So after years of waiting and speculation, all the influences of the graphic novel in various media such as movies, shows, and video games, and even a Facebook page dedicated to petitioning Mark Hamill to be cast as The Joker for it, there’s finally an animated movie adaptation of Batman: The Killing Joke, based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland. Sadly I didn’t get to see it in theaters, but I’m amazed and happy that it got a theatrical release, limited as it was, so of course I went out and bought the blu ray/DVD combo as soon as I could. As far as DC animated movies are concerned, I like what I’ve seen of them. While they are hit or miss on the live-action comic adaptation side of things, they definitely are reigning champs of animation (but fuck Teen Titans GO!). Some of the recent animated movies they’ve done have been a bit iffy at times, though Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a clear exception to this, and now with Batman: The Killing Joke, it’s kind of in-between. I’m glad this movie got made and came out, but I can still find problems with it. Not too many, but some big ones.
Probably the biggest problem of this movie is the prologue, which is pretty much the general consensus on that issue. All it consists of is Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, partnering up with Batman to take down a criminal, she fumbles around like a clod when trying to take the guy down, obsesses about Batman a bit too much like a friggin groupie and complains about it to her “obviously not a stereotype” gay best friend (the quotes mean sarcasm fyi), has sex with him like a groupie (yeah seriously that happens and I’ll get to that in a bit) for no apparent reason, and then decides to call it quits after they finally nail the perp. Maybe if it had been a standalone short film like the DC Showcase ones before it (speaking of which, why don’t they do those anymore?), this would’ve been fine. But it has no purpose being in the actual movie and does nothing to add more to the original source material. And for something that’s 30 minutes, it feels like it takes forever and is just unbearable to watch with incredibly cringe-worthy dialogue to match, kinda like Ann Coulter at The Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe. It really is simply just padding.
And yes, you read that correctly, BATGIRL HAS SEX WITH BATMAN. When I first heard about this from a friend of mine, my initial reaction was “Ewwwwwwwww!!!!!” Now, after seeing it, it’s still “Ewwwwwwwww!!!” I’m not being a prude here, I’m not against sex or anything, but really? She’s old enough to be his friggin daughter! Or his little sister or younger cousin! He’s supposedly in his late 30s-early 40s or something (yeah Batman seems to be like the reverse-Matthew McConaughey of the DCU, they get older and he stays the same age, yes he does, yes he does) and she’s in her early 20s, I guess. Yeah, they don’t fully show them having sex, just them kissing and Batgirl taking off her top, the movie pans the camera upward away from them, and cuts to the next scene where it’s explicitly stated they had sex, but it’s still awkward, out of place, and nonsensical. Maybe in the comics these two did have an attraction to one another that was hinted at times, but this is just stupid. Also, what’s Dick Grayson gonna say about this? Or Catwoman for that matter? That is if they exist in this movie idk.
Worst thing about this is that the filmmakers INTENDED to do this, putting it to question whether this makes it any less bad or what. In response to the criticism for the prologue, the portrayal of Batgirl in it, and the sex scene, they stated that the graphic novel itself was already controversial, so in adapting it they decided to add more controversy. I guess that’s a thumbs up? What’s even weirder, or maybe it makes some sense, was that this movie was written by Brian Azzarello, the guy who wrote 100 Bullets, Joker, Luthor, Wonder Woman, and several other comics including ones about Batman and his collaboration with Frank Miller on The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. At times his stories almost have a noir-ish approach similar to Miller, though at least Azzarello is still a good writer. And yet the prologue is so, well, “batshit” insane and stupid, with Batgirl being a literal Batman groupie and the sex scene especially, that I don’t think even Frank Miller himself could pull something like that off, the guy who did ASBAR (in which Batman utters the phrase “goddamn Batman”, calls Dick Grayson retarded and makes him eat rat, burns people alive, and has sex with Black Canary in the rain) and Holy Terror (a graphic novel originally about Batman vs. Al Qaeda that turned into a story about a Batman ripoff called The Fixer fighting a Muslim invasion and is such an anti-Islamic propaganda piece that I bet Donald Trump reads it to children in hospitals on his campaign trail). This comes off as bad fan fiction writing of Batman material almost on par with 50 Shades of Grey, though I give this movie more credit than that because at least the prologue only lasts 30 minutes while 50 Shades is 2 hours and is having sequels.
Now when the movie actually adapts The Killing Joke, it is AWESOME. It follows the source material pretty well, not shot-for-shot, panel-to-panel kind of way like Batman: Year One did, but still good. The animation sorta tries to provide fluidity in adapting Brian Bolland’s art style to mixed results, looking a little choppy and stiff at times, but it manages to go from bright and jovial to dark and moody with the colors, and the establishing shots that do capture exact moments from the comic are cool. The story hits the same beats as the comic, tries to explore The Joker’s nature, philosophy, and a possible yet not exact origin story for him, because The Joker is an unpredictable force to be reckoned with who, as he states himself, if he’s gonna have a past, he’d prefer it to be multiple choice. There’s also the relationship between Batman and The Joker to consider as well and what they represent to each other and everyone else. Essentially, Batman and Joker are the exact polar opposites to one another pretty much every conceivable way. Joker is the Yin to Batman’s Yang. Batman represents justice and order, Joker represents madness and chaos. They have fought for years on end, both achieving nothing more than a stalemate in all their conflicts. Sure, Batman does defeat him on several occasions, putting him in jail or Arkham Asylum, and then has to do it all over again when he escapes. And then there are the times when Joker escalates to the extreme and commits even more atrocious acts, such as mass murder and to hurt Batman more personally, killing Jason Todd and in the comic and movie, crippling Barbara Gordon while her father and his friend James Gordon is being driven to near insanity, that Batman is pushed to his limit and it’s questioned how far he’s willing to go in order to beat him and whether he would cross the line and kill him, fearing that if he does so he becomes just as bad, if not worse, than The Joker himself. All The Joker is trying to do is prove a point, that anyone can become just like him after having “one bad day” like he did, that Batman had something similar happen to him and is like him in certain ways but he does things completely different from him. Thankfully James Gordon keeps his sanity and wits and reminds Batman who and what he is and how they do things “by the book”, to prove to The Joker that “their way works”, that there can be some semblance of order, structure, and justice in this crazy world we live in.
The voice acting in this movie, both in the prologue despite the idiot dialogue and story and when the movie actually gets to the actual Killing Joke story, is great from everyone involved, especially those who have voiced these characters in the past with the DCAU and other projects like Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tara Strong as Batgirl, and especially Mark Hamill as The Joker. Just hearing Mark Hamill voicing The Joker here is devilishly delightful as he always has been, especially when it’s for lines from the comic itself. When he sings the carnival ride song, it really is music to my ears. The way his portrayal shifts back and forth, from the mild-mannered chemical engineer and failed comedian to the psychopath he becomes, is done with such ease and grace that at times it almost seems like he’s playing almost two different characters. Much like fine wine, Mark Hamill has gotten better with age when portraying The Joker, showing he’s always got it and still will since there’s gonna be more stuff with him as The Joker in the future. I’ll admit, if this were to be the end of him portraying the character, it’s not as much of a high note as could be expected, but it’s still good. He is just simply delicious as The Joker.
Some things that are discussed about The Killing Joke to this day are things such as how Barbara Gordon is portrayed as nothing more than a victim in the story who is assaulted in order to advance the story of the male characters, hence the idea of Women in Refrigerators Syndrome brought into play here, and whether Batman killed The Joker at the end of the story like so many people have discussed. Ok, I’ll admit the treatment of Barbara is questionable at times, but it’s not like what The Joker did to her put her out of the game in any way nor did it make her a weak character. This was really just to hurt both Gordon and Batman. It did pave the way for her to become the character Oracle and help people on a greater level than possibly through her time as Batgirl, becoming the go-to information broker and computer hacker for the DCU and being a major player on several superteams such as the Suicide Squad, Justice League, and especially the Birds of Prey. While I found it questionable at the time to make her Batgirl again in The New 52, negating Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown’s tenures in the mantle, her time as Oracle and her own legacy as well, (though I think DC Rebirth is sorta starting to acknowledge their times as Batgirl and Barbara’s time as Oracle now), it was cool to see her kicking ass and taking names in a literal sense, and Gail Simone, who’s written the character pretty well over the years in Birds of Prey, still managed to do so in her Batgirl run, showing that the character is great depending on how she’s portrayed (though that hipster Batgirl run can go fuck itself and honestly, between that and the prologue, I’m not sure which is worse). I do like how the movie does add a little post-credits scene showing her becoming Oracle, so it’s nice to see that there is light in the tunnel for her.
I really don’t think that Batman killed The Joker at the end, though. As much as I can understand how people would think that, I don’t think it happened, seeing as how there are stories set after this one and Joker is still alive and kicking (and no I don’t know what to think about that “three Jokers” thing DC is doing). At the end of the story, Batman offers to help rehabilitate Joker, trying to stop this seemingly neverending conflict that could potentially end with one killing the other or both killing each other at the same time. But the thing is, as much as they despise each other, they really can’t exactly live without the other. Batman lives to fight crime and bring justice, and The Joker lives to commit crime and bring injustice. They are mirrored counterparts, one is good and the other is evil. They both live in an insane world, with Batman trying to stabilize it while Joker wants to make things worse. Joker sees everything as a joke, acts as such and does the things he does because in the end, what does it really matter? So if Batman killed The Joker, it could end the cycle they’re in, but at the same time it could bring more chaos and destruction or just provide a hole for them that they couldn’t fill, finding no purpose in what they do. This has been explored in other stories before like Batman Beyond (including the Return of the Joker movie) and Arkham Knight. The joke that Joker tells to Batman is as much as he could sum up about their relationship, that they are not so different from each other in certain ways but they do horrible things to each other at the same time. The fact that Batman laughs with him at the joke and continues to do so after Joker stops laughing shows that, despite all the horror The Joker has wrought upon him and those he cares about, he is at least able to see the funny side of things sometimes. It’s just that some of those things can be pretty fucked up.
Batman: The Killing Joke is not quite the masterpiece as could be expected, but looking back at the source material, how Alan Moore himself has tried to distance himself from it since its publication (good thing that his stance on not being credited in adaptations of his work comes in handy here), the divided reactions to it despite being heralded as one of the best Batman stories and probably the best Joker story, this was not an easy task to adapt to screen, even with an R-rating attached to it and the prologue not exactly helping matters. There is effort put into it though to make it as entertaining and thought-provoking as possible, with the animation being great despite some hiccups and the voice acting phenomenal from everyone involved, especially from Mark Hamill himself in a solid performance as The Joker. I’m glad this got made and I’m glad I got to see it, and with that, as The Joker himself did, let’s raise a toast and say “here’s to crime”.