Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition
Comic Books: 2 comments: 03/22/2008
One of the greatest comics of the 20th Century, period.
To call Alan Moore’s and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke an absolute masterpiece of comic art is, I think, selling it short. In my humble opinion, this is the greatest one-shot in the existence of the four-color pantheon. Artists are still influenced by Bolland’s stunning artwork, and writers will always be influenced by Moore’s narrative style and his ability to surpass the genre that was (and in some cases, still is) considered only for children. Moore, of course had been making waves overseas since the 70’s and the early 80’s with British comics like 2000 A.D. and Marvelman (which became Miracleman in the States). He started working with changing the dynamic of American comics in 1983, when he took over writing duties for the floundering DC series Swamp Thing, and from his first issue of that, called “The Anatomy Lesson”, the writing was on the wall for American comics that they could start telling stories a lot smarter. In 1986, DC gave us a wicked double-barreled blast to the head with releasing both Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns AND Moore’s Watchmen, and that was the year that things REALLY changed. But the change was given permanence in 1988 with The Killing Joke, when Moore and Bolland took two of the most popular characters in all of comicdom and gave their adversarial relationship new meaning, not to mention giving us THE definitive tale of comic’s most recognizable villain, The Joker.
And now, twenty years since its original release, Batman: The Killing Joke has been re-released as a deluxe hardcover edition, which is strangely like the special edition re-releases of the Star Wars films (with the exception of making certain moments suck, like the Star Wars films did).
I’m not going to go into the story, because if you don’t know it already, you just need to run/drive/fly to your nearest comic shop and purchase this. IMMEDIATELY. I don’t use hyperbole like I did in the first two sentences of this review just for show.
The book been re-colored by Bolland, who originally was due to color the book himself, but due to time constraints, the job was given to John Higgins who, while doing an excellent job I think, is outdone by Bolland’s recoloring. The color is so much more vivid, even in the black-and-white flashback sequences, and as always, I am stunned by Bolland’s art. It’s just magical, twisted and iconic. I also have always loved the fact that the Batmobile that Bolland chose to use was the 40’s-era one with the bubble cockpit, huge fin and really creepy bat-head on the front of the car. Interestingly, another change is the removal of the yellow circle around the bat symbol on Batman’s chest. It makes it more like the current and original styles, which is an overall better look and a good choice since it gives the comic itself a more timeless quality.
The one thing that is a little distracting for someone who’s owned a 1st and 2nd printing of this comic for the last 20 years (one to own and one to read) is the subtle change to the cover. Instead of just having the word balloon saying the word ‘Smile’ with no punctuation, it now reads ‘Smile!’. To me, it takes away some of the threat that the original cover had. And that is so incredibly nitpicky that I can’t believe I even mentioned it. But it’s true! Just like the fact that there’s a quote from Tim Burton on the cover. To me, that would be the opposite of a ‘ringing celebrity endorsement’. It’s like the quote from Stephen King on certain prints of The Dark Knight Returns trades. Neither of these guys is going to get me to read the book.
The book has an introduction by Tim Sale, who, being an iconic artist himself, drools all over Bolland’s work. It also has an afterword by Bolland himself talking about the recoloring process and, being a dirty bugger, seems like he’s about to reveal what was to happen in the final panels of this comic (the first time I read it, I thought that Batman was strangling The Joker to death…) and then he doesn’t. ARGH!
The book also includes Bolland’s story that he did for the Batman: Black and White anthology series, “An Innocent Guy”, an often hilarious and somewhat disturbing tale of a young man who has been a good and moral person his whole life and wants to do one bad thing to make his goodness even better. Of course, that bad thing he’s planning is the murder of Batman. It’s a fantasy tale, and while it was originally printed in black-and-white, it’s been colored here as well. Bolland proves to not only be a great artist, but a pretty good writer as well. It’s a nice add-on, because for DC, the real star here is Bolland. There is very little mention at all of Moore due to the long-standing feud between Moore and DC. This is such a shame, because when you have editions like the anniversary edition of Grant Morrison’s and Dave McKean’s also-brilliant Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth that not only has some art extras, like this book does, but also has writing extras, like Morrison’s full script for the comic as supplemental material… to not see something like that from Moore is just sad. It takes away from the deluxe-ness of the book.
Overall, what I’m trying to say here is that this is, other than Miller’s Batman: Year One, the most important Batman book within continuity that exists. And in this deluxe edition, it’s more beautiful and horrifying to behold than ever before.