Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition (DC Comics, $17.99, hardcover). The 20th anniversary of perhaps the best Joker story of all time is celebrated with a newly re-colored edition that also includes a second story from one of the legendary artists in the business.
What’s the story? The Killing Joke not only offers the definitive origin of the Joker but also delivers a plot that changes the world of Barbara Gordon, a k a Batgirl, and her father, Commissioner James Gordon, forever. It’s a jolting and mature look at the Clown Prince of Crime.
A second story, reprinted from Batman: Black and White No. 4, An Innocent Guy (in color for the first time), delivers an equally chilling tale about a Mark David Chapman-type citizen who wonders what it would be like to kill Gotham’s greatest crime fighter.
Writing strength. One of the best of the best, Alan Moore, orchestrates the nightmare to capture a portrait of Batman’s greatest villain. His Joker is a man driven to insanity through bad luck, bad choices and a bad appearance. The Joker’s use of random and calculated acts of violence feed his insatiable desire to punish as well as feed his sick sense of humor.
Mr. Moore, however, balances the horror with a Batman who is a morale compass. The Caped Crusader is always ready to negotiate with his archenemy, even when there is no hope for rehabilitation.
Artist’s style.Brian Bolland’s impeccable art walks a delicate path in The Killing Joke as it reveals a serial psychopath at work. He never crosses the line into the gratuitous but always lets readers see just enough into the depraved world of the Clown Prince of Crime.
Mr. Bolland also writes and illustrates An Innocent Guy, a tale I consider more disturbing than The Killing Joke.
Pop-art moments. The whole book is a feast for the eyes, but two images are forever ingrained every time I read The Killing Joke, which is a masterpiece: first, the panel that reveals the birth of the Joker; second, the entire sequence illustrating the man who would be the Joker dressed as the Red Hood. Mr. Bolland presents it in monochromatic panels punctuated with color.
Additionally, the second story has a pair of exquisite pages devoted to a battle between Batman and the Penguin.
Read it or leave it? Any professed comic-book fan above the age of 15 should already own a well-read original or reprint of The Killing Joke. If not, here is a golden opportunity, Puddin’.