Book BFFS: The Killing Joke and The Chair
‘Sup readers? If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because The Killing Joke photo inspired your click. Well, good; this isn’t clickbait, we promise. The point of Book BFFs is to hopefully hook you up with new reading material based on what you’ve loved previously, turning you on to new authors and stories that aren’t carbon copies of one another, but compliment each other, like peanut butter and Nutella, The Joker and Batman, etc. We’ve decided to start by basing a recommendation on The Killing Joke.
Alan Moore’s 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke is a cornerstone of Batfamily lore, a seminal take on The Joker, and, in general, the standard by which graphic novels are judged. Though Moore isn’t crazy about his story, aftershocks of its influence are still felt in the pages of modern comics as they sprint away from the bright, kid-friendly tones of yesteryear to darker, more mature storylines. But if you’ve already read The Killing Joke (or are a fan of Moore’s envelope-pushing work), none of this is news to you. In fact, you know how great the book is, and you’ve probably seen the divisive 2016 film adaptation. But if you enjoyed the themes and characters, what else will pique your interest? It’s safe to assume that most The Killing Joke enthusiasts are also Batman fans, and there’s not much point in recommending gems from Batman’s back-catalogue (though there are many). So, if you’re a fan of the Bats/Joker dynamic, storylines that expose humanity’s darkest capabilities, and great art (Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke’s illustrator, also served as the colourist for the deluxe edition), what else can you get into?
What you should read next:
Well, to be blunt, you should check out Peter Simeti’s The Chair. Published by Alterna Comics (of which, Simeti is the founder and CEO), The Chair has been around in some form or another since 2008, but the definitive, deluxe edition was published in 2016. The Chair follows Richard Sullivan, a self-professed innocent man on death row; his experiences with the prison’s new warden, Enrik (and his gang of mentally-unhinged prison guards) force him to destroy his tether to humanity, and embrace the monster he’s been denying since his incarceration. A movie based on the graphic novel was recently released.
How they’re similar:
When it comes to both books, atmosphere is everything. In The Killing Joke, vivid colours and sharp dialogue emphasise the tale being told. The Chair, meanwhile, is a black-and-white tableau with a cinematic feel: ghoulish artwork (done by the masterful Kevin Christensen, without whom, the story would be only a ghost of itself) and gritty dialogue bolster themes of duality: there are two sides to every coin, every person, every story. Richard and Enrik live in stark contrast to each other, two prisoners in the same figurative cell who see the same landscape, but are focused on inherently different things. Sullivan sees the sky (belief in his innocence, even as the seconds of his life slip away and the brutality in the prison escalates), The Warden sees dirt (the prisoners, their sins, and the corresponding punishments, which definitely fall outside the confines of the law). Batman sees Gotham and feels the need to protect. The Joker sees Gotham and has the compulsion to destroy.
Similar to Bats/The Joker, it’s all a matter of perspective. One wouldn’t exist without the other. Just as The Joker is tied to Batman, Richard and Enrik are each other’s hostages, inescapably entwined, and it all depends on the looking glass (or goggles, in the warden’s case) you’re seeing through. The Joker’s stance relies on the premise that one bad day is the only difference between sanity and insanity. If it happened to him, it can happen to anyone. He even (correctly) says that Batman had a bad day once, the result of which drove him to become Gotham’s vigilante. Richard Sullivan is locked up for a heinous crime and labelled a monster— he looks the part and has the criminal record to back it up. Meanwhile, Enrik, a man with prestige, power, and freedom, implements and condones violent, ruthless treatment towards prisoners. Monsters don’t always look like monsters; there are the ones you think of (the ones lining death row) and the ones you’d never suspect.
How they’re different:
The Killing Joke was meant to be a oneshot that had no direct impact on the Batman universe whatsoever, but it’s now heavily embedded in the Batman (particularly Batgirl) mythos. It tells a story, but ends on a note that still has tongues wagging (Grant Morrison has said that Batman actually killed The Joker, while others deny it. Bolland teased readers in his afterword in the deluxe edition). The Chair is very much a clear-cut story with a beginning, middle, and end. While you can pick-and-choose which parts of Joker’s origin story you believe (he’s not even sure of his reality anymore), Richard Sullivan’s time on death row is laid out starkly, his life a non-negotiable set of facts. The Killing Joke is about horrific things, The Chair dabbles in the horror genre itself.
Why you should read The Chair:
Not only is this book a quick (but mature) read, it also slams several points home, and the issue of morality is the backbone of the book. What makes a man a monster? What makes him more? If you want a suspenseful read that will keep you hooked on your bus ride to work, The Chair is definitely going to be a go-to. Plus, the movie looks like perfect creep-out flick to watch with your favourite horror buff.
Have you read Peter Simeti’s The Chair yet? Let us know in the comments!
ETA: The original post mistakenly omitted The Chair’s remarkable artist, Kevin Christensen. That has been fixed. My deepest apologies, as Christensen is an incredible talent whose work should be given all the credit where it’s due, and we all know that comics, as a medium, would not survive if writers and artists didn’t work hand in hand. Thank you to Blake Hauschild and Theresa Catherine for pointing out the omission.