When The Killing Joke was published in 1988, it was immediately hailed by critics as the greatest Batman story ever told. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, the forty-six page comic posits the ultimate standoff between Batman and his oldest foe: the Joker, who only wants to prove that all it takes to make a sane, ordered person slip into madness is “one bad day”. The Joker’s “one bad day” is when his wife and unborn child are killed in a car accident, and he openly suspects that Batman has experienced a “one bad day” of his own – which we know, as readers, to be true, as he saw his parents gunned down before him when he was a child.
This is why The Killing Joke should continue to be lauded, for it explores the relationship between Batman and the Joker, highlighting to the reader that, psychologically, the two characters are mirror images of one another. The story shows how Batman and the Joker came to terms with their respective life-altering tragedies. Both Batman and the Joker are creations of a random and chaotic “one bad day”, yet while Batman spends his life forging meaning from the catastrophe that befell him, the Joker on the absurd of caring about anything in a meaningless universe, saying, “It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for . . it’s all a monstrous, demented gag!”
Alongside Moore and Gibson’s Watchman and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke was part of a movement in the 1980’s that changed the attitude of comics being something just for kids. They became darker, more violent, and more nuanced. The Killing Joke left a legacy that changed the comic book landscape forever.