This volume collects Moore’s miscellaneous work for DC, from April 1985’s Green Arrow two-parter Night Olympics to 1988’s Killing Joke, along with a few thoughts from his collaborators such as Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland. (And of course there’s a distinct lack of comment from Moore himself — understandable, considering his current relations, or lack of them, with DC.)
You get a real feel of Moore the jobbing writer from this book. The strongest of the short tales are those whose format most resembles the Future Shocks and Time Twisters of his early days with 2000A.D. — these being the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps, and the two Vegatales. But even Moore struggles to come up with something interesting to do with such nobodies as the Vigilante and Green Arrow. Both of these stories seem to be teetering on the edge of Moore going into a debate about the point of superheroes themselves, with the Green Arrow Night Olympics putting this most explicitly: “I don’t know… There’s something about crooks these days. They’re kinda pathetic…” (Which of course reflects on the heroes who fight them.) Whereas the Vigilante story never quite manages to get into the debate about authoritarianism versus liberalism that’s hovering on its sidelines. Perhaps Moore just knew he’d done all this, and far better, in Miracleman and V for Vendetta. (Watchmen was still in the future at this point.)
The Superman tales are much more successful, as Moore tries to find new directions in which to push the Man of Tomorrow to keep this, potentially the most bland (because so perfect) of heroes, interesting. In all three of the Superman tales collected here — For the Man Who Has Everything, The Jungle Line (also featuring Swamp Thing), and the two-part Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? — Superman’s real enemy is himself. In the first two, this is because Superman is locked in either a dream or a hallucination, and so is only battling himself. In the last, the tale in which we get to find out just how the career of the greatest of all superheroes comes to an end, it is Superman himself who lands the final blow.
The real standout of the book, though, is of course The Killing Joke, not only because of its stunning Brian Bolland artwork. Moore’s take on the Joker’s origins seems to have become a bit of an albatross around the great man’s neck, as he speaks elsewhere of how its success came to infect the whole comic book industry with a rather superficial echoing of its nihilistic darkness, leading him to feel everybody had somehow missed the point. But the story’s ending is really almost upbeat, as Batman and the Joker manage to communicate, sanely, for just a moment. The joke told at the end, about two loonies trying to escape an asylum, comes as a rather affecting commentary on Batman and the Joker’s relationship. In the joke, one madman escapes the asylum by jumping to a nearby roof. The other madman can’t make the jump, so the first turns on his torch and says he should walk along its beam. The first says, “What do you think I am, crazy? You’ll turn it off halfway!” Batman is the loony who escaped the insanity of his parents’ death and who is now offering to help the Joker escape, too. But the Joker can’t trust anyone — even someone as like him as Batman — not to take away the helping hand when it’s needed the most. He’s beyond help.