Batman and Joker, completely inseparable. Two halves of the same coin. Both as crazy as the other. Batman can't live without the Joker as he's a reminder of what happens when you take a tragedy the wrong way. The Joker can't live without Batman, he's too much fun, he needs to show the bat that everyone's just as crazy as he is. And this complex relationship is portrayed perfectly in The Killing Joke.
The graphic novel stands as one of the most loved novels of the Joker, as it shows his past - before all of the white skin and green haired madness. It also shows that just 'one bad day' can turn anyone into a psycho, that he isn't a rampaging loony for no reason. And it also tries to explore the idea that anyone can experience a bad day and turn mad as a consequence - Batman for instance? This graphic novel is my favourite amongst my bookshelf and the recent film adaptation has received some criticism which I think defeats the point of the novel as a story, and I want to explore why the ending of The Killing Joke is both intriguing and completely apt.
Batman and The Joker: Foes Forever?
Within the comic and cinematic world, Batman and The Joker have been foes for a rather long time. They've been foes from the very start when they made a debut in Detective Comics in 1939. When Batman got his own title the following year, The Joker was his immediate adversary in issue #1. The relationship between the two became much more complex throughout the years, as writers moved the Joker away from the child-friendly villain and began taking him back to his more violent roots in the ‘70s and ‘80s, during which he killed Jason Todd (the second Robin) and paralysed Barbara Gordon. This is when Batman and the Joker's dark attachment to each other blossomed.
Alan Moore's The Killing Joke (1988) was essential in portraying the Joker as it included his dark past as an ex lab worker and failed comedian whose wife had died in a freak accident. After needing to gain some money, he joins the Red Hood Gang and his mission fails as he falls into a chemical vat. This is all important to Batman and the Joker's relationship, as a peak into the Joker's past life allows us to recognise that both hero and villain has been through hell and back - and only one of them turned out sane. But is Batman sane? He dresses as his worst nightmare to try and round up Gotham's worst criminals, the only thing which stops him becoming the Joker is his famous 'rule' - never kill the criminal.
Batman's rule has been the Joker's only goal within most of the adaptations of him. We see this portrayed the best in The Dark Knight, as Ledger's Joker is constantly trying to get the Bat to give in to his rule and kill him. He shouts; "Do it, do it, I want you to do it!" when Batman rides his bat-bike towards him. And in the interrogation room he famously says;
The Joker: Oh, then that's the rule you'll have to break to know the truth.
Batman: [getting impatient] Which is?
The Joker: The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.
[mimicking Batman's voice]
The Joker: And tonight you're gonna break your one rule.
Once Batman gives up, and breaks his rule, the Joker will not need him anymore - simply because he's proven his point. One bad day can turn anyone into a murderous criminal.
Did The Joker Make Batman?
When Tim Burton introduced Batman (1989), he messed around with the Joker's (Nicholson) past, and delved a tad deeper than Moore went with his adaptation of the past in The Killing Joke. Burton introduced the idea that the Joker - or Jack Napier - had made Batman who is he today. In a flashback, triggered by the famous words; "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?", Batman remembers the night his parents were murdered. He recognises the Joker's words and instantly realises that it was a young Jack Napier who shot both his parents in that alley way. From this point on, Batman is fuelled by rage more than ever, what does this mean for their strange attachment to each other? Perhaps we'll never know where Burton intended to take that narrative, as at the end of the film we see the Joker presumably dead from the huge fall from a helicopter.
If we stick with the idea that the Joker did indeed kill Bruce Wayne's parents, then that would explain Batman's need to keep the Joker around instead of killing him. The Joker is Batman's only tie to his deceased parents, the only reminder that they're gone and the only thing keeping him sane. If the Joker was to die, disappear, or quit crime then Batman wouldn't have anyone to keep him grounded. Perhaps if the Joker wasn't around, Batman would forget his only rule and fall into the abyss of murdering, forgetting that his ultimate goal is to restore the justice that wasn't around when his parents died.
What Has This Got To Do With 'The Killing Joke'?
I've already seen criticism of The Killing Joke's ending, which might I add is exactly the same as the graphic novel that everyone praised. People saying it was boring, people saying it was rubbish. I, for one, think it sums up Batman and the Joker's relationship absolutely flawlessly. They finally run out of steam, they no longer want to fight one an other, they feel that this is only going to go round in circles. Batman admits he doesn't want either of them to die, and he doesn't want the Joker to keep chasing him anymore. When they get to the end of their fight, the Joker steps back and tells the infamous joke;
“See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum... and one night, one night they decide they don't like living in an asylum any more. They decide they're going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light... stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend didn't dare make the leap. Y'see... Y'see, he's afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea... He says 'Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I'll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!' B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says... He says 'Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You'd turn it off when I was half way across!”
After this, the Joker begins laughing hysterically, which in turn makes Batman laugh. The novel ends there. No fighting, no killing, nothing but laughter. It culminates both of their struggles and how, ultimately, they are the same. They can pretend that they're different, polar opposites, but when it boils down to it - Bruce had a tragedy and he deals with it using the Bat, the Joker had a tragedy and he deals with it through madness.
No matter how many times Batman and the Joker feature in a comic/film together, I don't think they'll ever get past their feud. And I don't think they should, they help each other immensely without even knowing it. Batman needs the Joker and visa versa. I don't want this relationship to ever end.