In Alan Moore’s 1988 masterpiece The Killing Joke we got the clearest vision yet of the Joker as Batman’s “dark side,” and a Joker that was as vicious and demented as anything we had ever seen.
Until The Dark Knight, that is.
The movie borrows narrative strands from some of the best Batman graphic novels: Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, Loeb’s The Long Halloween, and The Killing Joke. One of the core plot elements of the movie in fact (The Joker wanting to prove that everyone can essentially become like him given the right circumstances) is at the center of The Killing Joke, and many story elements and characters in The Long Halloween reappear in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, most notably perhaps the plotline involving DA Harvey Dent and his transformation.
Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is nothing short of astonishing. In a sense Batman can be defined by contrast with his enemies, and Bale’s Batman is better because Ledger’s Joker has so much ferocity. Without it, one of the few shortcomings of the movie (that Batman’s own latent insanity and his finely tuned detective skills are for the most part conspicuously absent) would be much more glaring.
A review I read somewhere said that The Dark Knight is a “modern bullet train of a movie” and it’s true. The last half hour in particular is something to behold. It’s one of those movies that really require a giant screen to be experienced in full.
Supposedly this is the second part of a trilogy, and if commercial success leads to sequels then this one is almost guaranteed (it broke the opening day box office record), and hopefully it will be as good as the first two.
In the meantime, we have The Dark Knight to take us once more to Gotham, in all of its bleak, chaotic intensity.