A Book Review Blog

Category: Graphic novel

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

Taking a quick break from books that are university-related, I decided to finally start on my edition of Batman: The Killing Joke. To comic fans, this is probably one of the most famous story-lines to happen in the Batman continuity, with several far-reaching consequences. As you can probably guess, I had high expectations of it. Which is why I’m somewhat confused. 

Following yet another escape from Arkham Asylum (what must their security be like if this is a regular occurrence with almost EVERY Batman villain incarcerated there?) the Joker decides to prove to the world that anyone can become like him if they have just one really bad day. To do this, he kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and subjects him to mental torture. Thus, Batman must confront the Joker before Gordon and his daughter Barbara are harmed any further. 
I expected this to be longer. After hearing so much praise about The Killing Joke, alongside my previous experience of Alan Moore’s work (specifically V for Vendetta and Watchmen), I guess I was expecting a heftier story than the 46 pages that I got. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it wouldn’t be the epics that the previous Alan Moore stuff I read would be, the volume was too slim. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think it had the same kind of weight to it that I was expecting from all the praise. It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong, it just seems like it could have been fleshed out a bit more; as it is, it doesn’t seem like the Joker really has time to carry out his plan. What he does is dreadful, and I would never wish that on any parent, but it seems odd that he would stop short, as it were. Much as I like Commissioner Gordon and his family, part of me feels that the Joker would continue to torment him and create more misery for Gordon, until he was certain that he’d snapped completely and irreversibly. The other thing that bugged me about this story is the fact that Alan Moore tries to give the Joker a back-story. Much as I am a fan of character back-story as a means of giving said character depth and personality, the Joker is an exception to this; his past is a complete blank and that lack of knowledge just makes him scarier. Giving him a sympathetic back-story just makes him seem less chilling somehow, and I personally don’t think that his version of the one bad day really measures up to his psychosis; as the Joker himself says, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”. Maybe if there were several versions of his past that the comic created as possibilities, that I could understand, as it would create more mystery as well as introducing a potential sympathetic element to his character. As is, I like the story in theory, I just can’t help but read it and wish that it had been written with more scope in mind. In terms of an introduction into comics, it is a pretty good place to start, as there isn’t a whole lot in here that isn’t well-known to pop culture at large. 
Despite my misgivings about the execution of the story, there is one reason why I would still wholeheartedly recommend this to new comic readers, other than the ease with which you can understand it: the artwork. The artwork in this is utterly stunning. The Joker in particular is very well drawn, with just the right amount of grotesqueness to his facial features to make him look just fundamentally wrong. The colouring is very good as well, particularly the parts exploring the Joker’s past; much like Schindler’s List, it’s black and white with a splash of colour, a shade of red that just keeps getting brighter as the flashbacks go on. It’s an interesting look to be sure. 
Overall then, this vehicle for the Joker was a tad bit underwhelming. I can see why so many people like it, I just think that there were so many missed opportunities that Alan Moore could have explored further within the narrative. For me, it’s best point is the artwork, which has pretty much guaranteed that I will look out for more of Brian Bolland’s work. I would recommend this if you’re just starting out in comics, as there isn’t really much back-story you need to know beforehand that isn’t already well-known by the general public. 3.5/5 
Next review: Frankenstein (1818 text) by Mary Shelley 
Signing off, 

Blackest Night by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Joe Prado

As you can probably guess, this is a bit of a departure for me. I mean, I do like comic books, but as of yet I haven’t ever managed to collect a series long enough for me to review anything like this. So when my sister decided to lend me her copy of the collected issues of the Green Lantern mini-series Blackest Night, I figured that this would be a good opportunity to try out my reviewing skills on comics. Plus, I think part of me just wants to be like Linkara.

Blackest Night is probably not the best place for me to have started reading within the DC Universe. Don’t get me wrong, my knowledge of comic book lore is surprisingly up to date for someone with little opportunity to read them, mostly down to the aforementioned Linkara, but I can see this being quite confusing for complete newbies. The plot focuses on Hal Jordan, one of the more famous of the Green Lanterns to inhabit Earth (the one that the movie was centred on, if anyone was wondering), as he teams up with various allies and enemies to fight against the threat of the Black Lanterns. For those of you wondering, the basis of the Green Lantern powers is that there are powers based on a range of emotions, each of which can be equated with a colour from the colour spectrum: for example, green is will-power, yellow is fear, red is rage, etc etc; it sounds silly, but the colour spectrum does become important later in the plot. The black lanterns represent and control death, a power that is greater than any one colour on this power spectrum, necessitating the allegiance of all the different coloured Lantern Corps in order to save the universe from dying. If that explanation seems convoluted, then that’s because of the huge amounts of continuity that there is in this comic; my explanation only covered the absolute basics. Other continuity bits include the deaths of various superheroes and supporting characters which are more important in past mini-series (such as the significance of Sue Dibny and Jean Loring in Identity Crisis), the resurrections of characters like Barry Allen/The Flash (Final Crisis/The Flash: Rebirth) and Hal Jordan himself (Emerald Twilight/Zero Hour/Green Lantern: Rebirth), as well as many other minor things. Regardless of the huge amount of continuity that proceeds this, Blackest Night does a reasonable job of bringing the reader up to speed with the main plot threads, although this does occasionally lead to some moments which are obvious exposition dumps, mainly in Hal Jordan’s narrative.
Okay, so I’ve complained a heck of a lot about the sheer amount of past knowledge that is necessary, or at least advisable, to know in order to appreciate this comic, but I haven’t really touched on whether the plot itself is any good. It’s certainly made me more interested in reading more about the Green Lantern Corps. In terms of DC superheroes, I was always more interested in reading mini-series about Batman and the Teen Titans, as they were the stars of the cartoons that I grew up with as a kid; in terms of the other main heroes of the universe, particularly Superman and Wonder Woman, they just seemed a bit too perfect for me to get too interested in them. This comic combated that by giving the Green Lantern more depth and complexity than I had first given him credit for. The comic did two other things that I can recommend it for. First, it talked about something that always bothered me about superheroes: the number of times that some of them have died and come back to life; with the Black Lanterns bringing back dead heroes and villains as the undead, resurrections are brought to the fore and the consequences are more fully explored and exploited. The second thing that the comic did that I particularly liked was the focus on some of the more minor characters in the universe, such as Ray Palmer/The Atom and Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow as opposed to the main three heavy hitters, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman; it was nice to see the more minor characters have their time to shine, regardless of how short. It even leads to one of my favourite moments, when Scarecrow has been given the power of a yellow ring of fear, which is somehow rather funny.
In terms of visuals, I have no real complaints. The style is clear, with no moments that seemed overly out of proportion or the like. The presence of the colour spectrum is well utilised, with a variety of brightly coloured superhero get-ups contrasting well with the dark greys and blacks of the zombies raised as part of the Black Lantern Corps.

Overall, a solid story with equally solid visuals. I would only recommend it for those with at least some knowledge of recent events in the DC Universe, as those reading a DC comic for the first time will most likely completely lost with the continuity references. 3.5/5

Next review: Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

Signing off,

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