(Warning: The following contains major plot SPOILERS for the comic book version of 'Batman: The Killing Joke,' and therefore potentially for the soon to arrive animated movie version. Proceed with whatever level of caution that suggests to you is wise.)
Now, as far as near-universally iconic Batman comic books go, there's not too many that can trump Batman: The Killing Joke. Now, sure, The Dark Knight Returns is pretty darned beloved, and there's certainly something to be said for the Robin-killing A Death in the Family, but when it comes to both initial impact and long-running repercussions, The Killing Joke sure does seem to have them beat. Which, it seems, will likely be highlighted by its soon to arrive animated adaptation, the official trailer for which has just arrived online:
That all being said, however, there's still something of an elephant in the room when it comes to The Killing Joke — a question that still burns in the hearts of fans around the world. That question?
Did Batman Kill The Joker In The Killing Joke's Final Moments?
After all, from the looks of that there panel taken from the comic book's final page, it sure does look as though Batman, though laughing, is either choking or stabbing the Joker. Is it possible — as acclaimed comic book writer Grant Morrison claimed back in 2013 — that Batman actually killed the Joker, and that we all just failed to notice?
Well, let's take a look at both sides of the argument, shall we?
Option A) Batman Killed The Joker At The End Of The Killing Joke
So. Take a look at the full context of the moment for a second:
Now, sure, it's entirely possible that Batman and the Joker are simply becoming overcome by the absurdity of the moment that they find themselves in — one in which the Joker has just tortured Commissioner Gordon, and nearly killed (and paralyzed) Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon, and yet simply continued the pair's endless cycle of chaos and order. In that context, though, it sure does seem possible that Batman might just — just this once — have broken his vow to never kill.
After all, the Joker just stripped one of Batman's closest friends naked, having already shot and paralyzed her, and then then forced one of Batman's other closest friends, her father, to watch as she seemingly bled to death.
If that's not a plausible reason to temporarily suspend your moral code, I'm not entirely sure what is.
Add to that the distinctly unusual framing of the pair's laughter...
...and it sure does seem as though Batman's killing of the Joker, if not exactly made explicit, is at least implied.
Alternatively, though, there's also...
Option B) Batman Didn't Kill The Joker At The End Of The Killing Joke
Which, for the sake of brevity, can be broken down into three key points:
1) Batman doesn't kill. Ever. (Except when he does.)
2) The Killing Joke, or at least its plot implications, was brought into mainstream DC continuity, with Barbara Gordon's paralysis becoming a key plot point for years. If Batman had indeed killed the Joker, then his appearance post The Killing Joke would have surely been impossible.
And, perhaps most importantly of all...
3) The original script for the comic book says absolutely nothing about Batman killing the Joker. As Alan Moore put it in his original text for the comic:
Now just a half figure or head and shoulders shot of the Batman from the front. The absurdity of the situation comes homes to him, and one corner of his mouth twitches upwards. He and The Joker are going to kill each other one day. It’s preordained. They may as well enjoy this one rare moment of contact while it lasts.
Which, while acknowledging the potential for the pair to one day kill one another, very much doesn't mention any current Joker-killing on Batman's part. Which would seem to suggest that this...
...really is simply a moment of Batman becoming overwhelmed by the absurdity of he and the Joker's situation, and allowing himself to be subsumed by the waves and waves of crazy.
In other words? It seems that — textually speaking — Batman didn't technically kill the Joker. And yet, it sure does — visually speaking — seem as though he did. Which makes this one of those questions that is nigh on impossible to give a definitive answer to.
The big question now, then?