The Killing Joke
by Allen Tran aka TragicMoustache
Let me first start off by saying that I’m no comic book expert, but as a millennial who grow up in the 90’s and early 2000’s I’ve been exposed to my fair share of Gotham’s Dark Knight. From the groundbreaking Batman the animated series, to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, to the action packed Arkham video games, to even the colossal disappointment that was Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice; anything Batman related catches my action and typically has me acting like Phillip J. Fry tossing my hard earned dollars at the computer screen. On July 10, 2015 at San Diego Comic Con, they announced that The Killing Joke will be receiving an animated movie to be released in the following year. During this time, I couldn’t have been any more hyped!
The controversial one-shot graphic novel by Alan Moore, that is the quintessential Joker storyline with a cast comprising of Mark Hamill (Joker), Kevin Conroy (Batman), and Tara Strong (Batgirl). This had all the makings to be an instant classic. Well one year has passed, I saw the movies, and is it an all-time classic that lived up to my expectations? No. Is it a horrible pile of debris that should be erased from Batman’s 77 years of history? Of course not. Is it a controversial animated film that has divided the fandom and the internet? Oh yes.
Okay let’s get the juicy stuff out of the way. We all know about the Batman and Batgirl sex scene that happens during the first half of the movie. When I initially heard about the negative reactions that the movie (and specifically that scene) received at its world premiere at Comic-Con, I dismissed it as everyone blowing it out of proportion.
Once that exact scene popped up in the theater, I couldn’t help but bury my face in my hand with the worst feeling of cringe. The whole theater erupted with a weird combination of laughter, jeers/WTFs, and cringe. It was like no-one in the theater had any solidarity on how the sex scene should be received. That whole scene was just unnecessary, slightly random, and felt like it was placed into the movie only to get a reaction out of its viewers. To give some context leading into that scene, in the first half of the movie Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and Batman fail to stop a robbery, unknown to the pair of crime fighters is that the ring leader of the robbery is the nephew of one of Gotham’s most power crime lords.
Paris Franz (the nephew), develops a sexual obsession over Batgirl. As he continues to elude and even at one-point best Batgirl in a confrontation, Batgirl starts making it her goal to stop this guy at all costs. Batman, fearing for Batgirl’s safety, removes her from the case. She gets frustrated and starts to physically lash out at Batman. She pins him then proceeds to strip out of her costume and proceed to have sex with Batman on a roof top.
It’s not that the sex scene felt random, but rather went overboard. It felt like the whole movie had a sexual undertone; from Barbara and her friend Patton Oswalt discussing her relationship status, to Paris Franz’s sexual obsession with Batgirl. At one point he even had a hooker wear a Batgirl masked cut from a pillow case.
Continuing on the theme of sex, at the beginning of the second half of the film, The Joker shoots Barbara right outside of her home paralyzing her in the process. As his minions kidnap her father (Commissioner Gordon), we are shown a brief scene of Joker buttoning down Barbara’s shirt. Later in the film while Commissioner Gordon is shown pictures of his daughter naked and in compromising positions. While it’s not confirmed whether or not Barbara was raped by Joker, it is assumed that she is. Rape has always been a touchy subject in any media and will always spark controversy. I personally found nothing wrong with this scene. I WILL LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT I DO NOT CONDONE ACTUAL RAPE OF ANY SHAPE OR FORM.
In an artistic context and for the matters of storytelling I found this scene to be rather appropriate. It helps in the character development, it makes the Joker look in more sinister and deranged and makes Barbara look more vulnerable. It’s consistent with the apparent sexual undertone that the movie had. Throughout this whole movie, the writers were obviously trying to portray Batgirl as a character who is in over her head. She thinks she’s untouchable but it’s apparent that she more vulnerable then she thinks. If that was truly the goal of the writers, then they succeeded in doing so.
Adapting The Killing Joke into a movie is a challenge in it of itself. This is due to the fact that the graphic novel itself is quite short, the total coming out to 48 pages. They had to add to the original story to help fill screen time and is ultimately the downfall of this film. The first half of the film involving Paris Franz, the mob, and the infamous sex scene was added for the film.
The entire first half was not a part of Alan Moore’s original graphic novel. The first half of the movie was overall just boring. At the very beginning of the film, the crime fighting duo where thrown straight into action with fun fast paced action and it felt like I was watching the animated series again but my mood changed as the film moved onto to its darker themes.
I personally liked Paris Franz as a villain even though he was one dimensional. But his character’s goal was clear cut and easy to follow. He wanted to take over Gotham has the top crime lord, and of course get in Batgirl’s pants but he wasn’t given enough screen time to further his non-existent character development. He’s a cunning, manipulative, and sociopathic play boy but in hindsight he comes off as bland, uninspired, and forgettable.
On the topic of screen time the movie clocked in at 76 minutes, barely over an hour. With a longer movie they could have fleshed out more characters and storylines but 76 minutes didn’t feel long enough for this movie. The worst thing about this movie is how poorly the characters were written, especially during the first half of the film.
Now I’ll give credit where credit is due. In the Killing Joke graphic novel, Barbara Gordon was nothing more than a means to advance the plot. She gets shot and paralyzed, talks to Batman in a heart-wrenching scene in the hospital and moves on to become Oracle down the line. I really applauded the film’s writers for trying to get Batgirl more of depth. When you really think about it, The Killing Joke storyline is very integral in the Batman Mythos. With that being said, the character the Killing Joke novel effected the most finally gets fleshed out but they dropped the ball in her portrayal in the film.
She came off as hothead, illogical, and kind of whiny. I promise this is the last time I’m bringing up the sex scene, but it boggled my mind why Batman didn’t stop Batgirl’s sexual advances. Throughout the entire first half of the film, Batman is calm, stoic, but most importantly level headed. But he didn’t try to stop any of Batgirl’s advances when she got him to the ground. Don’t get me wrong, personally if I had the opportunity I would definitely take it but it just feels wrong for them to be in a romantic relationship knowing they are teacher and protégé.
The film did have some excellent things about it. The second half, albeit very short was excellent. They near perfectly adapted the novel to the moving screen. The flashbacks that showed the origins of the Joker as a struggling comedian trying to earn a living to feed his family was a joy to watch. With a bit of bad luck and tragedy it turns the once simple comedian into the deranged psychopath that we all come to know and love. In my opinion, I feel like the film did more for me than the graphic novel when it came to Joker’s flashbacks. He’s typically portrayed as this mindless madman, but the Killing Joke help bring to light the true method behind the madness of the Joker. It made him more as a tragic character rather than just a simple villain.
Warner Bros Animation did a good job with the film. Everything looked smooth and well-drawn, but the darkness and gritty nature of Brian Bolland’s work in the graphic novel wasn’t perfect adapted into the film but I’m nitpicking at this point. The best thing by far about the film was the voice acting. Kevin Conroy bring out the true nature of Batman personality and character every time he gets behind the booth. Tara Strong and Mark Hamill belong on the Mount Rushmore of voice actors. Mark Hamill was truly the star of the show. I ardently believe that due to he is the best Joker. His range is infinite from portraying the Joker in the animated series, Arkham Games, and of The Killing Joke. He brings out both the fun comical nature side of the Joker but also his sinister and evil side as well.
Overall, the movie is definitely not bad but it is hard for me to consider it a good movie with such glaring flaws. Even with the stellar voice acting, good animation, and top-notch original source material this movie will be remembered and defined by that one scene in the first half. I would still recommend this movie to any Batman, DC, or comic book fan but the casual audience should tread with caution.