Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008 in Review: The Killing Joke of the Dark Knight

"The Killing Joke was the (comic) that was handed to me.
I think it’s going to be the beginning of The Joker." - Heath Ledger

Even if it ended with a resounding thud in the form of Frank Miller's adaptation of The Spirit, 2008 was quite a banner year for comic book movies; Iron Man ($330M), The Incredible Hulk ($134M) and The Dark Knight ($530M) all cleaned up at the box office, and superhero/related flicks Wanted ($134M), Bolt ($103M) and Hancock ($227M) were major hits as well.

Dark Knight was the obvious breakout here, but despite its massive success we didn't really see a third wave of Batmania, as we did in 1966 and 1989. A lot of that has to do with the film being extremely kid-unfriendly. And it's a film I'm still deeply ambivalent about.

Maybe it's the fact that Bruce Wayne morphs into Patrick Bateman everytime I try to visualize the Christopher Nolan Batman films. Maybe it's the secret society/Assassin themes of the preceding film, which we looked at in "Dark Knight Templar." And, of course, there was the Heath Ledger OD, which ripped through the Synchroverse like a H-bomb.

Apparently, Ledger was directly involved in developing the Joker's look for the film. The original designs for the character (which you can see here) were nothing like what we saw on the screen. And given the fact that Ledger was handed Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke as a starting point, we're just a Google search or two from Killing Joke singer Jaz Coleman, who is the Heath Ledger Joker's most compelling precedent. Particularly in the "Hosannas from the Basements of Hell" video, with the smeared clown makeup and long, greasy hair (that a lot of Batman fans didn't care much for).

It's important to note here that both Alan Moore and Coleman are deeply involved in occult magic, particularly that of the Crowleyean variety. I'm not sure what Moore's involvement with occultism was back when he wrote Killing Joke, but there are interesting alchemical themes in his retelling of the Joker's backstory, which we looked at here.

And Ledger's death had eerie parallels with the death of KJ bassist Paul Raven, who had split from the band under a bit of a cloud, then died of a heart attack three months before Ledger OD'd. In "Further Down the Abyss," we looked at a spiderweb of synchronistic connections between Killing Joke and Raven and Ledger, all of which seemed to add to the strange spell that attached itself to The Dark Knight. Even if no one was consciously aware of it.

Note Jaz's makeup and Raven's t-shirt (@2:39)

A month after Ledger's death, Killing Joke announced that their original lineup was reforming for a tour and a new record. And two days before Ledger's death, Killing Joke guitarist Geordie Walker released an album's worth of demos on his MySpace, which seemed to cast a dense, mysterious, nearly Plutonian musical spell over the coming year (incidentally, Killing Joke bassist Youth teamed up this year with Beatle Paul McCartney for an album called Electric Arguments).

But in the end, perhaps what bothers me the most about The Dark Knight has nothing to do with the occult. Nolan's Batman is not my Batman, though I realize it's the Batman that comic fans seem to respond best to (Kunstler's take on the film was particularly insightful here). Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, even back in the 70s and early 80s when he was extremely uncool. But I gravitate towards a more human vision of Batman, such as Denny O'Neil's 70s dark night detective, or Gerry Conway's Hill Street Blues-like crime-serial Batman in the early 80s.

For my money, the animated versions produced by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Glen Murakami are still the best mass-media versions of the character. I may blow all my cred here, but Batman Beyond is my favorite of the various animated Bat-incarnations, since Timm added so much Kirby and William Gibson to the mix.

Batman became a big deal again with Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, and part of me still misses the days when I seemed to have the character all to myself. On the other hand, the lonely fanboy in me is thrilled by the massive success of the Nolan Batman films, and the inherent vindication that success provides. But still, I much prefer the anti-authoritarian politics of Iron Man and Incredible Hulk - or Batman Beyond for that matter- to the troubling Orwellian subtext of The Dark Knight.

A reader sent me a whole slew of Heath Ledger synchs in the wake of his death, but at that point I was burnt out on all of that juju. I put out a call to bloggers to pick up the cudgel and those who heeded the call came through with flying colors. Killing Joke or Alan Moore's occultism has always been a bit of cabaret, but Ledger's death seemed to summon up energies I didn't want to play with. I will keep my eye on the story though and keep you posted if any further compelling details emerge. For now, here are some clips of the 2008 Killing Joke reunion tour.

Killing Joke play Love Like Blood in memory of Paul Raven, as well as some other choice cuts including a new one, "Fresh Fever."

Finally, here's a 2005 show from Amsterdam with Raven on bass and Tom Brady's evil twin on drums. This is the last tour of the Hosannas lineup, and the difference in tone between this Killing Joke and the reformed original lineup is immense. I'm kind of relieved, in a way. Hosannas was very controversial in KJ fan circles, even though it was filled with powerful invocative energies. But they might have kicked loose something that may have been best undisturbed. I think the bleedover to these Batman synchs is a testament to that.


  1. Heath the H-bomb. Very succinct. The recent X-mas reminds me that Santa gives Coal-man, to the bad boys. Coal is carbon, which happen to be the "Building Blocks" (big Masonic rimshot, please) of life.

    Ummm, Flame ON?

  2. You forgot to link that entry to the Clown Clowny Clown Show one.

    Yippie Oi Veh.

  3. Uh, let me get back to you guys after I've had my coffee!

  4. Did anyone notice this Dark Knight synch? - following 9-11 there was a Montauk Pulse newsletter that had an article saying something about the WTCs being downed because there was a 'White Knight' meeting going on there at the time.

    I read it online in 2001, now it doesn't seem to be online, hence the vague quotes. Not sure this is the best place for that kind of comment of course, given you want to avoid the juju (I just throw myself in; cause I'm the poor one etc...nothing else to do but chase it up - when I find something that is a nexus point of all I've been clocking as 'wrong' my whole life by god I'll magnify it until I get a resolvation I'm happy with). Speaking of that though, over the years following 2001, Google Earth's views available of the Montauk AFB have varied to a massive extent - at one point it showed loads of buildings and vehicles parked in the area, and a lot of grained-out areas. Couple of years later or less - the view is of the abandoned base, with the sage radar dish easily viewable etc. No idea what it's showing justnow.
    What's the opinion of that - are they trying to match it up with what Nichols etc say (that the active base fluctuates in and out of this reality) or did it really actually just show up what the satellites actually viewed at the time?

  5. What's a clown clowny clown show? Sounds terrifying.

    I want to get into Killing Joke. Which album would you recommend as a starter?

  6. Tommy, the first album is the best place to start and go on from there. Just avoid Outside the Gate, which is not a KJ album, but a Jaz solo album recorded when he was off of his meds.

  7. before I went to sleep last night, I walked past BlockBuster and there was the Dark Knight movie poster which is a new release I took notice of, then I went home to watch Dark Knight at for free. Second time around I really was dabbling with those Orwellian thoughts and endless iterations of walking contradictions. The movie really makes me hate Batman, like he is the U.S. Military and my heart just explodes with joy for the Joker. The villian is actually the hereo. Then I wake up and read your blog, nice timing. W.W.H.L.D.

  8. Is it free cause they delete parts of the film out then?
    A lot of the movie was about how The Joker and Batman are 'the same' in the sense that they aren't part of regular-normal-programming; it was clear that regular-normal-programming is the likes of the military, the mob, the usual way of things.

    I found the film like a reprise of the one that started the whole new wave of superhero films, Burton's Batman. I always remember this quote from an interview about it - (I think it was from Starlog) - "the Joker and Batman are like flipsides of one another. They [refering to Keaton and Nicholson] even have the same eyebrows."

    As for the clowny thing, as indicated it's from an earlier blog entry.
    Have you been messing about with one the them Men In Black flashy-thingies? flashy beam beams...

  9. typo corrected version:

    Is it free cause they delete parts of the film out then?
    A lot of the movie was about how The Joker and Batman are 'the same' in the sense that they aren't part of regular-normal-programming; it was clear that regular-normal-programming is the likes of the military, the mob, the usual way of things.

    I found the film like a reprise of the one that started the whole new wave of superhero films, Burton's Batman. I always remember this quote from an interview about it - (I think it was from Starlog) - "the Joker and Batman are like flipsides of one another. They [refering to Keaton and Nicholson] even have the same eyebrows."

    As for the clowny thing, as indicated it's from an earlier blog entry.
    Have you been messing about with one of them Men In Black flashy-thingies? flashy beam beams...

  10. @ zupaKomputer, I'm not sure, I thinks it's all just bootlegs somebody puts online. Sometimes the night a movie comes out it's available there, but comes down in a few hours for infringement. I saw Benjamin Button the day it came out, but it got taken down halfway through for infringement.

    It is nice to think of them as sides of a coin. I also think that Batman is the "immovable object" and the Joker is the "unstoppable force". The Batman is the physical, materiality, the hierarchy and a lie. The Joker seems to me to be the god's honest truth, like the way or the spirit. He's like the vilified version of the cosmic giggle.

  11. can you email me:, i have some question wanna ask you.thanks

  12. I wasn't sure which was which. The part where The Joker wants Batman to run him over made me think it was the other way around to what you wrote; at least, at that point.

    I still can't agree that The Batman is equivalent to the usual structures, I more lean to what the film seemed to be saying - they're outside those regularities. Freaks, not like the normal folks, don't obey the same kinds of rules.

    eg - the money thing. What does Bruce Wayne do with his money - spends it fighting crime / maintaining the playboy facade that disguises that. Out of a mixture of revenge (for his parents) but also the key point (that The Joker is wanting to unlatch or get him to realise) being it's about helping people.....and The Joker of course just burns his money.

    It's as if The Joker is like - if it was real life, then there aren't clear-cut characters that are always-this or always-that - an actual Batman would have misgivings about protecting people if they then took sides against him, and The Joker is like the opposite symbolically of what Batman actually does. Also Batman wears a costume he can take off, and become a regular rich person. The Joker stays The Joker all the time. It's like two different reactions to trauma (though we don't in that telling of the movie really know what happened with The Joker) - at the end of the day, if something terrible befalls you, how can you be sure that you aren't playing along with what caused that, to go out and assist in the upkeep of 'the usual order' - so yes, The Joker is thinking that whole thing through until it runs out. Most people don't or can't do that - most people say notice a 'synch' and try to play it down. Some folks examine them, some look past them and wonder why such a pattern of weaves would be placed to begin with - you know? Like they aren't content to just join dots either. It's more - why dots, why not something else. Beyond chaos to 'what is this whole chaos-order thing, and does it matter' - cause dualism anyway it's just another of those "little worlds", and someones like to try to control those little worlds.

  13. Very well put, Mr. Zupa. The whole time I was watching The Dark Knight, I could see the controlled duality of The Joker and Batman, and even how Joker says "you complete me" pretty much spells it out (and also references Brokeback Mountain)

    I picked up Dirt Extremities and Various Repressed Emotions, so far I really like it. The song Age of Greed is pretty heavy which I wasn't quite expecting and the intro is funny.

  14. Although from different places, but this perception is consistent, which is relatively rare point!

  15. Regrettably women don't get nice-sounding titles in the English language if unmarried, so I guess I'll have to just point out that I'd actually be a 'Miss'.

    'Missy' I do like. Not sure what the criteria is to be addressed as 'Ma'am'.

  16. so im watching "The Saint" and it just dawn ed on me that

    this is BATMAN! as a "Templar Saint" and the movie is about stealing the COLDFUSION final solution from none other than our lady of "Back to the Future".


    because, he played in "Batman Forever" facing off with "Two-face" Tommy Lee Jones

    raw natural power waiting to be harnessed

    ignite coldfusion fire....more energy in 1 cubic mile of seawater than in ALL KNOWN OIL RESERVES

    55 million miles on one gallon of heavy water

    end of pollution, warmth for the whole world.

    she hints at the fact that they never found the answer in the ancient times because they were using too complex.....and it ends.

    keep it simple stupid KISS.


  17. Val Kilmer plays KITT

    in Knight Rider!


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  19. Hey Chris. I'm another that adores the Timm/Dini animated Batman, and especially 'Batman Beyond'. That show had such incredible energy and heart, and Terry McGinnis was such a perfect character.

    "You're pretty strong for some clown that thinks he's Batman."

    "I *am* Batman!"

    Terry never had the smarts that Bruce Wayne had, but he for sure had the fire. Considering the cynical corporate idea of "teen Batman" that was the impetus for that show, it's simply amazing what a stylish, passionate, *epic* story we got in 'BB'.

    And the fascist ugliness of 'Dark Knight' made it so that I didn't even see 'Rises' or the newer Superman. Too dark for me. These aren't my heroes in these movies.

    1. Totally agree. The Tooniverse hits the right balance. You have to have a lot of light to balance the dark. It needs to be uplifting.