Earlier this year, DC announced a new line on the way: DC Original Novels. Basically, popular comic book stories will be adapted into novel form. The first out the gate was the classic Batman: The Killing Joke, with Mad Love and Court of Owls coming down the line. Sure, new content is always exciting, but how can a 48-page story be expanded to 300?
Batman: The Killing Joke (the novel) doesn’t add anything clever, creative or even meaningful to the story. For a classic that really pushed the boundaries of the medium 30 years ago, this book tries to be “edgy”, but plays it all pretty safe too. Let me do a quick rehash of the book.
The beginning starts like the graphic novel, where Batman discovers the Joker has broken out. Then, we jump back to 10 days earlier, eventually catching up to the current timeline. The remainder of the book is a near-exact interpretation of the graphic novel.
It’s the “10 days before” part of the story that DC is really banking on here, and it fails. The authors attempt to paint a unique 80’s Gotham, and that works. What doesn’t is the meandering story? We check in with Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock and a slate of new characters. But that’s it; we only check in. There’s no arc, no character study, nothing. Instead, we’re introduced to this drug that’s on the market that the Joker apparently created, giggle sniff (for real).
More time is given to the drug smuggling than our heroes, Batman and Batgirl (don’t worry, they don’t sleep together). They sort of track down some of the links to suppliers and stuff but still don’t do much. Instead of getting some great insight on Batgirl to make the later events more impactful, we get Barbara in the suit doing some crime fighting. Nothing more, nothing less.
A few positives of the novel though. There are loads of easter eggs all over the place. As is the requirement for all Batman tales, streets and buildings are named after prominent Batman creators of the past. Carl Grissom gets a few honorable mentions. And the authors also provide a clever escape plan for The Clown Prince. So hey, not a total loss.
Batman: The Killing Joke novel is a misfire for this new line of stories. It doesn’t add anything meaningful, and everything before the events of The Killing Joke is just filler.
Oh yeah, and as for those famous final panels of the original story? This book tells us what happened.
But I won’t.- Ryan Lower