It’s one of the most shocking and controversial moments in comic book history: the moment when Batman, the Dark Knight of Gotham City, seemingly transformed into his archenemy, the Clown Prince of Crime known as the Joker. How did this happen?
Was it a trick, a dream, or a reality? Let’s explore the origins and interpretations of this unforgettable event.
The Killing Joke
The seminal graphic novel The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, was published in 1988 by DC Comics. The story is a psychological thriller that delves into the past and present of the Joker, who kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and tries to prove that anyone can go insane after one bad day.
One of the most controversial scenes in the book is when Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) and paralyzes her from the waist down. This act triggers Batman’s anger and determination to bring Joker to justice.
However, at the end of The Killing Joke, there is a surreal sequence where Batman confronts Joker in an abandoned carnival. They share a dialogue about their conflicting worldviews and how they might have been friends if not for their roles as hero and villain.
Then something happens that baffled readers for years: Batman suddenly grabs Joker by the shoulders and laughs with him. The panels fade to black as two Silhouettes are seen against an explosion.
Many fans and scholars have debated what this ending means. Some see it as a symbolic victory for Joker, who finally breaks Batman’s moral code by making him laugh at violence and chaos.
Others see it as a sign that Batman has gone insane from all his trauma and has adopted Joker’s nihilistic philosophy as a coping mechanism or revenge. Still, others argue that the entire scene is an illusion or a hallucination, either by Joker’s gas or Batman’s mind.
The ambiguous ending of The Killing Joke left a lasting impact on the Batman mythos and inspired numerous follow-up stories that explored the possibility of Batman turning into Joker. For example:
- In the 1991 storyline “A Death in the Family”, Joker kills Jason Todd (the second Robin) and Batman becomes more ruthless and vengeful.
- In the 2008 series Batman: RIP, written by Grant Morrison, Batman faces a villain called Dr. Hurt who claims to be his evil double from an alternate dimension.
- In the 2012 graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller, Batman comes out of retirement to fight crime again but faces opposition from both the government and his former allies. At one point, he pretends to be insane and gets admitted to Arkham Asylum to confront Joker directly.
- In the 2019 movie Joker, directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, we see a new version of Joker’s origin that involves a failed comedian named Arthur Fleck who becomes violent after being mistreated by society. While this movie doesn’t directly connect to Batman’s story, it implies that Joker and Batman share a similar fate as outcasts who resort to extreme measures.
Whether you believe that Batman turning into Joker is possible or not, it’s undeniable that this idea has sparked many creative interpretations and debates among fans. The dynamic between hero and villain is never static or predictable, and sometimes even their roles can be reversed or blurred. Perhaps the true lesson of this concept is that even the greatest heroes can fall, and even the most monstrous villains can have a human side.