18. The Killing Joke (DC Entertainment)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Brian Bolland
No writer was more prolific during the ‘80s than Alan Moore. While he made a name for himself on original work like V for Vendetta and Watchmen, he also dipped his toe into the waters of DC’s established roster of superheroes, like Superman, the Green Arrow, and Vigilante. It was his work on Batman, however, that revolutionized both the character and the industry as a whole.
In The Killing Joke, Moore explores the relationship between Batman and his most famous foe, The Joker, in a way that informs nearly every interpretation of the two since then. The plot itself is fairly straightforward: The Joker has escaped from Arkham Asylum and kidnapped Commissioner Gordon in order to lead Batman into a trap at an abandoned amusement park.
In the process, the Joker commits perhaps the most senseless act of violence we've ever seen in a comic: He shoots Gordon’s daughter, Barbara, a.k.a. Batgirl, through the stomach, paralyzing her from the waist down. As the story unfolds, Moore sprinkles in bits of The Joker’s origin so we begin to get an idea of how a seemingly-normal man can turn into a psychotic serial killer with no remorse.
Moore balances The Joker’s anarchic mania with Batman’s cold, logical approach to law and order. But as his crimes begin to mount, even the Dark Knight is tempted to give into his rage. This story pokes and prods at this dynamic until it is as raw and sore as an open wound. It’s equal parts Se7en and The Dark Knight, and we doubt we’ll ever see another Batman story as intense and psychological as The Killing Joke.