Page 45 Review by Stephen
Completely - and I do mean radically - recoloured by Brian Bolland in a way that makes the SANDMAN: ABSOLUTE editions look like tinkering, this is a repackaging of the classic Joker story, and the only one in which he's ever been consistently witty. Not funny - because having just re-read it for the first time in over a decade I now remember just how nasty this is, how cruel - but he is undeniably, zealously and callously clever.
It's swimming with sadism and sexual humiliation: Commissioner Gordon is dragged naked across the rain-sodden fairground, in bondage to three bug-eyed midgets and subjected to equally exposed photographs of his daughter whom the Joker has just crippled in front of him with a bullet to the groin, sending her smashing through a glass-topped table:
"Please don't worry. It's a psychological complaint, common amongst ex-librarians. You see, she thinks she's a coffee table edition... Mind you, I can't say much for this volume's condition. I mean, there's a hole in the jacket and the spine appears to be damaged... Frankly, she won't be walking off the shelves in that state of repair. In fact, the idea of her walking anywhere seems increasingly remote. But then that's always a problem with softbacks."
This, WATCHMEN and MIRACLEMAN, all by Moore, were the first "modern" superhero stories (emphasised here by a small Bob Kane "photograph" of the extended Batman family in sillier times) as Moore set in motion the "grim and grittiness" whose subsequent pervasiveness he later regretted. Perhaps writers looked at these, saw their intelligence and equated that eloquence - almost unique at the time within the superhero genre - with the violence that came with it on all three projects.
The book's full of cues - visual, verbal and thematic - which link the present to the past and which are now standard in comics. Which brings us to the new colouring where the past is more clearly differentiated from the present than before. Well, when I say colouring I largely mean cleansing: gone are the sickly greens, yellows and ostentatious purples - and I do mean gone, not muted. It's a far classier affair, whereby the individual details are illuminated, and there's also some re-jigging of the linework plus a completely new figure in one panel. As Bolland writes, even if you own one of the previous printings, you can have extra fun playing "spot the difference".
"One bad day," could be the book's sub-title. The Joker contends that's all it takes to send a man mad: one seriously bad day, after which lunacy becomes the easiest escape route - an emergency exit and release valve. After all, that's what happened to him, and he wonders if exactly the same thing didn't happen to Batman...?
Collects BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE #1 and stories from BATMAN BLACK AND WHITE #4 and COUNTDOWN #31, plus dozens of covers, pinups and sketches. Also includes "An Innocent Guy" by Brian Bolland, in which a man calmly contemplates a single act of extreme violence just to get it out of his system. Chilling.