So there’s been some interesting discussion about the classic Batman graphic novel, The Killing Joke. In a podcast with Kevin Smith, comic book writer Grant Morrison said that he always saw the end as Batman killing The Joker, and puts forward convincing arguments for his reasoning.
The internet is now alight with discussion as to whether this is “true” or not, fans going so far as to unearth the original script for any indication as to the validity of Morrison’s claims.
But the thing is… it doesn’t matter. Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s great we’re talking Batman and I love both the reasoned argument and geeky passion that fuel Morrison’s argument. But when it comes to art, more often than not, interpretation is with the person viewing the art not the artist.
There’s a saying in publishing that once you publish a book, that it stops becoming yours. Readers will take it, bring their life experience to it and see things that the author themself never saw. Of course, there are wacko theories, the ones without any reasoning where someone will go “well I saw this all as a metaphor for the Iraq War” but even then, if that’s what they saw, then that’s what they saw.
As strange as it might sound, sometimes the artist themselves doesn’t know. They might have an idea on the actions a character takes a split second after the end of the book /movie / whatever but that decision is so fragile, the character left on a razor’s edge, that whether the character turns left or turns right, is entirely dependent on the perspective of the reader.
Sometimes it’s deliberate as well. Sometimes an artist will leave an ending ambiguous to make their audience think. Take for example, the end of the movie Inception. Did Cobb make it out? Were things earlier in the movie clues or just coincidence?
But even if the author’s intent is otherwise, it doesn’t make a theory ‘wrong’. In fact, really well thought out, well-argued counter arguments that go against the author’s intent can be just as valid an interpretation. Heck, I’m sure I’m not the only author who would say that I am the last person to be able to understand what I write.
So if you see Morrison’s theory and think it rings true then that’s just as valid as seeing it and thinking it not. Great art prompts discussion and I love how 15 years on, we can still talk and debate a Batman graphic novel and its meaning.
Batman & Morrison's View On The Ending Of The Killing Joke