Arguably one of the most notorious entries into the Batman lexicon, Alan Moore’s one shot “The Killing Joke” has been the subject of debate since it hit shelves.  Love it or hate it, the story is an enduring one and a pivotal motivational moment for all involved characters from that point on.  It brought the Batman universe back into it’s dark primordial beginnings; vengeance and justice.

In the book, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (retired Batgirl by this time) in the spine in his mission to destroy Commissioner Gordon.  We KNOW the Clown Prince is deranged, crazy, violent, but this was a new step for him.  A ruthless and horrible choice that left Barbara paralyzed, and caused her to lose her early stages pregnancy, by one Bruce Wayne. Her involvement with Batman has been a highly contested subject, even though it’s been a canonical thing since the days of Batman: The Animated Series.

The bottom line for DC Comics lately has been attempting to find the balance between their history and making current fans happy, which during the New 52 fiasco included rewriting decades old origin stories for their more popular characters.  This of course caused great outcries of pleasure and pain alike, fans having to make a tough choice to continue with the Funny Papers House or to walk away.  I chose the latter, and it was probably one of the most painful breakups of my life.

But back to “The Killing Joke”.  The relaunching of the Batgirl comics has been both a blessing and a curse, as tons of new young ladies (and men!) have been flocking to the title, finding Barbara’s redesign to be appealing.  (Not THIS gal however, superheroes shouldn’t take selfies, unless they’re Deadpool.)  Her stories were softer, less dark, less intense.  It was as if all the years of her being a character to recon with had been reduced to one looming memory, which we know now “wasn’t real”.

In a 2003 interview, Moore (who changes his mind as often as I change socks) said of “The Killing Joke”:

The Killing Joke is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived. So there’s no important human information being imparted … Yeah, it was something that I thought was clumsy, misjudged and had no real human importance. It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t really relate to the real world in any way.

What does that have to do with this subject?  Well, it has NOW been revealed that a number of Batgirl’s memories were fake, implanted for nefarious purposes by The Fugue.  One of the big ones to be done away with?  “The Killing Joke”.

This is a page from Batgirl #49, the issue in which her implanted memories are revealed to be fake.
This is a page from Batgirl #49, the issue in which her implanted memories are revealed to be fake.

I could go on about how doing away with this story is a disservice to the character, about her surviving such a horror and thriving after it isn’t a plot device in ANY OTHER CHARACTER’S NARRATIVE BUT HERS, and now chickenshit it is for DC to hide behind a veil of “no more violence against women”.  I’m sorry, but isn’t having a female superhero who fights crime the DEFINITION of violence?  She seeks out fights, baddies to stop, no one forces her to become a capped crusader in Gotham, SHE MAKES THE CHOICE.  She always knew something truly awful could happen to her, she may not come home after a particularly bad tangle with the villain of the week.  She did it anyway, because it needed to be done.

The writer of issue #49, Cameron Stewart, took to his twitter to talk about why the change:

The very final page of “The Killing Joke” contained this line, which is now being taken as the gospel regarding the dark tale and it’s reality:


ABOUT >> Mary Anne Butler
  • BIO >> Mary Anne Butler (Mab) is a reporter and photographer from San Francisco California. She is a lifelong geek, huge music nerd, occasionally cosplays at conventions, does Renaissance Faires, and in general lives the life of a True Believer. She may be short, but she makes up for it with a loud voice.
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