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"The Killing Joke": A concerned Batman visits Arkham Asylum and goes to Joker's cell. The Joker is sitting alone in his cell, playing with a deck of cards and Batman sits in the opposite end of the table. The Dark Knight tells Joker that the

Quote1 I'm not exactly sure what happened. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Quote2
-- The Joker

Appearing in "The Killing Joke"

Featured Characters:

Supporting Characters:


Other Characters:




Synopsis for "The Killing Joke"

A concerned Batman visits Arkham Asylum and goes to Joker's cell. The Joker is sitting alone in his cell, playing with a deck of cards and Batman sits in the opposite end of the table. The Dark Knight tells Joker that the constant madness of their lives must end, or otherwise one of them will surely die at the hands of the other. Joker doesn't move and keeps playing with the cards, and Batman grabs the clown's arm, infuriated. Batman notices that he has white stains on his hands and grabs the man in front of him, who is just a man dressed and wearing make-up to look like the Joker. Batman questions the man about the location of the Joker, who has escaped Arkham and is on the loose.

Joker is looking to buy an abandoned amusement park and after he checks the whole place, he kills the owner and claims the park as his own. However, Joker is lost in thoughts and he starts remembering memories from a past life.

The man who would become the Joker is an unnamed engineer who quits his job at a chemical company to become a stand-up comedian, only to fail miserably. Desperate to support his pregnant wife, he agrees to guide two criminals into the plant for a robbery. During the planning, the police come and inform him that his wife has died in a household accident involving an electric baby bottle heater. Grief-stricken, the engineer tries to withdraw from the plan, but the criminals strong-arm him into keeping his commitment to them.

At the plant, the criminals make him don a special mask to become the infamous Red Hood. Unknown to the engineer, this disguise is simply the criminals' scheme to implicate any accomplice as the mastermind to divert attention from themselves.
Joker is Born

Joker is Born
Once inside, they almost immediately blunder into security personnel, and a violent shootout and chase ensues. The criminals are gunned down, and the engineer finds himself confronted by Batman, who is investigating the disturbance.

Panicked, the engineer deliberately jumps into the chemical plant's toxic waste catch-basin vat to escape Batman, and is swept through a pipe leading to the outside. Once outside, he discovers to his horror that the chemicals have permanently bleached his skin chalk white, stained his lips ruby red, and dyed his hair bright green. This turn of events, compounding the man's misfortunes of that one day, drives him completely insane and results in the birth of the Joker.

The Shooting of Barbara

The Shooting of Barbara

Joker makes his move and he knocks on the door of Commissioner Gordon. Barbara opens the door and is shocked at the sight of the Joker, dressed in a tourist outfit and pointing a gun at her. Joker shoots Barbara in the spine and his henchmen enter the house and knock Commissioner Gordon out, while Joker starts undressing the wounded Barbara and takes out a camera.

Barbara is taken to a hospital and the doctors tell Bullock that the damage caused by the bullet would make her unable to use her legs ever again. Batman visits Barbara and when she recovers, she begs Batman to save her father from whatever the Joker has planned.

Joker takes Gordon and imprisons him in a run-down amusement park. His deformed henchmen then strip Gordon naked and cage him in the park's freak show. He chains Gordon to one of the park's rides and cruelly forces him to view giant pictures of his wounded daughter in various states of undress. Once Gordon completes the maddening gauntlet, the Joker ridicules him as an example of "the average man," a naive weakling doomed to insanity.

The Joke

The Joke

Batman searches all over the city for Joker with no good results. Suddenly, the Bat-Signal beacons in the night and Harvey Bullock gives Batman two tickets to the abandoned amusement park. As Batman arrives to save Gordon, the Joker retreats into the funhouse. Gordon's sanity is intact despite the ordeal, and he insists that Batman capture the Joker "by the book" in order to "show him that our way works". Batman enters the funhouse and faces the Joker's traps, while the Joker tries to persuade his old foe that the world is inherently insane and thus not worth fighting for. Eventually, Batman tracks down the Joker and subdues him.

Batman then attempts to reach out to him to give up crime and put a stop to their years-long war. The Joker declines, however, ruefully saying "It's too late for that... far too late". He then tells Batman a joke, which reflects their current situation and is funny enough to make the normally stone-faced Batman laugh. While they are laughing, Batman reaches across to Joker. The picture moves away from the two foes, and they stop laughing abruptly while the sirens of the police cars keep getting louder as they approach the two men. In the end all noise cease and only the rain keeps pouring down.


  • This book was first published on March 29, 1988.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke is a one-shot squarebound graphic novel published under DC's Prestige format.
  • This issue was published with a second, third and fourth printing. Reprint editions are easily distinguishable by the varying colors of the cover logo. A first printing edition of Batman: The Killing Joke has a green logo. The "Deluxe Edition" is colored by Brian Bolland instead of John Higgins.
  • This story ais collected in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.
  • This issue re-imagines plot points originally chronicled in Detective Comics #168, the first appearance of the Red Hood.
  • When originally published, Barbara Gordon had already retired from being Batgirl in the Batgirl Special #1. Shortly after this story, she adopts a new covert identity - Oracle.
  • There was a popular belief that the Killing Joke was originally not meant to be in the canon continuity of the DC Universe. However, Barbara Kesel has confirmed that she was hired to write the Batgirl Special #1 - where Barbara Gordon retires as Batgirl - specifically to set up The Killing Joke, which would prevent Barbara Gordon from continuing her role as Batgirl.[1]
  • Several different other Joker origin stories have been published since The Killing Joke's debut:
    • In the story arc "Pushback," running through Batman: Gotham Knights #50-Batman: Gotham Knights #55, a different version of the Joker's origin story is told, which borrows themes from "The Killing Joke," but strays notably in some places; for example, the Joker's wife was murdered by a corrupt cop. It has been guessed that such divergences were partially Moore's intention in writing such an ambiguous story, so that other writers would be able to continue freely adopting the Joker's origin to the needs of their story, instead of only being tied down to one concrete story.
    • Another version of the Joker's origin is presented in the "Lovers & Madmen" story-arc running through issues Batman Confidential #7-Batman Confidential #12. However, the events from that storyline completely contradict with the events chronicled in "The Killing Joke," setting the Joker up as a depressed hitman.
    • The second compiled edition of "Batman: Black and White" provides yet another origin story titled "Case Study," this time written by Paul Dini and illustrated by Alex Ross. Naturally, it contradicts all the others as well.


  • During Zero Hour, a Batgirl of an alternate timeline appears who was never shot by the Joker. In her timeline, Commissioner Gordon was murdered that night and she grew on to a healthy older career, and even a romantic relationship with Batman himself.[2]
  • In Booster Gold (Volume 2) #5, Booster Gold is sent back in time by Rip Hunter in an effort to prevent the Joker's attack against Barbara Gordon. According to Hunter however, most historical events are immutable despite however many times one might attempt to manipulate the timestream, and the crippling of Barbara Gordon is one such event. He had been trying to teach Booster a lesson in temporal mechanics.
  • James Gordon, Jr. makes a reference to the events of The Killing Joke in the Black Mirror story arc. He mentions having been in a cell in Arkham Asylum adjacent to the Joker's, and hints at having given the Joker the idea to attack his sister. This is never further elaborated upon, and may have simply been a tease on the part of James's character, rather than an actual retcon of events.
  • The "Deluxe Edition" has an introduction by Tim Burton, who has stated that The Killing Joke is the first comic he's ever read and it became his favourite one. This is clearly seen on the movie Batman, which he directed. In the movie, the Joker's orgin is similar to the one in The Killing Joke.

See Also

Recommended Reading

Links and References