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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Thoughts on Batman: The Killing Joke

Whenever the topic of the greatest Joker stories come up, you can bet the farm that The Killing Joke will be among the lot. Written by the famed Alan Moore and lusciously illustrated by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke tells a possible origin of the Joker's past in between his scheme of proving a point that one bad day is all it takes to drive a sane person loony.

For all the hype surrounding it, The Killing Joke is a surprisingly low key tale compared to the other events in the Caped Crusader's life. Most huge comic stories span multiple issues but The Killing Joke is a one and done comic, clocking in at only 46 pages. By the standards that it was released in 1988 and even today, that's pretty darn impressive.

After DC started doing animated feature films of popular comic book stories like The Dark Knight Returns, I was hoping that they would eventually do The Killing Joke. When they finally announced that what is arguably the greatest Joker story of all time would indeed be animated, the internet erupted with thunderous applause. Kevin Conroy was returning to voice Batman, Mark Hamill would once again be the Clown Prince of Crime and the hype train was set into overdrive. Like many Batman fans, I was salivating for the Blu Ray release of this baby. And then the reviews came out. And well, they were not the rave reviews we were expecting.

It is impossible to talk about the animated adaption of The Killing Joke without  mentioning the first 30 minutes of the film and that infamous scene that has everyone in an uproar.

Batman and Batgirl's relationship is painful to watch and not
just because it gets sexual.
If the the film makers did a straight up adaptation of the comic, this would have been a forty something minute flick. Most DC animated films are over 70 minutes long. To add to the the movie's length, the film makers decided to give Batgirl a greater role. I was aware they were doing this for months and I was looking forward to what they would produce. I did not, however, know that Batgirl's involvement would take up 30 minutes of the movie. More on the lines of 10 or 15 is what I had in mind. Not only that, but it isn't really all that interesting, including her relationship with Batman. Yes, Batman and Batgirl have sex on a rooftop. They don't show the nasty being done, but it is something that happens and is this infamous scene along with the rest of the baggage that Batgirl brings that makes the animated version of The Killing Joke a deal breaker for so many people. But not for me and I'll get to why in just a bit.

In the DC Animated Universe, Bats and Batgirl also have a relationship.Not a great deal of it is played out on screen and certainly not to the extent of what was done in the movie we're talking about, but Bruce and Barbra were involved. Their relationship in the DCAU never really bothered me even after Barbra more or less told Terry how far said relationship went with a very suggestive look in Batman Beyond.

Despite the fact that Hamill isn't much of a singer, the
Joker's musical number is still in the film.

Having said all of that, The Killing Joke is not in the DCAU. I know Bruce Timm is very proud of the universe he helped create and he should be. The DCAU is among my favorite shows to watch. But there comes a time when you've got to have a disconnect from previous shows you've worked on. Batman and Batgirl's relationship in The Killing Joke feels like it's trying to hit the notes from the aforementioned series. People often bring up the age difference between Bruce and Barbra but people of their age have sexual relationships in real life all the time. Believing that all or most people only stick to their own age when it comes to relationships are in some serious denial. But being close in age or no, Batman and Batgirl's relationship in The Killing Joke is completely unnecessary and adds nothing to the movie. Seeing Batgirl act like an emotionally driven, whinny girlfriend really is hard to watch. In the end, I was just waiting to get to the second half of the moving, The Killing Joke stuff, which is the reason why all of us were here to begin with. Does it ruin the original story or rape your childhood like some overly dramatic fans say? Not at all. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't hinder the film. If the first 30 minutes had been executed better, I wouldn't have minded all that much. But as it stands, the first half is filler of the uninteresting variety.

The second half of The Killing Joke is the kind of stuff you can't take your eyes off of. It matches the comic book so closely, its like watching moving panels. How the book begins in the rain with Batman walking into Arkham to talk to the Joker about the possibility of preventing an murderous outcome between theme, all of it is here.

The scene where Batman makes a heart felt
attempt to help the Joker are some of Conroy's
best Batman lines.

What I really loved about this movie and one of the main reasons I wanted an animated version was to see my favorite scenes from the book brought to life on TV. Seeing the flashback where we get to see a possibility of what the Joker was like before he became the Joker made for one of Hamill's best performances. He makes the man who was just an ordinary, struggling comedian before his chemical bath sound like a completely different person from the Joker. He's a man trying to support his pregnant wife and you really do feel for him in these scenes. Hamill really knocked it out of the park here. While he's been my favorite voice actor to play the Joker, I've noticed age really taking a hit to his voice in the since the Arkham games. He's always handed in an admirable performance but you can tell the voice he once had voicing the Joker isn't there. Even so, the Joker he portrays in The Killing Joke is chilling. It's great to hear him deliver classic lines from the graphic novel like "Here's to crime," and "If I have to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice." And then you've got his first maniacal Joker laugh after seeing his new look.

Kevin Conroy gives us another solid Batman performance as always. Granted he doesn't have as many lines in the actual Killing Joke part of the movie as Joker, but when he does speak, he delivers the Batman voice. Just as it was with Hamill, I love hearing the lines from the comic delivered on screen. You can really feel the emotion when Batman reaches out to the Joker to help him only for the Joker to respond that its too late for that. And having Batman laugh at the Joker's joke is both cool and creepy at the same time.

The Joker does the impossible: make Batman laugh.

While the first thirty minutes of the film are filler and really bring down Batgirl as a character, the rest of the film is amazing and the first half ins't enough to make it a terrible film. If you've read the graphic novel and loved it, you owe it to yourself to pick up this animated feature.

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