Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, DC Comics novels – Batman: The Killing Joke

“Bullock moved like he was chasing a naked woman carrying a plate of barbecued ribs.”*

Tritan’s first foray into novelizing classic DC comics stories dives into the Joker’s most infamous tale; The Killing Joke. When this novelization came to me I was excited, and worried. Would this adaptation echo the missteps of the film, or the excellence of the noir comic classic? Sadly, unlike Tritan’s excellent work with Harley Quinn: Mad Love, Joke is a padded tome that does too much digging into characters we never see in the graphic novel, while paying lip-service to the electric confrontation between Batman and the clown prince of crime.

Not that there aren’t things to enjoy here. Ever been curious about all those gadgets the Bat uses? There’s lots of tech talk here, and for wannabe science nerds like me, it’s divine. Then there’s the creepy description of Arkham Asylum, plus its basic history. The action sequences are great; the authors really dig in, delivering descriptive narrative that painted pictures in my head. Plus, Alfred gets a bit of a Gotham-esque upgrade, and the author’s description of him gave me my favorite tidbit. “…to say he was the butler was to say the Taj Mahal was just a building.” In the original graphic novel, Arthur is much more laid back. Glad to see that Faust and Phillips let the Big A get his badass on.

Unlike the first person narrative of Mad Love, Joke goes with third person. And as with Love, it brings the story from its eighties origins into a more modern one, with cellphones and a fledgling internet. Here’s where the trouble starts. The bulk of this novel’s story deals with a new drug on the streets called Giggle Sniff, and the D-List hoodlums that are jockeying for position as its main distributor. Its noir-esque feel is excellent, but none of this is in the graphic novel. So why make the internet a “new invention”? What’s the importance of setting this story in this portion of recent history? The Joker and Barbara Gordon could each end up using that technology to their own ends, there’s no need to make them start at the cusp of the interwebs. Ah, maybe I’m still feeling the after-effects of wading through all the needless padding in this book.

Granted, the original clocks in at 65 pages, and with this novelization at 293 there has to be flesh added to the bone. So much of the whole Giggle Sniff Bad Guys plot could have been jettisoned in favor of a deeper dive into the lives of Barbara Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Bruce Wayne and the Joker. Barbara especially, as this story is a launching pad for a major transformation in her overall story arc. 

For folks keeping track, that’s one and one for Titan’s novelizations. Let’s hope the upcoming Batman: Court of Owls leans more towards Love and less towards a Joke.

*(Yeah I used a description of Harvey rather than a Batman or Joker quote. Why? Because there aren’t enough of ’em to find something truly worthy. And this Bullock descriptive is pure gold.)

(DC Comics/Titan Books, 2018)

About

Denise Kitashima Dutton has been a reviewer since 2003, and hopes to get the hang of things any moment now. She believes that bluegrass is not hell in music form, and that beer is better when it’s a nitro pour. Besides GMR, you can find her at Atomic Fangirl, Movie-Blogger.com, or at that end seat at the bar, multi-tasking with her Kindle.