How closely did Joker follow Alan Moore's iconic graphic novel, The Killing Joke?
Todd Phillips' Joker has been in the news all week - and Twitter would obviously like us to pick a side, but we'd rather explore a crucial aspect to Joker's history for a better perspective on the clown prince's origins.
Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is obviously a success - irrespective of your stance on Arthur Fleck. The film has been crafted as a psychological thriller, featuring a failed stand-up comic-turned-murderous-
But while Pheonix's depiction of Arthur is unrelentingly tragic, the character of Joker has a cinematic history of being represented as a hyper-charged comic supervillain with elements of a sidekick (barring Heath Ledger's version of course).
Interestingly, Phillips' Joker has sought its inspiration from the comic which basically gave Joker its widely-accepted origin story. Alan Moore's 1988 one-shot graphic novel The Killing Joke, is to this day, one of the most iconic DC reads and also serves as an anchor to the newest Joker film and even some of the earlier ones. Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan have both cited the comic in reference to their work in the past.
Moore's Joker is an unnamed engineer who quits his job to become a stand-up comedian; he loses his wife and unborn child in an accident, ends up getting involved in a chemical plant robbery to support his family and is at the core, a man looking to survive.
This narrative completely removes Joker from the slasher-esque criminal mastermind and humanises his pain and his descent into lunacy. The reason why The Killing Joke stands as one of the most lasting literary attempts about Joker is that it unravels the chronology of his state; while most comic and cinematic numbers simply pigeon-hole him as a psychotic murderer.
What about Batman?
Interestingly, Phoenix's Joker has a connect to the Wayne family in the film, but Batman himself only appears in this movie as a young Bruce Wayne. Whereas, in The Killing Joke, Batman is essentially played off against the Joker; he stands as a morally superior answer to the Joker, who chose to never succumb to evil, in spite of his personal tragedies. This drives home the narrative that Batman and Joker are essentially two of a kind, but the comic ends with Batman bringing the Joker to justice.
The lack of a Batman in the newest Joker creates an interesting dynamic for a standalone Joker, who's not an antagonist but a survivor. The movie draws some parallels to the comic, especially in terms of violence. While the Joker in Moore's comic kidnaps and paralyses Barbara Gordon (a widely criticised move), Phoenix's Fleck commits murder on live TV and rises up as a symbol of anarchy and class war, which has always been at the core of the ethos of Bat-verse's narrative.