Batman: The Killing Joke circa 1988 is one of the most iconic Batman one-shot comics ever. Well, I recently obtained a copy of said comic and it was awesome, to say the least! But that ending…damn. Please note: there WILL be spoilers. You have been warned.
First, let me explain what it’s about. The Killing Joke is your typical Batman vs the Joker comic. The Joker does some horrible stuff, the Batman beats him up, alls well that ends well. But…something’s different. The ending, to be specific.
In the end, the Joker is out of weapons and Batman has him cornered. Batman says that he can help the Joker, the Joker says he’s too far gone. I can just imagine Bones saying, “I’m a doctor, Jim, not a psychiatrist!” *ahem* But, getting back to the subject matter, the Joker tells…well….a joke. The joke is that these two men are in an insane asylum and one day they decide to escape. So, they go to the roof and there, just across this narrow gap between the buildings, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moonlight, stretching away to freedom. The first guy jumps across no problem but his friend is scared. He’s afraid of falling. So the first guy has an idea. He says, “Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!” But the second guy shakes his head and says, “What, do you think I’m crazy?!”
“You’d turn it off when I was half way across!”
The Joker starts to laugh. Then Batman starts to laugh. And they’re laughing…and they’re laughing. Police cars are pulling up behind them. And Batman puts his hands on the Joker’s shoulders, the two of them sharing a tender moment, and then the laughing dies. And the lights go out. Let me show you the very last page:
The way I see it is, in the panel immediately after Batman puts his hands on the Joker’s shoulders…Batman strangles the Joker. The Joker knows that this is for the better and thus doesn’t struggle and just laughs until his last breath has left his lips. The light in the water is the coin.
You see, Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin and the coin is in some sort of horrific coin flip to see who dies and it’s in the air spinning and spinning and spinning until…the coin lands on it’s side.
Batman and the Joker are like a fork in the road. They both came to an incident that could drive someone insane. The Joker took the path of least resistance, becoming criminally crazy, while the Batman took the path of desperately trying to hold onto his one sliver of sanity, becoming the vigilante sort of crazy. Though from the outside it may seem like the Joker is the bad guy, they’re both as insane as the other, they just chose different paths in their insanity.