The Killing Joke: Does Batman Kill the Joker at the End? | Fanboys Anonymous

The Killing Joke: Does Batman Kill the Joker at the End?

Posted by Anthony Mango Friday, August 16, 2013
The Killing Joke has long been one of the most influential and popular stories to the Batman saga. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland/John Higgins, it was a one-shot that has surpassed its solo concept and instead, spawned much more story out of it than originally intended. It is responsible for the foundation of many core concepts of the Batman story...but was it supposed to, instead, be the end?

Download Killing Joke Comic Torrent Online Read Free issue 1


On this week's Fatman on Batman podcast (which I highly recommend subscribing to as they've had fantastic episodes in the past with Paul Dini and Mark Hamill amongst others), Kevin Smith talks to Grant Morrison about his favorite Batman stories. When The Killing Joke comes up, Morrison blows us all out of the water with his interpretation.

"No one gets the end, cause Batman kills The Joker."


"That's why it's called The Killing Joke. The Joker tells the Killing Joke at the end, Batman reaches out and breaks his neck and that's why the laughter stops and then the light goes out, cause that was the last chance at crossing that bridge."


As a refresher for those who haven't read it in a while, The Killing Joke tells the story of The Joker's origins as a former chemical engineer who quits his job to become a stand-up comedian and fails miserably at it. To support his pregnant wife, Jeannie, he is coaxed into aiding two criminals in an attempted robbery of the card company adjacent to his chemical plant. He tries to back out when his wife dies, but the criminals force him into it, making him don the Red Hood mask (which they give to the inside accomplice of their crimes to make him seem like the ringleader). In the process of Batman's foiling the crime, he falls into the vat of acid, bleaching his skin, dying his hair, and going insane...become the Joker we all know today.

Joker then tries to illustrate his point that "one bad day" is all it takes for someone to go nuts like he did. After all, it must have happened to Batman to turn him into what he is. He shoots Barbara Gordon, paralyzing her, and tries to put the same stress on Commissioner Gordon to make him snap...but he fails.

At the end, Batman and Joker have a nice, long chat about this game of chess they play with one another. Batman expresses his concerns that this is going to continue until one or both of them are dead, but urges that it doesn't HAVE to end that way. This can just simply end, right now, without more bloodshed.

It is then, when we see one of the only glimpses into Joker's mind that shows that there may be more to him than just the psychopath lunatic mass murderer—that he might have a soul.

Read The Killing Joke Batman Story Online Free What is the joke at the end of The Killing Joke?

This leads to the end of the story, that everyone is now analyzing with a finer-toothed comb than before, thanks to Grant Morrison:

Grant Morrison's Killing Joke Death Theory

To Morrison, these panels depict Batman strangling The Joker (seen in panels 5 and 6). The laughter abruptly ends, because The Joker has been murdered. Then, the light goes out, because that symbolizes the last chance opportunity having passed, as referenced in the joke itself.

As big of a fan of The Killing Joke as I am, I've never once thought of this interpretation of the ending. Rather, I've always thought that this was a validation of the continuing nature of the story.

In my mind, I originally figured this was just Batman grabbing The Joker and either knocking him out or dragging him away into custody as we always see him do. The rain washes away the mud because it's a time passage. Once Joker is apprehended, the police don't simply pack up and leave. As with any crime scene, people are around for a while afterward. Evidence is taken, the wounded are cared for, etc. This time passage illustrates that everything just moves along as it always does. Batman and Joker are deadlocked into this fight and always will be. Everyone else is just in the crossfire. When the two of them are gone, the laughter stops and nature is allowed to run its course.

Now, on the other hand, I'm second-guessing myself.

Alan Moore is nuts and totally would do something fatalist like writing "the last Batman/Joker story" that ends with Batman breaking his moral code and just killing him. After all, look at V for Vendetta, Watchmen, etc. The heroes are murderers that try to justify doing the same thing that their villains do. This has always been my aversion to those stories, as on a personal level, I just don't think that there's any validation or celebration in such a pessimistic point of view in life. It makes for good stories, but it's just something that doesn't sit right with me. This applies tenfold when it comes to Batman.

Batman does not kill. He's not the hypocritical Rorschach, who speaks ill of killers and is just as bad if not worse than they are. "Never compromise" your ideals about how people shouldn't kill each other, except, you know, when you want to kill those killers. Batman should always be that ONE example of someone who, no matter what, absolutely will not ever kill someone.

Could he be indirectly responsible for a death or even directly through some sort of accident or something? Sure. Batman could give villains the tools to kill themselves, but he should deep down still always hope for rehabilitation instead, and he should never decide to take a life, even Joker's.

People always argue that The Joker is the one exception to the rule. It's discussed by Jason Todd when he returns from the death. "I'm not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I'm talking about HIM. Just HIM."

But still, Batman says no.

Batman almost kills Alexander Luthor when he fears that Dick Grayson has been killed. He even gets pushed to the limit of holding a gun to his head—but still, Batman stops himself.

The argument is made all the time that Joker and Batman depend on one another and they are two sides of the same coin. "We're not so different, you and I" is the trope that comes to mind. In the Emperor Joker story, we see that even with the powers of a god, Joker continually kills Batman and brings him back to life, because he prefers to have Batman around. Then, he undoes reality, as someone like himself should not exist. Joker even has a soft spot for Harley Quinn and places her amongst the stars. Nice guy.

If that's the case, Batman should never kill Joker, either. He could secretly hope that Joker dies without getting the blood on his hands at the moments that he's weak, but he should always strive for a rehabilitation of Joker instead. What Batman wants is for Joker to give it all up and turn into a good person again. This would justify Batman's entire existence as it means that there is an endgame. If Joker can turn good, there is hope that humanity can reach a point where no evil exists and no kid's parents will be gunned down in front of him.

As parts of this were made canon and Joker was not dead in those stories that followed, you can argue that he obviously did not die. But if you maintain this as a standalone story, then I can see in Alan Moore's mind, Batman more than likely does kill The Joker and that is it. Life sucks, good never really triumphs in the war of idealism, typical Alan Moore.

Still, he has left some ambiguity to this, as Grant Morrison states. The panels never directly depict a kill, nor does anyone outright state that it happened. Richard Starkings, who was the letterer for the comic, claims that Batman is laughing so hard that he leans on Joker for support and that's it.

If you feel that the death angle flies directly in opposition of what the character stands for, makes no sense, and therefore you're looking for a way to have your cake and eat it, too....but you're also not a fan of my original interpretation that it symbolizes the never-ending struggle between the two...then I submit to you this alternative:

As a finale, we've seen before in The Dark Knight Returns that Batman breaks Joker's neck and paralyzes him. It puts an end to him, but it's just at the limit where he doesn't actually kill him. Whether Joker finishes the act or not is unseen and it doesn't matter.

What do you personally think about all this? Does Batman kill Joker at the end of The Killing Joke or does something else happen?


By the way, please support Fatman on Batman. Such a great podcast deserves all the adulation. Subscribe via iTunes or check the link above to go to the site directly.

Tony Mango is the founder, editor-in-chief, head writer and podcast host of Fanboys Anonymous as well as all other A Mango Tree branches including Smark Out Moment. He is a pundit, creative director/consultant, fiction writer and more. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.