Batman: The Killing Joke to any Batman fan and overall fan of comic books is Alan Moore’s 1988 one-off comic that not only cemented the origin story for The Joker and the fate of Barbara Gordon in most of, if not all, of DC Comics’ canon. For only being a one-off, some argue it is the quintessential story behind the mythos of Batman and The Joker and their long and endless feud (almost to the point of being some sick form of a love affair) with each other. Big time fans of the animated content DC Animation has been putting out for the past decade have been long awaiting an adaptation of Moore’s story and for none other than Batman and Joker voice alums Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively, to take the reigns in leading the rest of the voice cast. Finally, it seems, everyone has gotten what they wished for: The Killing Joke is now an animated movie; Conroy is Batman; Hamill is Joker; and they even got Tara Strong for the voice of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. The animated movie got its chance to premiere at San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend and I had the lucky chance of viewing it by my own means as well, and like the fans at SDCC, there are some beautiful moments taken straight out of the source material in The Killing Joke as well as some choices that could have been left in the writers’ room.
Due to the fact that TKJ is only about 30 pages of story, it was physically impossible for the animated movie to be a feature length. As a consolation for such, they decided to add a 30 minute prologue at the beginning of the feature focused on Batgirl and her dynamic with Batman before the events of TKJ. The prologue is where a lot of fans have been up in arms calling the writer of the film a sexist for objectifying Batgirl and turning her into a sex symbol and it’s a step back for the character yada yada yada. The problem with fanboys is the minute they see something “off” to them, they immediately go into attack mode (whether it be with their keyboard or an actual voice) and condemn whoever is responsible for what they don’t like as if they were a child who got the white Xbox 360 on Christmas morning instead of the black one.
As for me, I’d be lying if I praised the prologue and called it perfect. I think it starts off fantastically and shows a Batgirl and Barbara Gordon that is indeed head strong but she can make decisions on her own (whether or not they’re good or bad decisions). Tara Strong is great in the prologue where she gets most of the spotlight and she showed that even Batgirl can have a dark side. I would honestly say the prologue is 90% good for me up until literally one scene and then the scene to follow that up and TKJ turns into a romantic comedy of back-and-forth with Batman and Batgirl. The two have had romantic instances in the comics once or twice – so for any fans who say “THAT’S NOT THE REAL BATMAN/BATGIRL RELATIONSHIP, DC WRITERS ARE A BUNCH OF HACKS,” you’re wrong to put it bluntly. Have Batman and Batgirl had romantic history? Yes, albeit briefly. Has it ever defined their relationship as crimefighters and the fact that Batgirl is someone Batman was reluctant to take as a partner until she proved herself to him through sheer will and a bit of force? Absolutely not. That’s really my main issue with the prologue of TKJ and that it makes Batman and Batgirl’s relationship a little different going into the real Killing Joke – but there’s a reason they call these animated movies adaptations.
After the prologue there is a clear shift in tone and dark days are coming for The Dark Knight and his allies. The real part of TKJ is honestly a dream come true for any fan of Batman, Alan Moore’s writing, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, or more likely all the above. Panels and lines from the comic are practically cut and paste into the movie and like any performance from Conroy and Hamill, they really only seem to get better with age.
What TKJ did for The Joker was it turned a man who was to be understood as an onslaught of terror and injustice into a sad victim of a series of unfortunate events and the real villain in all of this is Batman. Mark Hamill’s second career as The Joker in not only this, but in the Batman Animated Series (Literally from the originals through Batman Beyond and Justice League) as well as the Arkham video games and other DC animated features, has made him the pivotal Joker in my mind. His tragic performance in TKJ could be argued as his best take on the character yet. For me, I think it is second behind Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000). Kevin Conroy has been doing Batman for as long as Hamill has been doing Joker and he too is only getting better and better.
This second half of TKJ – THE REAL TKJ – is the best work DC Animation has done in recent memory. The last twenty minutes or so in particular when we see Batman and The Joker not only arguing and fighting, but confiding in one another as colleagues for the first time maybe ever? It’s a compelling turn of events that was incredible to read as a 15-year-old when I first picked up a copy of TKJ and it was compelling to watch as a 23-year-old as well. Tonally, the shift from the 30 minute prologue to TKJ is like night and day. As I said above, it has this off-putting rom-com feeling to it that doesn’t add to the amplifications and consequences of what transpires in TKJ. There is a reason why this is DC Animation’s first R-rated feature and it’s because TKJ is not a lighthearted story for kids who play with action figures. It’s depressing what happens to The Joker who is shown in a different light to be an ordinary guy who simply had one bad day.
If you are only interested in seeing the actual events from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, I recommend skipping the first 30 minutes of the movie. If you want a little bit of backstory about Batman/Batgirl and you think you can handle it without taking to some Reddit thread or comment section on a YouTube channel, I’d give that a go as well. In terms of ratings I’d give the prologue a 6/10 and the part that is actually TKJ a 9/10. So if my math is right that would be a 15/20 which if you simplify that to the famous WNS out-of-10 rating, we land on…
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Very Good
If you’re a fan of the original one-off comic, I highly recommend watching it. It’s as faithful as any DC Animated adaptation is going to be. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy once again prove why half the world defines them as Batman and The Joker. The animation can be a bit choppy sometimes – a stylistic choice from the animators – however I don’t think it takes away from the experience at all. Skip the 30 minute prologue if you don’t want to see Batman and Batgirl in some sort of romantic comedy/will-they-won’t-they scenario.
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