspects of its main character, Joker.

From the beginning, Alan Moore attempts to explain the villainous, arguably insane acts of the Joker by delivering his backstory. It is best to think of this character as the pre-Joker, considering his attitude and actions are nearly antithetical of the eventual antagonist. After quitting his job as a lab assistant to become a comedian, he begins to understand making quality jokes is not all it’s cracked up to be. A rigorous trial of not measuring up reaches a peak when the disgruntled comedian returns home from an audition that he suggests will not get him a call back. With his wife, Jeannie, six months pregnant and their rent soon approaching, the stakes to find a job are immeasurably high, which build the pressure for his ascent – loosely speaking.

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The failed comedian then strikes a meeting with some organized crime members in the hopes of resolving his new family’s financial situation. As expected, he is designated to perform a job for the two members by breaking into the chemical plant he used to work at. This is so that his new shady cohorts can enter through the chemical plant to the “playing card company next door.”

Unsurprisingly, the breaking-and-entering went awry, as Batman caught up to the criminals and the pre-Joker pushing the hooded figure off of a ledge into a vat of peculiar chemicals, finishing the aesthetic and ethical transformation into the Joker. The change to the white-faced, green-haired clown is no doubt a drastic transfiguration, but it is also a symbolization of the sudden shift with his morality.

“You had a bad day, and it drove you as crazy as everybody else.. only you won’t admit it! You have to keep pretending that life makes sense, that there’s some point to all this struggling! God, you make me want to puke.”

Once only caring to provide for his pregnant wife and their unborn baby, the Joker now shows no remorse for anyone. Due to his tribulations of a saddened comedic career and desperation to keep his family afloat he has now become one of life’s biggest cynics. He feels no reason to ease the pain or burden for anyone else because he realizes that tragedy can strike at random, a chance that he wishes to partake in himself. This incredibly hedonistic attitude that the clown possesses is emblematic of another character by Alan Moore, the Comedian.

Both indulge in an appetitive nature that is essentially amoral solely because like life – at its foundation – there is no value. And without an inherent value in life, there is no justification for morality. Their destructive behavior often irks those around them because though it is exceptionally cynical, it cannot be denounced by an alternative based entirely on rationality. By this, I mean there is no true reason their amoral behavior ought not to be performed, and since this is the reality both characters have realized they choose to seek their own ends, whether it is in the most vile route or not.

The one defining line between Moore’s other amoral figure is the psychotic aspect continuously attributed to Joker. As it is his trademark, Joker constantly makes a point to address Batman that his actions are only as delusional as the world they inhabit.

“In a world as psychotic as this… any other response would be crazy!”

Throughout the entire story Joker plans and torments seemingly innocent people only for the sake of proving a point to his nemesis. Presumably, the point of showing Batman that he is all-too-similar to Joker. The last page, showing Batman choking Joker, brims with the lesson Joker forcefully pressed on his counterpart, and the reluctant expectation that Batman feared from the beginning. Joker’s bleak, helpless view on life forms one of the most wildest lines in the entire story:

“So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness. Madness is the emergency exit… You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away…forever.”

It is this same hopeless notion the Joker portrays, that humans do not have the final decision in their life, that unveils the vulnerability felt by Batman’s greatest villain.

And with his last joke, he finally gets the laugh – from Batman, no doubt – he has been pushing for that ultimately pushes him to what is presumably his death.

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It is no question that Alan Moore wrote a masterpiece with The Killing Joke, but kudos are definitely owed to the illustrator, Brian Bolland, who materialized an incredible vision and artistically framed it as a classic. Here are a few more shots of his work:

Reading this graphic novel influenced much of my fictional writing, especially on the topic of psychology. Because this story is so prized, I will post a short fiction, A Break in Sanity, within the next week to add to the taste of madness. Until then, keep up the laughs!

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