Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke is arguably the greatest Batman story of all time. The Killing Joke is the twisted tale of The Joker crippling Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara, ending her tenure as Batgirl and beginning her journey to become Oracle. The story is very much aimed at an adult audience and is, at times, one of the most disturbing books you could ever read. It is gloriously dark, and an absolutely wonderful read. But is it still considered DC continuity? After Batgirl #49, we can’t be sure.
As you’d expect, from here on out there are spoilers up to and including Batgirl #49.
When The Killing Joke was created, it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be canon, but in the 28 years (WOW!) since it was published we’ve all pretty much adjusted to it being part of official continuity and the official origin of The Joker. Over those nearly three decades, Barbara has come to terms with what The Joker did to her in the most brutal of Batman tales. Batgirl #49 however, might be leading everyone to the new realisation that The Killing Joke isn’t canon, but more than that – it never actually happened.
Since Tanner & Stewart started their run on Batgirl, the series has certainly taken a much lighter turn. I think this is a nice touch, and puts it in a great contrast to the main Batman titles right now. Tara is alluding in her tweet to the moment that Joker shot Barbara Gordon through the spine, crippling her and eventually turning her into Oracle. At least she has a sense of humour! To make things even less clear (if that’s at all possible at this stage), writer Cameron Stewart decided to chime in on the potential controversy to try and clear things up:
Now that we’re a few days out from it, a thought on Batgirl 49: I’m often interested in ambiguity as a narrative device. One of the things we intended for this issue was for it to be read in several ways, depending on your own interpretation and/or preference. I believe that an individual’s subjective interpretation of a work of art can matter as much as the artist’s intent. What does an image mean to you specifically? How do you interpret it based on your own set of experiences? There’s no right or wrong answer. This is, I think, an unusual concept for the superhero genre, where material is often strictly deemed canonical or “real,” or not. There’s no right, and no wrong, way to read that page. It is what it is to you. We deliberately set it up that way. If you want to read it as retcon, you’re welcome & encouraged to do so. If you want the timeline as-is, you are also encouraged to do so. Your own personal “truth” in this story is what we want you to take from it. How you read that page is how it is.
So, Stewart wants to leave it up to you, the reader, to decide if The Killing Joke is canon or not. To be perfectly honest, I like this move. It fits perfectly with the more upbeat tone the character has had since Tarr and Stewart took charge. Long may it continue!
Of course, if you don't like to get your dose of The Bat in comic-book form, he can be seen later this month thoroughly kicking Superman in the ass. Just to whet your appetite, here's the trailer: