One of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time comes in the form of Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and John Higgins’ “The Killing Joke”.
The 1988 one-shot dives into The Joker’s past in the closest thing we get to an origin story (since the clown prince of crime prefers his origin to be multiple choice). Believing in the theory that one bad day can shatter a persons psyche, Joker uses Commissioner Jim Gordon as his personal guinea pig – tormenting him in one of the more vile crimes we’ve seen him commit.
Batman of course is on his way to rescue Gordon. With very little time on his side, he hopes that he isn’t too late or wrong in his counter-theory that willpower determines whether or not one will snap under their circumstances.
What makes The Killing Joke unique is how it develops The Joker. For the first time, we empathize for him. We see him as a tragic hero misshapen by society. There is a realism here that only Moore can tap into with his writing matched with Bolland and Higgins’s art. The Killing Joke is especially grisly in the heinous acts Joker commits for the sole purpose of proving a point.
In 2008 The Killing Joke was re-released as a deluxe edition, containing liner notes and recolored by Bolland in order to restore his artistic intentions to the novel.
There are very few novels that stand the test of time as The Killing Joke has, being one of the few story arcs kept in constant in “The New 52” series, serving as influence for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” and being referenced in the “Arkham” games and “Batman the Animated Series”. If you’re looking to start getting into comics or just in the neighborhood of finding a great book, pick up The Killing Joke.