Considered one of the biggest moments in the Batman comics, Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the most revered stories by fans within the DC community. It was originally released as a one-shot comic in 1988, created by writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland. It has been considered as one of the best Batman stories to date and is also credited as containing the definitive Joker back-story by many fans. It also had a huge ripple effect within the Batman universe that was felt for years to come.
With the comic being held in such high regards, it’s no wonder that it was eventually adapted into an animated film in 2016. Now, Titan Books has released a novel based on the original 1988 comic with the goal of capturing the intense and life-altering events that transpired.
I was surprised to see that there were so many characters in the Killing Joke novel. The story focuses on these characters throughout the story:
- Batman/Bruce Wayne
- The Joker
- Batgirl/Barbara Gordon
- Jim Gordon
- Alfred Pennyworth
- Harvey Bullock
- Python Palmares
- Susan “Suzi Mustang” Klosmeyer
- Zach Tarzic
Each of them gets dedicated perspective time which tends to get overwhelming when the book suddenly changes perspectives mid-chapter.
Without spoiling too much of the plot, the story made a decent attempt at trying to recreate the events of the comic. We, eventually, do see these events transpire in the book, however, there isn’t a lot of time spent on them. About 70% of the book focuses on everyone but the characters it should be. The Killing Joke is, first and foremost, the story of Batman, the Joker, Jim Gordon, and Batgirl. There was so much time dedicated to the other characters of the story that I kept forgetting what was supposed to be the point of it all. It felt really disconnected and pointless, to a certain extent.
The story takes place in the 80s when the internet was in its infant stages and was still referred to as the ARPANET. I thought this was a strange choice, but I assume it was done to set it during the same time in which the original comic was released. Unfortunately, this was a poor choice in my opinion because the writers’ included slang and terminology that’s more modern and it really clashed with the backdrop of the story.
Batman has a HUGE rogue gallery consisting of many fan-favorite villains. The book attempts to pay homage to this by name-dropping them throughout the story, but it all feels forced. I think my main problem with the book is that instead of trying to expand on the Batman universe the writers instead try to plant their original characters within it. It comes across as fan-fiction instead of an officially licensed novel.
There is a lot of exposition included in the writing. At times there were full pages of descriptions of what the area looked liked and paragraphs of what characters were wearing. For me, it took away from the story as I wanted to skip ahead to dialogue as I felt the point had already been made. Being co-written by a female writer, I was surprised to see so much attention to detail spent on the female character’s bodies. Descriptions of their “glistening breasts” and being told what size cup their breasts were made me roll my eyes.
As mentioned before, the writers constantly jump back and forth between perspectives. It really drags the flow of the story to a screeching halt as you’re trying to figure out when everything is taking place. Furthermore, just as the story is getting interesting is when the jumps happen, and it just makes for an unpleasant reading experience.
With the side characters, especially for the original characters created by the novel’s writers, I felt like there was a decent amount of character development. Suzi Mustang’s drug trade story was genuinely interesting, and I really wanted to know more about her. However, the same amount of care and progression wasn’t seen in Barbara/Batgirl. Capturing the essence of pre-established characters is a difficult task and, unfortunately, I don’t think the writers had enough of an understanding on who Batman, Batgirl, or the Joker are. Sure, some of their attitudes were included in the story, but most of these were ripped straight from the source material.
As much as there was a lot of focus on these side characters, their plots never came together to meet the main story. I didn’t understand what Suzi’s plan or Harvey’s break-in had to do with Batman or the Joker. Then, we suddenly rush through the Killing Joke story within the last ten chapters and are presented with a rushed follow up of the rest of the stories in the last chapter. It made the book feel like it was more of a “Tale from Gotham” set of anthology stories than it did about following the Killing Joke arc. I think had it been marketed and presented in that way it would have made more sense.
The book sits at 293 pages long. It’s about an average length by today’s standards and could probably be finished in a couple of days of dedicated reading. I don’t feel like the goal of adapting the original story into book form was quite achieved. Instead, we are presented with a cluster of fractured stories loosely tied strings. The ending is unfulfilling and it feels rushed, almost as if the writers ran out of time and, as all good comedians know, you never rush the punchline.
You can grab your copy of Batman: The Killing Joke from Titan Books!