So DC has decided to rerelease The Killing joke graphic novel by Moore and Bolland with Bolland recoloring the entire job. You know what? It doesn't matter to me. I've had no problem defending Moore as the greatest writer to ever work in the field, but this isn't the book to make that case. It is, in fact, one of his weakest efforts outside of DR and Quinch.
Its not the Led Zeppelin of its day, its the Blind Faith. The supergroup that never coagulated. Its not that good.
Lets take a look at it, because even back in the day it was a much heralded project, two creators who had, no question, done amazing work on other books. Swamp Thing and Camelot 3000 just to mention two of them. Part of the problem I have with the work is the approach, and part in the very conception of the book.
Moore made his name on the revisionist history aspect of his writing initially, reworking Swamp Thing into something totally different from the Len Wein incarnation, before jumping off into new territory with the Demon (who he also revamped somewhat) and Arcane. Bolland made his fortune with detailed, hyperrealistic artwork, which also took a hyperlong time for him to realize. How he made his deadlines with the Judge Dredd work is beyond me. The last issue of Camelot 3000 took, what, a year to come out? So how much revision on the Joker did they do? Almost nothing is the answer.
Moore, instead, took the opposite path, playing within established continuity to continue the infamous "Red Hood" story, and simply trying to make more sense of a golden age story that should never have been written to begin with. Bolland took a character whose very strength has been, with many artists, his iconic visual status, and gives us a man in tights with a mask that gets loose at the drop of a hat. Itts not a great fit at all. We've taken characters who are, by virtue of their very existence, better as icons rather than realistic figures, and Moore has to piss blood to develop the back story of the Red Hood to try to make the motivation work.
And sadly it doesn't. My problem with the very conception is the Red Hood story, which has been propped up with The Killing Joke book, as opposed to retconning it out of existence. The Joker, at his best, is a primordial force of nature, the evil that exists in all men and can come from anywhere at anytime. It defies logic and sense and therefore is far more that a simple "person with a gun" scary. I don't want to know where he comes from. Ever. Just as the Kent Allard story was put into doubt later in the Shadow's existence, just as not knowing why the Doctor isn't exactly like other Time Lords, I want to always have that mystery about the character. There area hundred ways that the Red Hood story could be gotten rid of, starting with ignoring it, and no one bothered to do it. Except that they should have.
Moore's strength here would have been, should have been, to recloud the Joker's past, to give us a past that the Painted Doll ended up with for much of the Promethia run: it doesn't make sense, and that's all the better. I've always thought that the Painted Doll was what DC wouldn't have let Moore do with the Joker back in '88.
Bolland's color work here is excellent, although these two contrasting pages that I have here show two pages that both work. I'm quite happy to see what Bolland originally intended, but unlike many cases of poor comics coloring, the original job is quite good, and still works on its own terms.
The Killing Joke has ended up being a neutered approach to The Joker, something that Miller didn't do whatsoever in The Dark Knight, and we're better for it. Killing Joke has ended up being significant for what seems like a throwaway idea of Moore's: the rape and paralysis of Barbara Gordon. The casual rape, the fetish Polaroids, and the Batman's lack of emotion to someone who was an ally getting brutalized has made the book a flash point for feminists of all stripes. It bothered the hell out of me at the time, and still is the only truly disturbing point in the book.
Some people might point to this being the true origin story behind a character that had already gone through a number of different incarnations, but did we really need Barbara Gordon to go through this to become the strong character Oracle? Especially since its a throwaway plot point to the main story.
For all the money that has gone into my Ultimate Sandman editions, and yes, I intend to buy all four volumes because they're that good (and yes, if DC did that with Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 - 31 inclluding the annual I would be the first in line to buy it), I don't have the need to pick this up. Its not the "night that changed Batman's life forever", as the tagline says.
It is the night that changed Barbara Gordon's however.
I was just turned on to this quote:
The Killing Joke is, "clumsy, misjudged and [devoid of] real human importance."
A quote from the book, "The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore." I rest my case.