When Alan Moore wrote The Killing Joke for Brian Bolland, its status in DC Comics continuity was never meant to be as fixed as it became. It gave us a story that referenced Bat-Girl, Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite – characters that did not exist in continuity, after DC's Crisis On Infinite Earths rewrote the universe.
And the final page of The Killing Joke can be interpreted as showing the death of the Joker, the comic. As Alan would say in Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow,
The Killing Joke portrayed Barbara Gordon as a retired superhero/librarian in her forties looking after her ageing father. And who is then shot through the spine by the Joker, in an attempt to send her father, Jim Gordon, insane – just as the Joker believed happened with himself and Batman.
In the three decades since original publication, there has been considerable criticism of the themes of the original story, of turning Barbara Gordon into a walking (or not) plot device, an object to be used purely as a means to continue the plot to provoke Batman to action, to defeat the bad guy.
Which, to be fair, is just as the Joker sees her. However the comic didn't provide any resolution to her condition and she was cast aside as the plot device that she was. She was principle in Gail Simone's famous Women In Refrigerators essay, as a character used and abused solely to provide the male character with motivation.
But it was the crippling of Barbara by the Joker that saw the character transformed into Oracle, the anything-bit-helpless disabled crusader working with the rest of the Birds Of Prey team, becoming a symbol of empowerment. A character that Gail Simone herself would write on n ongoing basis in the Birds Of Prey comic.
That went away to some degree with the New 52 DC Comics Relaunch, a change in continuity for the DC Universe, with the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, again written by Gail Simone. With Barbara Gordon having been rejuvenated and her condition healed but – and DC were insistent upon this – with the events of the Killing Joke still in her history and uppermost in the character's mind.
But when Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr recreated Batgirl for DC Comics, it was in a spirit very much against the Killing Joke. Indeed, when a variant cover depicting the events of the Killing Joke was commissioned (even heightened) by the DC marketing department, its presence was vehemently objected to by the editorial and creative team, and was scotched.
This Batgirl was not that Batgirl.
And in last week's Batgirl #49, as the book comes to a close before the DC Comics Rebirth event, and the creative team goes elsewhere, a change was made.
It has been revealed that a number of Batgirl's memories were fake. Implanted for nefarious purposes by The Fugue. And now in the process of being withdrawn, removed, remembered. And one of them?
The Killing Joke. Was it all a fake memory, all this time? Not the only one as well…
Babs Tarr tweeted,
The interpretation was clear and fans were divided.
But writer Cameron Stewart looked to clarify the uncertainty. Or, rather, unclarify the certainty.
Just like Alan originally intended?
What's in – or out – of continuity now, that will be for the next creative team to decide. The comic itself still remains available, on the shelf…