Recently, Grant Morrison made some waves with his interpretation of the last scene of the 1988 Alan Moore/Brian Bolland graphic novel opus, ‘The Killing Joke,’ (which also triggered our discussion of that rather imposing tome in the latest Major Spoilers Podcast.)  Morrison opined that “no one gets the end” of the book, explaining that (in his analysis) the final sequence depicts Batman finally crossing the line and snapping his old enemy’s neck just off-panel, finally giving their decades-old rivalry an ending.  The roots of the idea do touch something which admittedly is an appealing concept for comics, providing the story with something that Batman tales almost always lack: the metaphorical final act.  Regardless of the thought process involved, it’s a controversial stance.  Even here at Stately Spoilers Manor, there has been much spirited discussion about Grant’s theory, which in turn begs a query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) does prefer a Joker with no origin at all, but understands the appeal of illuminating the roots of his madness and still enjoys Moore’s TKJ backstory, asking: Do you think Grant Morrison’s analysis of The Killing Joke is the “correct” one?


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. No.

    Going by Morrison’s interpretation, Batman just threw Commissioner Gordon’s plea he bring the Joker in by the book out the window. Kind of a dick move, Bats.

    Personally, I think the ending of Batman & the Joker–for a brief moment–recognizing the endless, absurd cycle they’re stuck in and sharing a mutual laugh is a far more effective and poignant ending than what Morrison suggests.

    Whenever the subject of Grant Morrison comes up, I always find myself thinking of something Nietzsche said:
    “To find everything profound…that is an inconvenient trait.”

  2. It is a valid reading of the material if you can make a compelling argument for your point and defend it. I think this passes that test. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, what with the fallacy of authorial intent.

    Do I believe it? I believe it is something Alan Moore would write. He wrote ‘What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ after all.

  3. No.

    From the small bit of research that I looked into, this seems like something that Brian Bolland said at a convention, and Grant Morrison latched onto it.

    I think its a fun interpretation to think about, but no way do I believe that’s the original ending! The Dark Knight Returns is the only place I want to think about the deaths of those characters.

  4. Yes and No.

    As was stated above, I never think it’s about the truth of a reading but rather the skill with which it is argued. Obviously fans have their pet theories and do get quite angry when challenged, and I can see very legitimate challenges to the idea. But since I think it is a provocative suggestion, I find it very valid. There is something to be said for Morrison’s reading in the face of the final few panels depiction of a beam of light being “turned off.” And so, the madness ends.

    I always find it funny how people attack Morrison for being thoughtfully provocative. Whatever one thinks of Morrison as a creator, I would think that, as a lover of comics, one would appreciate a writer who takes the medium so seriously that he sees it as art capable of affecting us in profound ways.

  5. No. g-mo is a burned-out pseudo-mystic, and “his interpretation” of anything is horribly flawed. Yes, I know I’m biased and that’s an unreasoned & illogical statement, but that’s about as much thought as g-mo put into his ‘interpretation’ of things, so I feel validated in my not-thinking-too-hardness.

    (By the way, he’s not “thoughtfully” provocative. He’s the Rob Liefeld of plot. He takes whatever exists, and adds “grim, gritty & weird”, and voila, supposedly he’s “creative”. If there’s a verbal equivalent to “belts and pouches and shoulderpads”, g-mo is it. He creates controversy for the sake of sales, and never seems to have any complete, finished ideas.)

    • Rob Liefield huh? Yeah, not so sure about that one…

      Whatever you think of him, I would argue that the very fact that Morrison has such passionate defenders and attackers means he’s doing something interesting. I had a chance to see the director Nicholas Refn speak a few weeks ago, and he said something that has stayed with me…he would rather have people love or hate him than have no opinion…then at least he is having an affect

      • It sounds like you subscribe to the theory that “any publicity is good publicity” when it comes to “interesting”, i.e., if people are talking about it, it must be interesting. Also, I think you mean having an “effect”, not “affect”. If the person who spoke said “affect”, then they’re not really as smart as they sounded.

  6. Wait what?! I always read Batsy laughing at the realization of how pathetic the Joker was as an individual and that he’s not worth his wrath just his pity…

  7. No. The author gave no indications of any of this in the script. Brian Bolland has hinted at this ending (check Bleeding Cool’s articles on the subject), but Alan Moore has gone on record as saying he was disappointed by his own work, hardly the response of a man who snuck in one hell of an easter egg. I am hard pressed to find any evidence. I took the end of the laughter to be one sound eclipsing another and the last depiction of the characters is in no way indicative of the kind of grappling required to snap someone’s neck. Also, it would be next to impossible to only cripple someone while shooting from the hip, unless one had the barrel almost touching the target, and even then, chances are slim. In closing, the poisoned needle theory works a little better, but I’m not buying that one either. How important is authorial intent in this instance?

  8. I don’t mean to be contrary, but I’ve always thought Grant Morrison’s version was the right one . . . even before I heard Grant Morrison’s theory. I always read “Killing Joke” as Batman laughing while he strangled Joker.

    BUT I don’t believe this means Batman killed the Joker in-continuity. I think “Batman: The Killing Joke” exists in a weird state of “one foot in, one foot out”, where some things apply (like Barbara Gordon’s crippling . . . at least until the New 52) and others do not (the Joker’s rarely seen origin).

    Ultimately, I think it all fits into the Personal Continuity Matthew is always talking about. Despite the impact, “The Killing Joke” is still very much a standalone book, and it’s open to interpretation just like anything else, meaning Morrison’s theory isn’t more right or wrong than anything else Bat-related.

  9. I’m going to go with, it’s his interpretation, and if he believes it that’s fine. However, I do not think this should be spread around as the factual ending.

    Personally, I prefer that it doesn’t happen the way Morrison says, but rather Batman keeps to his code. Additionally Chris Roberson put up Alan Moore’s script when this first broke, and I’m going with the clearest text possible, and going with Batman did not break the Joker’s neck.

  10. No, I grabbed my copy after listening to the podcast yesterday and looked over that section, as well as the pages prior. The joke that the Joker told was in response to Batman asking; nearly pleading, the Joker to get help. That’s not the response of someone that is willing to kill. That’s someone that is afraid to kill. The Joker wants to be killed. He ultimately wins with that. And oddly enough he doesn’t want to be a unique snowflake in The Killing Joke. He want to show himself as just like everyone else except for one bad day and he fails to prove his point.
    And Batman is laughing at the end because he sees himself as the inmate with the flashlight.

  11. Daniel Langsdale on

    No, absolutely not. There is nothing in the story’s characterization to suggest that Batman would do this, and there is nothing in the art to support it either.

    It’s mentioned that Batman is seen putting his hands to Joker’s throat, but this is clearly not the case – he’s grabbing him by the upper arms. That’s where the anatomy works out in the image, and you can even see Batman’s knuckles there. Bolland is simply not that poor of an artist that this should be read as the Joker’s neck.

    For the writing, I’ll simply say that I completely agree with Matthew’s points in the podcast and leave it there.

    Quite simply, the level of recreational pharmaceutical use necessary to twist oneself into a perspective that Batman killing the Joker is an intended reading to the end of this book is more than I engage in, though clearly less than Morrison’s norm.

  12. No. The core of Batman’s character is that he always been driven, to carry on his crusade, but only up to the edge of killing, never crossing the line. Once you let him cross that line, even with the Joker, you’ve broken the character.

    I actually think there’s a couple of different interpretations here.

    Firstly, the Joker is a failed comic. He wants to make people laugh, to perform, but he’s bad at it. Very bad at it. His bad choices and a comically tragic sequence of events make him the Joker, and now he’s driven to perform…only he generates other emotions, not humor. After all the events in the GN when he’s no longer so invested in performing, he tells a joke…and he’s finally good at it. Enough to make an emotionally drained Batman give him a small snicker.

    Or alternately, the Joke is about the insanity of one patient feeding off of an equally insane premise from the other patient, over-layered with a veneer of logic. Its an allegory for the Joker/Batman relationship.

    The Joker (and violent crime as a whole) is insane. He’s patient #1 with the flashlight. The Batman is patient #2. The loss he feels over his parents is perfectly logical, like #2’s fear of jumping the gap. He knows if he makes the leap and lets go/accepting their tragedy, he can walk away a healthy normal person. #1 makes an insane suggestion, to walk over on the beam of light, exploiting his weakness. Instead of recognizing the absurdity of the suggestion (and accepting his personal tragedy) he “rationalizes” his failure to make the leap, by catering to #1’s insane suggestion with a logical retort (as he caters to the Joker and crime in general, by dressing up as a bat).

    Morrison’s right, Batman crosses a line, but its not killing the Joker, its recognizing in the allegory, that he’s as nuts as most of his rogues gallery. And maybe he’s fine with that. That’s what’s funny to him.

    • Interesting take on the final joke. First time through I looked at it the other way around. Batman as patient 1 makes the leap to escape, and wants to take Joker with him. It’s pretty clear though that Joker doesn’t think Batman can actually help.

      But… now that I think about it, maybe it’s that the joker has made a leap (into real insanity). He’s trying to get Batman to make that same leap (e.g., through his attempted illustration with Gordon). But, Batman recognizes that he cannot believe/trust the Joker.

      Dunno… it’s rather ambiguous…

  13. I don’t think it’s correct. All of Bat’s language prior to that seems like he wants to do it “by the book”. Plus, there are a lot of visual clues that indicate it’s an incorrect interpretation: 1). Bat’s arms are at the shoulders, not the neck; 2) Joker’s hands stay at his side. If he was being strangled or forcefully held around his neck, wouldn’t he attempt to defend himself? 3) Notice the siren sound and the approaching police lights. The lights are close! Is Batman crazy enough to murder Joker with his hands, right in front of oncoming policemen?

    None of those are 100% definitive, but I think they point pretty strongly to Batman not killing him…

  14. No, Sorry, but there is not enough evidence to support that theory for me.
    While Moore is never direct with what he is saying and often lays down layer upon layer of messages through art direction and text, I have not been able to see the Morrison interpretation as being any more or less valid as any other.

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