Starring: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Alan Moore (original story)
Original Year of Release: 2016
Run Time: 76 Minutes
I remember when Batman: The Killing Joke came out. I don’t mean I remember that it came out but rather I remember the exact day. I was working for a book distributor and part-time at a large comic book store. I and two other guys from the distributor went down to the comic store on our lunch hour to specifically pick-up the one-shot graphic novel on the day it was released. Back in 1988, there was no social media, no Internet as we know it today. Yet this was still a highly anticipated release based on DC’s promotions and word of mouth. It was written by Alan Moore who had just come off his incredible run on Swamp Thing as well as The Watchmen and was at the height of his popularity.
Yet, while Batman: The Killing Joke was a good story and largely lived up to the pre-release hype there’s little doubt that its impact has diminished in the nearly thirty years since it was released. The book came out at a time of transition in the comic industry. The business had largely remained the same over the course of the previous couple decades outside of a few efforts from the likes of Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams to produce stories with more of an edge. But as the late 80s arrived, Marvel and DC, in part spurred on by several successful independent comics series, began to put out stories with more adult themes. The Killing Joke had the benefit of coming out at the dawn of this darker era but the years have dulled its edge considerably.
The film missteps right out of the opening credits. Running only 76 minutes total, Director Sam Liu spends the first 28 minutes on a prologue that was not part of the original story. The prologue focuses on the relationship between Batman and Batgirl as they pursue a high-level member of an organized crime family named Paris Franz (Ugghhh). But the true point of the opening is to build up a contentious relationship between Batman and Batgirl. He continually chastises her for taking risks and going it alone while she objects to his “my way or the highway” domineering attitude. This eventually leads to the pair coming to blows…and then having sex on a rooftop. While this prologue works to establish Batgirl in the DC Animated Universe, it has no connection at all to The Killing Joke. When it ends with Barbara Gordon giving up her costume and we transition into the main story it feels like a separate, unconnected plot tossed in to pad the film. Producer Bruce Timm admitted that more story had to be added since the graphic novel wasn’t long enough for a feature film.
Once it finally gets there the film provides a faithful adaptation of the graphic novel including the Joker’s backstory/origin. Batman visits the Joker in Arkham to discuss their strange bond and that sooner or later it will lead to one of their deaths. But the man turns out to be an imposter and the Joker has escaped yet again. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away to those that might not have read the graphic novel and those that have already know what happens.
Much was made of the film being given an “R” rating but this is about the softest R rating you’ve ever seen. There is some very mild profanity but no use of the “F” bomb and there is worse language in “A Christmas Story.” There are people shot and blood which sprays but there was more violence in the “Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher” from 2014 and that only received a PG-13 rating. There is implied sex and implied nudity but no private parts are exposed. Some people have also said that the photos of Barbara Gordon that the Joker shows her father imply that she was raped but I didn’t take it that way and Timm denies it was meant to be taken in that context. Honestly, there is no compelling reason for this film to have an R rating literally or based on the source material which was even tamer.
Kevin Conroy returns to voice Batman and frankly, no one else can compare. Mark Hamill also returns to voice The Joker as he has done many times although I would have loved to see them go in a bit of a different direction. Rounding out the cast is Tara Strong as Batgirl and the always fantastic Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon. The Animation, while better than some of DC’s other recent animated films, didn’t capture the gritty, detailed beauty of Brian Bolland’s original art.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a perfect example of a story that didn’t need to be made into a feature film. Why not package a couple of shorter films running 40 – 45 minutes each together rather try to manufacture a feature film artificially?
An exclusive sneak peek at the next DC Universe Original Movie• Featurette Justice League Dark
“Batman: The Killing Joke – Madness Set To Music” – Jim Gordon must bear witness to the most disturbing images any father could imagine while a maniac entices his break from sanity in song. This documentary looks at the step-by-process of one of the most crucial scenes in Batman: The Killing Joke.
“Many Shades of Joker: The Tale of The Killing Joke” – Brian Bolland’s artwork is instantly recognizable to comic book enthusiasts all over the world. Known for his amazing cover art, it was a rare inclusion into the body of a graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke, that helped the perennial story of Batman and The Joker remain a fan favorite for decades to come. This documentary reveals the artistic process behind The Killing Joke’s distinct style.
From the DC Comics Vault – Two 22-minute episodes: 1. The New Batman Adventures - “Old Wounds”2. Batman: The Animated Series - “Christmas with The Joker