Moore & Bolland’s ‘The Killing Joke’ — A gay romantic comedy

Alan Moore and Brian Bolland dish up a steamy, hedonistic, homoerotic tale of love turned sour in Batman: The Killing Joke. A tour de force akin to Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, the author and artist dig deep into the gestalt of modern, gay relationships in the large city and boldly face the issues of mental health, codependence, elder abuse, and misogyny through a uniquely gay lens. If such was not their intent, they should get a room and a vial of Ketamine and figure it out because someone wants to do something with someone else in this mess or my name ain’t Polly.

As my name’s not Polly, my entire thesis is flawed. But if you read this thing right, it sounds like gay romance or literary fiction. Consider Batman’s “talk” with the prisoner he believes to be the Joker at the opening of the book. If you read that dialog and you’re a fan of Neil Young or Tool (or even Guns N Roses) then some titles might naturally come to mind–songs about love and murder and the inevitability that one leads to the other. It’s an unfortunately common theme in art, in life, in the headlines. But it’s two men–or rather one man addressing the object of his unnatural fixation–and he presents the ultimatum: We can talk or one of us will die. The unspoken implication here is that if one dies, then “we” — “us” — the codependent nuclear relationship — ceases to exist as well.

Later we find Bruce Wayne in transition, coming out of his costume with the aid of the older, soft-spoken Alfred. Infatuated, Bruce plasters numerous monitors around the Bat Cave with larger-than-life images of the Joker’s face. He laments that even after all of the years they’ve been at one another’s throats, he still doesn’t truly know the Joker.

But Batman’s bad taste in men is almost as hideous as his taste in fetish wear (The hood I can understand, but a cape? Really? Atrocious!) The Joker’s past failures compel him to seek stability in a daddy figure–Commissioner Gordon. Barbara Gordon, the Commissioner’s biological daughter and Bruce Wayne’s fruit-fly / gal-pal, serves to remind the Joker that he can never have what he truly desires–an intimate yet open relationship with Batman. In a fit of misplaced, misogynistic jealousy, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, transferring the rage he feels for Batman onto Batgirl.

The Joker abducts Commissioner Gordon and transforms the dignified, powerful civil servant into a naked, collared, beaten sex slave. That the Joker doesn’t attempt to penetrate his prisoner, but instead subjects the old man to a litany of crimes and worldly ills–rape, starvation, war–essentially blaming the man whose job it is to protect people from such things–the symbolism becomes clear: The Joker is the return of the (sexually) repressed, the generation of pantywaists every old geezer in a uniform fears. He is long hair on boys in the 1960s, pierced ears in the 1980s, and skinny jeans in the 2000s. He’s reruns of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and every queer-inclusive line of dialog from every Brit drama over the past two decades.

Batman, having read Iron John in his off hours, understands the importance of rescuing Commissioner Gordon. He visits old flames (the Penguin, to name one) in an effort to validate his feelings. Then he’s invited–the Joker wants to see him–and the Old Man needs saving.

Now before the cops arrive and confiscate my bongos and take Mr. McConaughey and me into custody, let me make a quick observation about what’s really going on here: The Joker wants Bruce Wayne to come out of the closet. When he grabs Batman’s cowl and tries to pull it off, Batman says, “No!” and makes himself vulnerable to attack. This symbolizes Bruce Wayne’s desperate need to remain closeted, to keep his forbidden love a secret from the public. The Joker acknowledges this by book’s end; the joke he tells reflects his understanding of what’s going on. The man who jumps from the asylum is the Joker–unafraid of the fall, of society’s condemnation–while Bruce Wayne is the lunatic who fears his friend will switch off the flashlight beam as he traverses the gap. That would be the death Batman fears at the book’s outset–the death of the lie that Bruce Wayne is straight.

The Killing Joke–Gayest graphic novel ever. QED.

8 thoughts on “Moore & Bolland’s ‘The Killing Joke’ — A gay romantic comedy

  1. And I thought I was the only one who read the book with that understanding.

    No, really. I spent some years in the BDSM arena doing research for a couple of books under my “Michelle Robbins” pen name and, yeah. All of what you said totally sprang out to me as well. Not only the Coming Out thing, but also the rubber/fetish lifestyle. (Really, Batman is inside a modified gimp suit. I get that. Only his mouth is accessible? That would suck.) (Literally? Yeah, I went there.)

    I’ve also experienced the pain and consequences of coming out, and the often traumatic things people will do to stay in the closet, but from a second person POV. (The daughter.) Consequently, I’ve written a fairly well-accepted Coming Out book under that same pen name.

    I TOTALLY SAW THIS STORY IN THE SAME LIGHT AS YOU.

    I once watched an episode of Bones that discussed BDSM’S Pony Play. What that episode discussed, and what I read from this book, and what I learned from my time in the BDSM arena is that there is a desperation from folks with unusual sexuality to find their complement. They will do much to keep a lover who feeds that hunger inside their life. The Joker kills to keep Batman’s attention. Batman keeps the Joke within reach and incarcerated under the hope/wish/argument that he can be rehabilitated.

    The dialogue? As you said, totally the anguish of a frustrated lover when their partner won’t “fall into line,” but can’t reconcile themselves with the reality that their partner’s differences is the fascination.

    I thought I was the only one who read the book this way. So did you.
    Neither of us is alone in this interpretation.

    That may be the most frightening part of it all. >:p

    Liked by 1 person

  2. michaelkingram

    It was heartbreaking watching poor Batman try to pour out his feelings to the man he’s had such a close but tumultuous relationship, only to find that he’s speaking to an imposter. He has to return to his cave (because what is a cave but a large, “natural” closet?) and address his failure to bridge the emotional gap.

    It’s an interesting angle to think about, and could probably be widened to the entire superhero genre. It has a bunch of potential symbols of gay self-repression at play: men tight outfits showing off bulging muscles, lots of “hand to hand” combat, masks and secret identities and outfits that look vaguely BDSM.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If only Tom of Finland could’ve illustrated a Batman comic….

      The closet is inherent in the secret identity / alter-ego. As I recall. in the 1960s Batman TV show, Batgirl’s secret lair was a converted walk-in closet hidden by a vanity. She’d press a button and the wall would rotate to reveal her secret lair.

      Like

    1. The queer theory analysis writes itself if you have two guys and make the assumption that at least one of them wants to get it on with the other. That’s a barbaric way to state it, but I’m busy deconstructing Derrida.

      Like

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