BATMAN:THE KILLING JOKE (1988)
Written by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Bryan Bolland
This one-shot graphic novel, written by Alan Moore (The Watchmen) and drawn by Bryan Bolland is a brutal roller coast ride through the human psyche ... literally!
The opening scene is chilling. Batman walks into Arkham Asylum to have a discussion with the Joker. Batman wants to talk with Joker at least once, because he's afraid that if they keep it up, one of them will end up killing the other. However, once in the cell, Batman realises that he's not talking to the real Joker. And the hunt is on.
The Joker buys, and furnishes, an abandoned amusement park. He says that it's perfect for his plans. And what chilling plans they are.
As Batman searches for the Joker, he waltzes into Commisssioner Gordon's house, and does something that's so brutal and gruesome that the after effects are still felt in the current Bat-verse books. The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (who was going around as Batgirl at that time) in the stomach, permanently paralysing her from the waist down. Not only that, he also has some goons beat up Commissioner, then kidnap him. As if that wasn't terrible enough, he then strips Barbara naked, then takes pictures of her while she's naked. (Other things, such as rape, are subtly implied, but is never outright alluded to.)
Even more chilling is when Barbara, in the process of getting undressed, asks the Joker "Why are you doing this?" and the Joker answers "To prove a point."
The point is that humans' sense of sanity is fragile, and that everybody should be insane because it's so much easier. Or so the Joker believes, and he's going to try to convince Commissioner Gordon that it's the truth. He does it by putting a naked Commissioner Gordon on a roller coaster ride. And to further strip Gordon's sanity, photos of the naked Barbara are flashed along the way. Finally Gordon has had enough, and he collapses into himself.
The ''present'' events are subtly intercut with flashback panels, offering a possible origin to the Joker as well as showing that Batman was the last thing that the Joker show before actually falling into a vat of chemicals and becoming the Clown Prince of Crime. According to this story, the Joker was a real failure in real life, a loser stand up that was booed by his audience, and it's crime the field in which he enjoyed any ''success''.
Batman arrives seemingly too late to save Gordon's sanity. Or so it seems. Commissioner Gordon shows the Joker that sanity is not so easily destroyed. Batman and Joker then have their obligatory fight. At the end, after Batman's severely trashed the Joker, he attempts to have the same conversation he was trying to have at the beginning of this book. The Joker replies that it's too late for that, then tells Batman a joke.
The book ends with the two mortal enemies laughing their heads off, showing that they're more similar than they could ever suspect.