“Y’know, it’s funny. This situation. Reminds me of a joke. See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum. And one night, one night they decide they don’t LIKE living in an asylum anymore. They decide they’re going to escape. So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across a narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away into the moonlight… stretching away to FREEDOM. Now, the first guy, he jumps across with no problem. But his friend, his friend dared n’t make the leap. Y’see, he’s afraid of falling. So then the first guy has an idea. He says: “Hey! I have my flashlight with me. I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the BEAM and join me.” B-but the second guy, he shakes his head. He suh-says: “Wh-what do you think I am? CRAZY? … You’d turn it off when I was halfway across!” – The Joker, quoting Red Skelton, interestingly enough
Was just listening to this dramatic adaptation of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “The Killing Joke.” Every now and then it’s nice to feel like I’m a pampered Baron and I’ve hired people to read things for me.
The Joker was always a creep, but it took Alan Moore to make him human in 1988, in what is still the most adult and disturbing Batman story of them all (sorry, Frank Miller; sorry, Christopher Nolan.) After escaping from Arkham Asylum, the J-man invades the home of Commissioner Gordon, dishing puns and punishment, and in a scene out of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” shoots and cripples Barbara Gordon, the commish’s daughter… and then undresses her for further humiliation.
Most readers were shocked ( it IS shocking!) : quite a few dusted off their Fredric Werthams, lifted their pitchforks, and lumped the scene in with the admittedly troubling “women in refrigerators” trend: “Alan Moore is a woman-hater! And wasn’t there some rape or something in ‘Watchmen’?” I’ve defended “Watchmen” elsewhere, about as much as something so great needs defending. Let me say my bit for “The Killing Joke.” Yes, Barbara Gordon’s crippling is very sadistic. The Joker is a sadist! He also kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, takes him to the set of Todd Browning’s “Freaks,” and tries to drive him to the brink of insanity, to the sound of a peppy tune called “Loony” (another Kubrickian touch.) But this is a graphic fiction. Violence and KA-POWs made Batman famous. So did the frissons of terror. Furthermore, there is nothing misogynist about the shooting of Barbara because we DON’T hate the woman. Moore’s writing has made her sympathetic, and we CARE for her. We fear for her safety. She’s also not “disposable”: she doesn’t die, and her years in a wheelchair were one of the rare empowering examples of a realistic handicapped person getting a break in comic-book land. (No, Professor Xavier is not realistically handicapped.)
By contrast, a male caretaker meets a gruesome end early in “The Killing Joke.” THAT death is designed to elicit a nervous giggle. Yet no one bats an eye. ( Ha! Bats! No pun intended.) Weren’t people worried that Alan Moore was into “male-on-male violence”? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? BTW, there is NO “male-on-male-violence” or “violence-against-women” or “racially-motivated-violence.” There is just VIOLENCE. Pretty simple. To imply that are degrees of distinction and acceptability when hurting other human beings should be, well, criminal.
POST-SCRIPT: “I find the past such an anxious, worrying place. The past TENSE, I suppose you would call it.”– The Joker
POST-POST-SCRIPT: I always rave about how Bob Kane took The Joker’s disfigured grin from the main character in Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs.” That underrated novel is much more flawed than “Notre Dame de Paris,” full of historical extraneousness and sentimental displays, but worth seeking for the unforgettable character of Gwynplaine – and for yet another of Hugo’s patented heart-wrenching finales.