I remember, not that it was that long ago now when the DC animated movie adaption of the iconic graphic novel The Killing Joke was released. Fans were in an uproar about the addition of a plot frontloaded to the beginning of the film which reveals Batman (wonderfully voiced by Kevin Conroy) had sexual relations with Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong).
Hearing the uproar at the time, I came down, initially on the side of it, and decided I wasn’t going to watch the film because of that. It didn’t make sense that they would sleep together in the Batman canon of my brain. But as I began exploring the Batman animated films, I knew I would have to tackle this one, and that no matter what I thought of it, it at least had Conroy’s Batman, which meant it would also have Mark Hamill’s Joker.
Within the thematic context of the story it makes complete sense that Batman and Barbara had a night of passion. You can argue about whether or not it works, and whether it demeans the characters to have done it, but it makes sense, because later in the film when the Joker shoots Barbara, Batman learns she was later found in a state of undress letting the viewers connect the dots that the Joker raped her.
This shows the dichotomy and similarities of the Batman/Joker relationship and their states of mind. Joker is convinced both of them are insane, and that they are just on different sides of a very thinly drawn line.
In fact, Joker is out to prove that it just takes one bad day to make a person like him, or Batman. Both characters have tragic elements in their past that shaped them, but to really drive the point home, Joker turns his attention to Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise).
He shoots Barbara right in front of Gordon and then later torches him with fun house rides fitted out with video screens shooting photos of Barbara’s wounded and bloody body.
Because of the frontloaded plot, it takes a while to get to the actual source material of The Killing Joke, but that still leads to my one real complaint about the film. Once again, it’s too short.
If they’re going to take these iconic stories, as well as new ones, and adapt them to the screen flesh out the world. They attempted it by adding the Batgirl-centric prologue, which was solid, but there were other moments they could have dug into as well. They could have gone fully Willy Wonka on Gordon while he’s on the rides, really making it dark and frightening. The movie scored itself an R-rating, my thought is, own it.
Hamill’s Joker is terrifying and unhinged in this and it’s given a little exploration, but again not enough. I feel the same way about Bats. Just not enough character beats. The animation is great, but take your time guys, layer in the story.
I know it’s a fine line attempting to successfully adapt one of the classic Batman stories from one visual medium to another. It means fans are going to want to see their favourite panels brought to life and they’ll want a faithful representation of the story, but there also has to be enough to make it different, to separate it from its source material.
It was good, it could have been great.