Batman: The Killing Joke – 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

The Dark Knight gets even darker.

The makers of this summer’s Batman Begins sequel needed to educate non-comics buff Heath Ledger on his twisted, clown-faced killer of a character, so they handed him a copy of Batman: The Killing Joke. And while Ledger’s untimely death casts a grim shadow over his final role, the acclaimed graphic novel proves that the Joker had a dark pedigree from day one.

First released in 1988, the origin story for Batman’s greatest foe was written by  Alan Moore—the man behind mature masterpieces V for Vendetta and Watchmen—and illustrated by Brian Bolland, one of the best artists in the biz. The premise? One bad day is all it takes to turn an upstanding citizen into a psychopathic murderer. As flashbacks reveal how the Joker went from a failed stand-up comedian to the grinning nut job we know and love today, Batman races to stop him from snapping the sanity of Commissioner Gordon—not with goofy traps but by shooting his daughter in the spine and showing dear old dad nude photos of her crippled body. Forget Lex Luthor—this is Hannibal Lecter material.

The Killing Joke blazed new trails for comics, showing just how dark they could get. And this hardcover edition is the best the book has ever looked, featuring noirish new coloring by Bolland to bring it in line with his original vision before deadline pressures intervened. Dig into the sinister tale and you’ll see why even though Christian Bale’s caped crusader is The Dark Knight’s main man, the late Ledger and his green-haired doppel­gänger may get the last laugh.