Grant Morrison Says “The Killing Joke” Ends With Batman Killing the Joker, Is Wrong
I’m not really a Grant Morrison fan, per se. I respect him, and I think I revere his ideas more than the actual practice of those ideas. I really dug his “Batman and Robin,” as well as “All-Star Superman,” but any other work has left me confused. He’s obviously a smart guy, and he thinks about everything in big, exciting ways, but that doesn’t always they pan out (see “Batman R.I.P.”). Sometimes I think he’s aiming big just to aim big, which I suppose is the point, but it can give mixed results.
Case in point: On a recent episode of the “Fat Man on Batman” podcast, Morrison claimed that Batman kills the Joker at the end of Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke.” Here is the (main) page in question:
And if you want to hear Morrison’s claim married to those visuals, some dude went to the trouble of making a video of it.
When I heard Morrison’s claim, my jaw actually dropped. No joke. Not all the way to the floor, but my mouth hung open for a while as I listened. He basically says that after the Joker delivers the joke’s punchline, and he and Batman have their laugh together, that (off camera) the Joker’s laughter is cut off by Batman snapping his neck. The closing panels — close on the rain-drenched ground — give a symbolic “this is the end” coloring to the whole procedure, with the final sounds being the police sirens.
This seems… wrong. To be fair, Morrison points out how ambiguous the ending is, and that it’s up to interpretation. If you choose to believe the Joker dies or lives, it’s totally up to you. He also mentions how Alan Moore always did big ideas, so of course he would try to deliver “the last” Joker-Batman story. But I think he’s taking that one page, and those few panels out of context of the greater book, which is drenched in Moore’s classic repeated imagery.
As he did with “Watchmen,” Moore orchestrates his panels into symmetrical, repeating beats. Flashbacks suddenly snap back to similar looking images in the present. It’s just one of the things Moore does better than anyone else. He also starts the book the same way it ends, with close-ups of the rain-drenched road. I think the lighting changes are even the same. Does this mean that in the beginning Batman’s, what, giving BIRTH to the Joker?
What irks me most is the notion that having Batman kill the Joker would make “The Killing Joke” better, when such a deed is completely counter to Batman’s morals. I’ve thought of “Killing Joke” as a classic example of “high school serious” art; art where things seem very important, but are actually only manufactured to give the appearance of importance. So many huge things happen, that they don’t feel realistic or even relatable to an adult, but it makes total sense when you’re in high school, because everything’s IMPORTANT ALL THE TIME!!!!!! I’ve felt “Killing Joke” was high-school serious ever since I got out of, well, high school. Obviously it’s got some fantastic moments (the impostor’s reveal in the cell, the art in general), but I feel it doesn’t congeal into something quite on the level of “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One.” Or “Mad Love.” It’s on the short list, but not the SHORTEST list, and the nasty taste of the proceedings are to blame.
HOWEVER, with all that being said, I’ve never been a hater of the ending. I remember people in high school complaining about it (as Smith’s friend does in the above clip) how “It just ends with them laughing!” It makes sense to me why high schoolers might hate this ending, because it’s the quieter one as opposed to an action packed melee. It also happens to be the boldest ending Moore could have provided. For all the horror the Joker’s done (in this book alone!), Batman has certainly earned a few more punches at the least. But killing Joker — or anyone, for that manner — is not Batman’s style. The humiliated, tormented Gordon even says as much, screaming something about how they have to prove to the Joker that their way works.
And now that I mention it, consider how Gordon would feel if he found out that Batman disobeyed him and killed the clown. Think about it: Commissioner Gordon has just been kidnapped, stripped naked and sent into the creepiest fun house ever to see pictures of his equally stripped and humiliated (and newly-crippled) daughter. He has easily had the worst day of his life. After Batman saves him, Gordon — the man most deserving of the choice for revenge — tells Batman not to kill the Joker.
So if Batman DID kill him, how would Gordon feel? He’d be even more pissed off! “I just got royally screwed over all night, and you can’t do me this one thing, Batman? Screw off!”
Also, IF Batman did kill Joker, we are robbed of Gordon’s reaction, which is sloppy storytelling, which is not Moore’s style. It’s actually a whole other story: the story of the time Batman disobeyed a humiliated old man’s request for non-killing and actually killed the guy. There’s ambiguous, and then there’s plain sloppy obtuseness. It would be like “Watchmen” ending right after the giant alien monster killed half of New York City.
That’s my main argument here: On top of the symmetrical storytelling, repeated images for poetic power, and even bits of the original script which have been dug up, it feels like the lack of a reaction from Gordon — or anyone, for that matter — to the Joker being killed is the biggest evidence that it didn’t happen that way.
INSTANTLY EDITED TO ADD: I found this guy’s article, which is way better than mine in almost every way. Good for him.
EDITED TO ADDITIONALLY ADD (AND POSSIBLY SPOIL “INCEPTION”): about “Moore leaving things ambiguous,” they’re only ambiguous in that the final panel doesn’t spell everything out. Why would this ending be ambiguous as it is? He lives. It’s kind of like how people think the ending of “Inception” is ambiguous, when actually it’s not. Given the on-screen evidence, the top doesn’t fall, so it was all a dream. That’s what happened!
“Killing Joke’s” ending is only ambiguous if you go in expecting Batman to kill the Joker, or wanting him to.
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