Is DC Comics' The Killing Joke No Longer Canon?

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 - 3:51PM
DC Comics
Batman
The Killing Joke
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 - 3:51PM
Is DC Comics' The Killing Joke No Longer Canon?
The Killing Joke is one of the most revered Batman stories of all time, and is often considered to be the definitive Joker comic. And, although technically a one-shot, it also had reverberating consequences within the DC Comics universe for decades, most notably crippling Batgirl and turning her into Oracle. But now, with Batgirl #49, DC might have just retconned the whole thing, and rendered one of their most famous comics non-canonical. 

Spoilers for Batgirl #49 follow!



In The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl is shot by the Joker and suffers from permanent paralysis thereafter. Until recently, she had taken on the mantle of Oracle, a disabled hacker superhero who physically and mentally fought villains from a wheelchair. After the New 52 reboot, her paralysis was retconned to only last for three years, and she went back to being Batgirl in the current series. But since she was still paralyzed for a time, it seemed that The Killing Joke was still canon, until Batgirl #49 came out earlier this week:

Batgirl #49

In this issue, Batgirl fights a villain named Fugue, who implants false memories into her mind. When Frankie and Barbara take a tour through Babs' mind and her false memories, she sees that iconic image of the Joker telling her to "smile," as well as the gun that shot her. This implies that the events of The Killing Joke were, in fact, false memories, which sent fans into a frenzy. Artist Babs Tarr added fuel to the fire when she sent out a tweet implying that it was a retcon.



But when writer Cameron Stewart gave a longer explanation over Twitter, he intimated that it was intended to be ambiguous, and so not necessarily a retcon:

Opening quote
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... 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.
Closing quote



But even if this story is retconned, it will remain a classic part of Batman mythology, and we'll get to see an adaptation of it later this year. The animated Killing Joke adaptation will feature Mark Hamill voicing the Joker and will reportedly be rated R (which is no surprise, considering the violent and controversial nature of the graphic novel). It will premiere at San Diego Comic Con later this year.

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