With the glut of Batman comics event series, standalone titles, graphic novels, crossovers, and spinoffs out there, you'd never believe that something Dark Knight-related could sneak up and surprise you. But that's exactly what DC's Batman: The Killing Joke novel does perfectly.
Released today, Sept. 25, and written by bestselling crime-fiction authors Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, it's an outstanding expansion of the Eisner Award-winning 1988 graphic novel, The Killing Joke, from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Think of it as an intimate literary offering akin to novelizations of feature films wherein we're gifted with added layers of detail and emotional depth — here immersed in the complex origin tale for the Clown Prince of Crime.
Batman: The Killing Joke is the first of DC's three original Batman novels published by London-based Titan Books, with the other two, Mad Love and Court of Owls, coming in November of 2018 and February of 2019, respectively. Inside this initial novelization, the inspired authors show an illuminating interest in the characters and corners of Batman's Gotham City and the lurid depths of its psychological corruption.
It's a curious hybrid, adding a satisfying dimension to the 80-year-old Batman mythology and taking you to unexpected places. More than a comic, more immersive than a graphic novel or video game, the experience is a refreshing discovery that will be a geeky elixir for hardcore fans and new readers yearning for a superhero novel. Faust and Phillips' muscular prose is hard-boiled and descriptive, perfectly suited to the task of bringing a new dimension to the conflicted relationship between Batman and the Joker.
Recounting the backstory of the Dark Knight's most famous foe, the storyline finds the proto-Joker faced with extreme poverty and a pregnant wife. He's a tragic, struggling comedian forced to turn to crime to survive. In his debut heist, he's awash in toxic chemicals that disfigure his face, driving him insane and giving birth to The Joker.
Escaping Arkham Asylum, he plots his most diabolical caper... his KILLING JOKE.
While defending Gotham City, Batman and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) pursue notorious criminals like Maxie Zeus and Antonio “Python” Palmares, as Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock take on a crime cartel distributing “giggle sniff,” an addictive new drug concocted from a venom created by The Joker. These disparate events converge in a grim dance of death that threatens Batman's dearest friends and allies.
Check out our exclusive excerpt from this surprisingly engaging in-universe Batman book, courtesy of DC and Titan Books:
Batman: The Killing Joke by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips (Titan Books)
The black cat crept along the narrow top of the brick wall, its wet fur glistening as rain fell on nighttime Gotham. A powerful beam of light swept down from above, momentarily illuminating the feline’s depthless eyes, which twinkled in the harsh glare. The light swept past, a thrum of muffled turbines accompanying the moving illumination. The searchlight came from one of several Gotham City Police Department patrol dirigibles crisscrossing the wet sky.
From up above Gotham seemed quiet, but the officers in the blimp knew this was deceiving. As one of them piloted the rigid aircraft, another wore earphones connected to a console that controlled what was essentially audio surveillance equipment. The state-of-the-art electronics were channeled into a unit attached to the blimp’s undercarriage. While very much in the experimental stage, the gear could detect such occurrences as a voice raised in distress, a scream, or a gunshot, often before there was visual contact.
A third officer, Nancy Payton, used a pair of military grade binoculars that looked more like something out of that science fiction film she’d seen on television. These were connected by heavy cable to a control unit, and had several electro-mechanical additions to their bulky frame. The lenses utilized a modified infrared light, the better to peer into the darkness. All of the equipment bore the logo of a division of Wayne Technologies.
The blimp continued soaring across the night sky, just beneath a roiling layer of clouds lit from beneath by the silvery lights of the city. Down below, a large black vehicle glided through the dark slick streets over which the dirigible had just passed.
The grim figure behind the wheel was protected from the downpour by a rounded bullet-resistant glass canopy that allowed him a full 360-degree view of his surroundings. He was known to the denizens of the city, and beyond, as Batman. His was a fearful reputation as a detective and a seeker of truth. Some called him a vigilante, others a hero. Few dared to cross him.
His vehicle, the Batmobile, was a one-of-a-kind wonder, from the carbon fiber armored hull to its custom-built, fuel-injected V12 engine, a 980-horsepower iron monster capable of achieving some 230 miles an hour if the need arose. The battering ram on the prow of this land ship was a stylized version of Batman’s cowl. The sleek vehicle ran low to the ground, but there were heavy duty hydraulics installed that, at the flip of a toggle switch, would enable the car to rise up, whether to avoid obstructions in a high-speed chase or to engage in an evasive maneuver.
Given the nature, some might say obsession, of his work, Batman routinely modified the various potent gadgetry he had incorporated into the blue-black behemoth. There were ports that slid open, allowing blinding white light or explosive spheres to shoot out. A pair of spring-loaded forward-facing Browning machine guns could pop out on either side of the hood. These were particularly effective in disabling opponents who wore armored exoskeletons, and for less formidable targets they could be switched to non-lethal “sleeper” rounds.
The Batmobile also boasted side-mounted electro-stun disc launchers, and a prototype laser device capable of cutting through as much as eight inches of steel. That was a recent addition. The vehicle even possessed compressed-air launchers that could shoot wickedly barbed grappling hooks from either side. When a hook became attached to a wall or any structure stable enough to act as an anchor, the car could instantly be powered into a sudden 180-degree turn.
The automobile was as legendary as its owner, and the secrets of its armaments were jealously protected. Little escaped the masked figure’s attention. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a man weaving about on the sidewalk, leaning forward to grasp a lamppost to steady himself. Batman slowed, and his first impulse was to stop and render aid, but then he saw the man bring himself upright. He wore a carnival clown grin on his face.
Batman frowned beneath the cowl. Another foolish individual high on drugs, likely the one known on the street as “Giggle Sniff.” It was a new concoction that had come to his city, one more way to addle the mind and destroy the body. Medical types were still assessing its long-term effects, but the implications of its symptoms were inescapable, especially to the Dark Knight.
At times his crusade, to cleanse Gotham of such poison as an example, seemed overwhelming. The power-mad Ra’s al Ghul had suggested a simple solution—burn it all down and start over again. That approach lurked in a corner of Batman’s mind, and at times he wondered if the leader of the League of Assassins might be right.
No, he thought, dismissing the idea yet again, determination steeling his resolve. Gotham can be saved. Even if it took him the rest of his life. And tonight he was taking what he hoped would be a bold step on that journey.
The growl of the engine was almost imperceptible as the buildings sped past. Before long he was on the outskirts of town, where the landscape flattened out and the wind blew even more fiercely among gnarled trees older than the city itself.
Massive wrought-iron gates appeared in the powerful beams of the headlights. Batman pulled to a stop at the entrance to Arkham Asylum. Even in daytime, the place was dreary and foreboding, even more so in this weather. Opening the canopy that was more like the cockpit of a fighter jet than a car, he unlimbered his tall form and stepped into the rain. Kevlar-woven cape trailing behind him, he strode toward those gates, his tread surprisingly light for a man of his heft.
He was the product of years of intense training in an assortment of disciplines, having studied with masters throughout the world as a teenager then as a young adult. He learned martial arts such as hapkido and wing chun, chemical analysis, safe cracking, and acrobatics that included what was called traceurs, running up then backflipping off walls, contorting himself into seemingly bonebreaking positions. He perfected heart and pulse control learned from a hidden sect of yogis all said to be more than one hundred years old. Yet none of that would help him this night.
The gate wasn’t locked. He unlatched it to swing open with a screech of old metal. Knowing he was being watched from all sides, he strode toward the foreboding stone structure with lights shining in its windows.
Two men awaited him at the front door. As he came closer thunder boomed and a jagged bolt of lightning sizzled the air overhead. The flash of charged light against the asylum’s roughhewn walls and stilted roofs only made it seem more menacing, as if it hadn’t been built, but emerged from the underworld, exiled and unwelcome.
In the early years of the 1900s its founder, Amadeus Arkham, had presented himself as a pioneer in the field of psychiatric treatment. Arkham’s mother Elizabeth had suffered from mental illness and had died an apparent victim of suicide. This had spurred him to renovate his family estate and devote his resources to helping others, that they might not suffer as she had.
Yet the place had been built on a lie. Amadeus Arkham had ended his mother’s life, cutting her throat to end her suffering. Then he’d repressed the memory, hiding the truth from his own orderly mind. The subsequent murder of his wife and daughter had shocked him into remembering, sending Amadeus down a spiral of madness until finally he was committed to his own institution. The history of Arkham Asylum was steeped in blood. Batman was here to confront his greatest foe. Their own bloody conflict seemed endless, with more collateral victims than he could count and no good end in sight. There had to be a resolution.
Reaching the front door, he gave a curt nod to the two men standing side by side as the rain beat down steadily. One was Tim Carstairs, a uniformed GCPD patrolman who Batman had encountered a few times before. The other held a Styrofoam cup of coffee. This was the police commissioner, James Worthington Gordon. Gotham’s top cop was dressed in a tan trench coat, his off-the-rack brown suit and striped tie visible underneath. Dollops of water dripped from the brim of the uniform’s cap and the Commissioner’s fedora.
The Commissioner possessed a misleading appearance. White haired, sporting a white walrus-brush mustache and glasses, he might just as easily have been a harried high school principal who’d gotten turned around on the highway and had stopped to ask for directions. Yet Batman knew him well from their years of association. Beneath that mild-mannered exterior was a man who, in his younger years as a plainclothesman, had risked his life and the health of his family to confront and weed out the corruption that choked the police department like kudzu.
His was a disciplined resolve that had remained strong as he rose through the ranks.
Copyright © 2018 DC Comics. BATMAN, THE JOKER, THE KILLING JOKE and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics. WB SHIELD: ™ & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s18) TIBO41406