As originally reported by Bleeding Cool, Billy Hynes, a former employee of London’s Gosh Comics, tweeted a photo on Sunday that appeared to be a page of original art from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke. The page, which shows the Joker’s infamous assault on the paralyzed Barbara Gordon, is far more graphic than the final, printed version.
As Hynes tweeted (image NSFW):
Did they really rethink this’d get into an issue of Batman? “Love that Joker” pic.twitter.com/g6KGKNaAgH
— Billy Hynes (@BillyHynes) December 1, 2013
Later, on his personal blog, Brian Bolland confirmed that the page was indeed from the original version of the scene and that Moore’s script called for the more graphic version, which Bolland was obviously asked by DC to change: “I drew what was in the script. That’s my job. I was asked to tone it down a bit.” Although the published version of the work strongly implies the Joker’s sexual violence, the fact that the original script and art depicted a nude Barbara Gordon makes it a far more disturbing scene. The fact that rape, both implied and explicit, is not uncommon in Moore’s work is troubling in its own right, but the graphic nature of the scene, in a highly-acclaimed Batman story no less, makes this instance even more controversial. Not only that, but the revelation of the original artwork raises several questions about Moore’s, and The Killing Joke‘s, continuing influence on mainstream super-hero comics.
Earlier this year, Grant Morrison’s interpretation of the Killing Joke’s finale shocked the internet (or at least those people who hadn’t figured it out already). Morrison’s claim that the Joker kills Batman at the end of the story is clearly only one way of reading an intentionally vague scene. Obviously, DC would never let them actually kill Batman in the story, but the fact that the ending could be interpreted that way enriches the twenty-five-year-old comic. Although Moore has repeatedly critiqued the story, saying that he “[doesn't] think it’s a very good book,” and “[i]t’s not saying anything very interesting,” The Killing Joke has left an indelible mark on the popular understanding of Batman. The story’s portrayal of the Joker, and his relationship with Batman, obviously influenced Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. If Moore had in fact intended to “kill” Batman at the end of the story, it adds another layer to an influential work.
However, the scene with Barbara is different. Unlike the ending, there is little room for interpretation, given the already strong implications of the Joker’s sexual torture of both Barbara and Jim Gordon. Although the original art doesn’t actually depict rape, showing Barbara’s naked breasts underlines what was merely implied in the published version, and it makes the scene even more unsettling. One of the reasons that The Killing Joke remains an important Batman story is that the Joker’s paralyzing of Barbara Gordon was incorporated into DC continuity, so the fact that the creators had intended that scene to be even more graphic seems misguided at best and morally repugnant at worst.
Of course, all of this comes shortly after Moore claimed that adult fans of super-heroes are “emotionally subnormal,” which makes me wonder why mainstream comics continue to seek influence and acceptance from a creator who is so dismissive of the genre. The man who wanted to show Batgirl’s nude breasts before paralyzing her thinks super-hero fans are “subnormal”? Pot, meet kettle.