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What Really Happens At the End of ‘The Killing Joke’?

Disclaimer: Before we get started, if you haven’t read The Killing Joke, stop reading this and run down to your local comic shop and pick it up. You won’t be disappointed. Ok, all caught up? If not *SPOILERS* for a 26 year old book…

Ever since it’s releBatman-The-Killing-Joke-47

ase in 1988, people have been debating the end of The Killing Joke.Some people- including famed Batman scribe Grant Morrison – believe that Batman finally breaks down and kills the Joker. Others say no, Batman doesn’t kill – despite many instances to the contrary throughout Batman’s 75yrs- and that for him to do so would be to break the promise he made to Commissioner Gordon;a promise that he would bring the Joker in “By the book”. No matter which side is right, one thing is for sure: The last nine panels of The Killing Joke have been scrutinized, analyzed and broken down more than any other single comics page.

The Killing Joke certainly feels at times as though it was meant to be both the first and the last Joker story. All through out there are signs that point to Batman having a final confrontation with the Joker. Not the least of which is Batman’s speech about how he and the Joker are destined to go back and forth until one of them kills the other . Batman makes this speech at the beginning of the book while talking to -unbeknownst to him- the Jokers decoy. He then repeats it verbatim at the amusement park near the end, as if to reiterate: “If I don’t kill you, you’ll kill me”.

When Batman makes his last plea to the Joker to let him take him in, and get him some help it can easily be construed as an ultimatum: I’m offering you one last chance at redemption. But taken as the last Joker story, Batman’s offer to the Joker is his last chance at redemption as well. Batman already knows at this point that should the Joker refuse, he’s going to have kill him. And refuse he does.

Not only does the Joker claim that it’s too late for him to change but he then proceeds to tell a joke that may seem inconsequential at first but when broken down is the perfect metaphor for his relationship with Batman:

“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 any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moonlight…stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daren’t make the leap. Y’see…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 just shakes his head. He suh-says… he says ‘What do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across!'”

Batman-The-Killing-Joke-45 The inmates are Batman and the Joker. They want to escape the state of insanity brought on by their tragic pasts. Batman is the inmate that made it across; he managed not to give up when his parents were murdered and become a mentally unhinged psychopath. The Joker is the inmate who won’t jump. It’s easier for him to stay insane; to wallow in the death of his wife and child than to try and make sense of a world that let them die. What’s especially interesting about this interpretation is that the inmate/Batman that got across thinks of the flashlight beam as a bridge. This shows us that maybe Batman isn’t as sane as people would like to think. He does dress up as a bat after all.

Batman’s mental status aside, the main thing here is that through the joke the Joker is saying again that with certainty that he’s never going to change. He’s never going to accept help because frankly he doesn’t want it. For the Joker to give into rationality and to take responsibility for his actions would mean to admit that his whole worldview is wrong. The minute he does that he’ll be forced to look at all his past crimes, the gruesome horrors he’s perpetrated, from a moral standpoint. To look at all the lives he’s claimed and all the sick and twisted ways he’s tortured the innocent with clarity would break the Joker. On some level the Joker must realize this, just as, on some level, Batman knows that he has no other option but to take the Joker’s life.

So does the Caped Crusader take out the Ace of Knaves? Here are the two reasons most often given by those that would argue that The Dark Knight doesn’t put The Clown Prince of Crime six feet under:

1) The Aforementioned Batman Doesn’t Kill – Sure in Post-Crisis mainstream continuity Batman doesn’t kill. However there have been times before that and even times after where he’s broken that rule.

2) The Killing Joke Is In Continuity and The Joker is Still Alive The Killing Joke did end up being in continuity, Barbara being paralyzed from the waist down eventually becomes the Oracle. However just because it ended up as canon, though, that doesn’t mean that it was always supposed to. There is no evidence to suggest that Moore and Bolland were trying to make a story set in the mainstream DC Universe. All signs point to the contrary, that DC wanted to shake things up a bit in the Batman books so they decided after the fact to work the crippling of Barbara Gordon into the current continuity. This was around the same time that the Joker killed Jason Todd so clearly DC was trying to use shock to drum up some business.

It’s also quite possible that Alan Moore and Brian Bolland kept the ending purposefully ambiguous so that it was at the readers discretion whether or not this was just another Joker story or the final Joker story. Here’s what we have to go by on the last page: After telling his Joke the Joker starts to laugh,then Batman-very uncharacteristically-follows suit. As the Joker continues to laugh we see Batman and the Joker in silhouette with the Joker’s “HA HA HA HA”s surrounding them accompanied by the “EEEEEE” of an approaching police car. We see Batman reaching for the Joker, then a close up of both men’s silhouettes from the waist down, still with both sound effects surrounding them. Then a close up of both men’s feet with just the “EEEEEEEE” as apparently the Joker has stopped laughing….or been silenced permanently.

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Ultimately there is evidence that supports both sides. The best thing to do would be to go to the source, Alan Moore himself. Except that Alan Moore HATES The Killing Joke.

He’s been quoted as saying: “I don’t think it’s a very good book. It’s not saying anything very interesting.”

In the end it’s up to the reader to determine one way or another whether Batman kills the Joker at the end of The Killing Joke. There is definitely enough there to support Grant Morrison’s theory. What do you readers think? Leave your opinions in the comments and let’s try and get a good discussion going.

Oh and by the way, he definitely kills him.

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