The Batman Universe comes in all shades as long as they are dark blue, dark grey or black. You have your lighter fare such as LEGO Batman or the 60s incarnation and you also have your darker versions. Tim Burton’s Batman was dark, Christopher Nolan’s was darker still, but both owe homage to the iteration that really sold Batman as the Dark Knight; Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, a one-off graphic novel that took Batman off in new and disturbing directions. The graphic novel stands on its own, so does it require its own traditional adaptation into the written word? Christa Faust and Gary Phillips took on just that challenge.
Why does Batman never kill? His moral compass leads to him jailing the bad guys only for them to escape once more and cause havoc. This is no truer than with The Joker, the Crown Prince of Crime. In this Gotham, The Joker does not set up simple pranks that harm no one, but kills indiscriminately when the notion suits him. Surely it is about time Batman took him out of the picture, but what makes one costumed weirdo a hero and the other a villain?
Any Batman fan that has looked beyond the films will be aware of the legacy that Killing has on the character. It opened a whole can of darkness into the world of Batman that has not really left since. Even LEGO Batman jokes about how brooding he is. Faust and Philips have attempted to take the abstract that Moore had when writing the original graphic novel and convert it into a fully fleshed thesis. What is lost in the visualisation of the art is gained in the ability to delve further into what both Batman and The Joker are thinking.
There are many areas to commend the writers for. The core of the book is true to the source material, but they have managed to add their own spin. The book is set during Moore’s late 80s Batman, so the technology is of that era too. As a side note the book explores the development of the early web and what criminals could do with it. This is a slightly odd area for a Batman novel to spend time exploring, but it gives the book a real sense of time and allows Faust and Philips to develop the none core characters.
Like with the source material, Killing is at its best when exploring what makes people tick. Batman is not painted as true hero here, he dishes out violence with no real consideration. A scene with him beating three ageing crooks makes Batman look a little like an arrogant bully who dishes out justice on a whim. There is little use for nuance with this Batman and this plays out with a possible origin of The Joker that may just be Batman’s fault.
More than perhaps any other Batman iteration that I have read or watched, this book is hard hitting; even more than Heath Ledger. The Joker is not a pleasant man and kills for the fun of it. There is little to sympathise with, but Faust and Philips do a noble job of at least attempting it. One scene is very graphic and involves sexual assault, not the type of thing you expect in most comics. This device is used to force Batman to really assess what he is doing and whether his moral compass causes more harm than good.
It is perhaps the moral compass of the reader that will be tested the most as the scene is difficult to read. Faust and Philips have kept thing quite opaque, so you don’t know 100% what is going on. I am unsure if this is a deliberate choice or just muddled writing on their part or muddled reading on mine. Whichever way it is, this is a place of darkness that some readers just won’t want to read.
With the graphical version of Killing being famed for its weighty subject matter and adult content, it makes perfect sense that the novelisation would follow suit. I cannot say that I enjoyed the book in certain places, but it was certainly a tense ride that made you question if Batman is a hero or just a confused vigilante. Fans of the original text and Batman will take a lot from reading this adaptation, but just be aware of the mature rating.
Written on 23rd February 2019 by Sam Tyler.
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