One more thing – Dark Knight/Killing JokePosted: December 22, 2008
I’m going to do my best here to not rehash things that have already been said here. I can pretty much guarantee that I will fail.
Talking about either story really comes down to discussing the four major characters of the story: Batman, the Joker, Two-Face/Dent, and Detective/Commisioner Gordon. Certainly there are other ancillary characters that play important roles, but most of what they do serves largely to drive these characters. We’ll start with the Killing Joke because I don’t have to discuss Harvey Dent at all.
I think in the end the Killing Joke deals with the struggle of archetypes. As Batman tells the faux-joker at the beginning, the struggle that they are locked into is a cycle that can only be broken with the death of one of its participants. The Joker cannot stop being the Anarchist/Murderer/Joker and Batman cannot stop being Vigilante/Crime-Fighter/Batman. In the same way Commisioner will never be anything but a balancing force/good cop, no matter how hard he is pushed by either side. This is probably what makes the ending so irritating to me, a moment of levity shared between two mortal foes (as far as mortality goes in comics anyway) after a long look at how it’s impossible for them to be anything but enemies.
Of course there’s also the potential backstory for the Joker, Batman’s own sympathetic origins, and the conventional law and order morality behind Jim Gordon’s world view. These characters weren’t always the monolithic archetypes they have become. At some point each of them went through or goes through a massive traumatic event. I think Moore’s hypothesis is that everyone goes through some moment of great stress that defines who they are and strips away everything else, further stressful events only reinforce this character. The Joker was a normal nice person pushed as far as anyone could be and he came out of it the Joker and it’s clear that nothing will ever make him go back to being normal. Bruce Wayne had his world come crashing down and he was refined into the Batman and no matter how he tries or who he hurts the Joker cannot make Batman become Bruce Wayne again. Commisioner Gordon became a cop long ago, and even when he literally has his life stripped from him, he’s still going to remain that cop.
The Dark Knight deals with those archetypes, but looks more at when they fail. The four main players all have their own very strong ideas about how the world works or should work and they all try to impose that worldview on Gotham. The Joker believes that the only rational way to live is with no rules or structure, that chaos is the only reasonable way to exist. Batman has his own problems with societies rules, but only when they stop working or when they stand in the way of JUSTICE. Gordon may be willing to bend rules like most police forces do, but he will hunt down anyone that breaks them, even someone who just saved his family. Harvey Dent sees duality in everything: you either die a hero or live till you become a villain (and presumably vice versa). Eventually this turns into a full fledged belief that Random Chance rules over every aspect of life.
Gotham is the crucible where these guys test and push their philosphies on each other and the populace. Batman test’s Gordon’s belief in the system. Gordon calls out Batman on the consequences of his tactics and existance. Two Face makes them both wonder if they can trust in the system at all. They in turn try to make Harvey see that his random approach to existance only makes things worse for everyone. And the Joker sits back and tests everyone’s ideas of how the world works, and is in turn proved wrong about how people will act given the chance to break the rules. Everyone of the characters makes mistakes again and again, and everyone is proved wrong. Certainly some of them have more valid and workable beliefs, but no one is perfect or infallible.
I think in the end what the difference in films comes down to is change (you can believe in!). Killing Joke ends with the same panel it began with, and a sense that nothing has changed. The story will repeat itself again and again until someone dies. The Dark Knight on the other hand leaves all the characters changed. Two Face is dead; Batman has had to take measures far more drastic and deadly than he ever intended; The Joker’s belief that he could break anyone proved completely wrong; and Gordon has had to lie to protect a murderer and attack a friend. Some bent, some broke but no one came out unchaged by the events in the Dark Knight like they did in the Killing Joke.