Continuing this week’s Joker theme, today I am looking at a graphic novel from a few years ago. Back in 2008, DC Comics released a hardcover version of the classic Batman: The Killing Joke to coincide with the book’s 20th anniversary.
What is notable about this version is that original artist, Brian Bolland has gone back and re-colored the book himself. Therefore, all of John Higgins’ colors from the original release have been tossed out and redone by Bolland.
Higgins’ original garish, visually aggressive colors provided a perfect tone for what is the darkest Joker story ever told. Apparently, according to Tim Sale’s introduction to the 2008 version, many took exception to Higgins’ colors the first time around. Why this is I don’t understand. Following his use of a predominately secondary color scheme on Watchmen, this seems like the perfect evolution for a Joker story.
Considering what Joker does in this story, coloring that is offensive to the eyes is right in keeping with the story. I never read this comic and wondered why these choices were made. It never looked like a mistake to me, and always seemed appropriate to this book. Would this work on every comic? Of course not, but not every other comic is a reprehensible Joker tale.
Obviously, Brian Bolland also took exception to the original look and attempted to rectify it with this edition.
Presumably, with this deluxe edition, the colors are closer to what Bolland had in mind twenty years previous. As an artist, I can understand how he probably envisioned the book looking one way and not how it was ultimately produced. Every artist has a vision of their work that should be respected. Unless that artist is John Higgins, I guess.
Ultimately, Bolland’s colors are definitely more realistic, but was less expressive. This gives the book a much flatter, muted look. The only improvement over the original that I can see in this volume, is that the flashbacks are now predominately black and white with a specific colored item.
If the 88 edition had been published this way, it would have provided even more contrast between the current setting and the flashbacks. Other than that, I don’t really see an advantage to this new coloring.
In the 08 version, Bolland details how he also took this opportunity to go back and tweak the art. Even adding in a new figure for the readers to find. The most notable difference is the lack of the yellow oval around Batman’s symbol, the standard at the time. When looking back at a finished work, artists usually have something they would have done differently, or go back and fix. Part of being an artist though, is moving on and letting the work exist in the frame it was created. At the end of the day, I don’t need a “special edition” of the Killing Joke.
A better solution, would have been to have Higgins come back and digitally re-color the book, expanding upon his initial themes. DC’s printing quality has only improved since the 80s and reprints usually needs updated coloring anyway. Why John Higgins was not invited back to participate in this anniversary volume, I don’t know. From Bolland’s afterword, it seems that the conversation never got that far as he desired to re-color the book. Of course, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. For some reason no one ever calls me up to get my input on these things.
It’s not like they would ever color something like this today after all. Certainly not for a big marketing campaign or something mainstream.
While I was writing this, I got to wondering if the original version of The Killing Joke was still available. Apparently, the Deluxe Edition is the only one still in print. So, to get the 80s version, you would have to find a back issue. Fortunately, DC did a ton of printings of that over the years so one shouldn’t be too difficult to find. If you haven’t read the Killing Joke, it’s worth seeking out the Higgins colored version first.
It turns out that DC did just release a new, alternate version of Killing Joke, though.
Batman Noir: The Killing Joke showcases the story in the original black and white art. Is it possible for a fictional character to scheme against you? This has got to be a better punchline than anything at the end of the Killing Joke.
And no, Batman doesn’t kill Joker in this story. It’s in continuity, dummies.