Has this particular joke run its course?
DC may be removing an iconic Batman story from continuity, at least if Batgirl #49 is to be believed.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for the events of Batgirl #49!
The current Batgirl storyline revolves around Barbara Gordon’s clash with The Fugue, a villain who has invaded her mind and altered her memories to make her believe that he’s actually a childhood friend named Greg. This issue saw Barbara’s friend Frankie travel into her brain and try to set things right. Frankie teamed up with the digital copy of Barbara Gordon that previously appeared in Batgirl #40, and together the two pursued Fugue across Barbara’s memories.
As the chase unfolded, it became clear that Fugue was inserting other false memories into Barbara’s mind, including one where her father discovered her secret identity and accidentally fell to his death.
One key page showcased a variety of false, unhappy memories, one of which featured an image of the Joker from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke.
Art by Ming Doyle
Taken at face value, this page seems to suggest that The Killing Joke never actually happened and that Barbara’s entire ordeal with Joker was nothing more than a nightmare created by Fugue. Artist Babs Tarr lent fuel to that fire when she tweeted the following: We undid some things…
This isn’t the first time the current Batgirl creative team have worked to distance Barbara Gordon from The Killing Joke. The series was the source of a minor controversy last year when DC revealed and then promptly canceleda grisly variant cover that paid homage to The Killing Joke and featured Batgirl being held captive by Joker.
However, actively removing The Killing Joke from continuity would be a significant change in direction for DC. The graphic novel has had a huge influence on the direction of the character, both during her tenue as Oracle and in the current series as she regained the use of her legs and struggled to move past that trauma. Retconning the story also wouldn’t explain why Barbara was paralyzed for so long and why Batman, Joker and many other characters recall the events of The Killing Joke.
Art from Batman: The Killing Joke by Brian Bolland
Co-writer Cameron Stewart was a little less conclusive about whether The Killing Joke is still part of DC continuity when he tweeted about the Batgirl #49 yesterday:
Now that we’re a few days out from it, a thought on Batgirl 49: I’m often interested in ambiguity as a narrative device. One of the things we intended for this issue was for it to be read in several ways, depending on your own interpretation and/or preference. I believe that an individual’s subjective interpretation of a work of art can matter as much as the artist’s intent. What does an image mean to you specifically? How do you interpret it based on your own set of experiences? There’s no right or wrong answer. This is, I think, an unusual concept for the superhero genre, where material is often strictly deemed canonical or “real,” or not. There’s no right, and no wrong, way to read that page. It is what it is to you. We deliberately set it up that way. If you want to read it as retcon, you’re welcome & encouraged to do so. If you want the timeline as-is, you are also encouraged to do so. Your own personal “truth” in this story is what we want you to take from it. How you read that page is how it is.
At the very least, fans now have the option to disregard The Killing Joke if they choose. That graphic novel will remain in the spotlight, though, as it’ll soon be adapted into an animated movie featuring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their iconic roles as Batman and Joker, respectively.
We’ll hopefully find out more about the state of Barbara Gordon’s mind and what the future holds in store when Batgirl #50 is released on April 6.