My Review of Batman: The Killing joke

This will not be a formal review. It’s more of a brief, general thoughts type thing. It’ll still show up on my ‘browse reviews’ page under the non-anime heading, but I won’t be sticking to a formula, and I won’t be avoiding spoilers.

Also, before we begin, I’d like to thank all of you for your patronage on my Ebay page.  Ever since I put the link up a few weeks ago, I’ve made over 600 dollars back, plus 300 dollars in anonymous donations, and once I finalize another deal with an outside buyer, I’ll have broken 1100, paying off all the money I lost on my car.  I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish this without you guys, so thank you very, very much.  I’m going to leave my Ebay link in my Contact page, if you find yourself looking for it again.  And now, on with the review.

When it comes to talking about The Killing Joke, the place I should probably start is with the original source material. It was published in 1988 by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Despite it’s short length, it dealt with content and subject matter that was a bit more graphic than anything DC was doing at the time, and has since been considered one of the most popular and influential comic books they’ve ever put out. As for me, personally? It’s not one of my favorites. It’s not my favorite Batman story… That would be Hush, for those who are curious… And it’s not my favorite Alan Moore comic, which would be Watchmen, because I’m so fucking original.

That’s not to say I hate The Killing Joke, or even that I even dislike it. I own a copy, and once in a while, it’s good for a quick read. I mean, seriously, you can burn through that thing in as little as five minutes. It’s generally celebrated for it’s two biggest contributions to the Batman lore… Joker’s possible tragic backstory and Barbara Gordon’s transition into Oracle. It’s also celebrated as one of the first comics to explore the yin and yang aspect of Joker and Batman’s relationship, as well as the futility of Batman always bringing him in alive so that more people can die down the line. The Joker is the cost of Batman’s mercy, and that’s become a very popular theme in the franchise over time. Hell, the joke Joker tells at the end perfectly encapsulates through an admittedly brilliant metaphor why The Joker can never be rehabilitated.

So why do I not love it? Well, I’d be hard pressed to rebuke any of the criticisms that feminists have made about Barbara Gordon’s role in the story. Even Alan Moore has expressed regret over how that scene was handled. There’s an old trope called “Women in refrigerators,” where a female character will be killed or maimed not through any fault of their own, but for the sake of developing a male character. Since Barbara Gordon is crippled to add gravity to a situation between Batman and the Joker, and she’s then sexually exploited for the sake of torturing her father, this comic stands as a perfect example of the aforementioned trope. In fact, I’ll take this one step farther and say that the real/fake/who knows? death of The Joker’s wife also kind of falls into the same category. I don’t think there was any real reason for her to die, I mean he would have gone on the mission and become the Joker either way.

Now, it is entirely possible for an adaptation to fix something you didn’t like in the source material. As much as I enjoyed the New 52 Suicide Squad, it kind of bothered me how the Task Force X members were disposable, and had no problem killing each other if they needed to, or simply wanted to. Yeah, it makes sense, seeing how they’re all evil psychopaths, but you know me, I’m a sucker for teamwork and the power of friendship in a story, especially if it’s being used to bring a villain around to the good side. Well, the theatrical Suicide Squad movie gave me exactly what I wanted, with the Task Force members bonding and becoming friends with each other over the course of the movie. Do you remember when Deadshot refused to kill Harley, and pretended to miss? Never would have happened in the comic. Hell, even Deadshot and Rick Flagg became all buddy-buddy towards the end. Yeah, I can understand that pissing off some purists, but it was fucking cheesecake for me.

In my opinion, if one of the two major contributions that The Kiling Joke made was Barbara Gordon losing the use of her legs, then she should feature more prominently in the story. After all, if the stakes are going to be high for her, then she should at least be a major player. Even if we depart from the ideals of sexism and the knee-jerk reaction that most insecure douchebags have to such ideals, that’s just basic character writing. I mean, granted, her crippling actually indirectly led to the revival of DC’s interest in her as a character, leading to her appearance in the cartoon as well as her own small collection of comic lines and the eventual New 52 revival, but it’s still a regrettable stain on comic history. The newly released movie actually made a move to address this, giving the story a brand new first half that features Barbara Gordon as not only a main character, but as the primary character. So, did this alteration do a satisfactory job in rectifying my biggest problem with the original comic? Oh good god, no. In fact, I’m pretty sure they just made things worse.

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room… The Batgirl in this movie is not the Batgirl that we all know and love. We all know Barbara Gordon as a young woman with a strong sense of justice and an untapped reservoir of martial arts and acrobatic skills who chose to become a hero to make the job of protecting Gotham easier for her father, as well as general thrill seeking. While she initially clashed with Batman over her right to act, they eventually formed a sort of tense, unofficial alliance and wound up working together often. Depending on which canon you follow, she may or may not have been in a relationship with Dick Grayson. She was a great hero, almost on par with Batman, although she was eventually retired due to a lack of interest.

Now, in the new movie, and I can’t stress enough how important this is, they rewrite her as someone who took up the cape and cowl because she was looking to capture Batman’s affections. That’s not all, she’s also bafflingly incompetent, getting outmatched in combat by a petty thug, punched off the side of a moving van, and led into a trap as easily as Scooby Doo spotting a table of food. She has rooftop sex with Batman, complicating their relationship, and while it may have been serious visually, I can’t stop laughing as I describe this in words… She retires because she almost kills a guy for flirting with her. Yeah, flirting might be putting it lightly, but she beat the shit out of him so soundly and viciously that… He looked perfectly healed up and conscious on the news, what has to have been less than ten minutes later.

Yeah, kind of a continuity error, but my point is, punching a psychopath to within an inch of his life for what could barely be considered sexual harassment was enough to show her the edge of the abyss. The same edge that Batman and the Joker talk about later. And did I mention that Batman is an insensitive emo asshole? Well, he is, as he’s constantly berating Batgirl about her gender after three years of working together. He belittles her abilities and condescends her while accusing the villain of objectifying her(potato potahto in my book), barely tries when they fight, and then offers no hint of resistance when she pins him and then starts taking off her clothes. Yeah, they fuck, and while he does embrace her when she kisses him, he shows no hint of interest afterwards, just back to square one, back to business with no hint of a change to their dynamic other than Barbara confiding in her stereotypically gay best friend that Bats is “avoiding her.”

And speaking of Batman avoiding her, I can’t help but notice that this isn’t the Batman we know and love, either.  Think back, and I mean way, way back.  Has Batman ever had a one-night stand?  Has he ever had meaningless sex?  I’m not much of an aficionado of the comics, so I’m not totally sure that some author hasn’t penciled him into a random woman’s bed before, but from what I’ve seen personally, Batman is a romantic character.  Yeah, he plays a playboy and philanderer, but it’s all an act.  He’s not Tony Stark.  When he has feelings for a woman, he takes it seriously, and tries to pursue a relationship.  I mentioned Hush earlier, and in that comic, he gets closer with Catwoman.  He decides they need to be on equal levels of trust, so without her even asking, he reveals his identity to her.  There is no way the real Batman would let Batgirl push him down and have her way with him, and then attempt to cut her off afterwards.  If he didn’t see a potential future with her, he would have just shoved her off and escaped into the night.

Anyway, she quits, retires to her apartment, and Batman gets called to examine the discovery of a years old Joker crime, which doesn’t even wind up being the reason he visits good old clown-face. This brings us to the comic book content, and what may actually be my biggest problem with this movie… An even bigger problem than Barb’s character assassination, if you can believe it. The first act is terrible, and has nothing to do with the second and third acts. The one thing in it that links it to the following acts is the Joker discovery, but like I said, that’s not even the REASON Batman visits him. “I mean, yeah, he did something really fucked up, but I want to ask him about our relationship, so we’ll forget about it.” Barbara Gordon’s narration is swapped out for the Joker backstory plot device, and no, this story ain’t big enough for the two of them. Not even the themes match, as it’s attempt to have Batgirl experience her version of the “Edge of the abyss” is laughable and falls completely flat. It feels like filler, which is appropriate, because it is filler.

Anyway, how about the rest of the movie? How well does it hold up? The artwork and animation is decent, but it actually manages to pale in comparison to the art direction of the comic. The movie is R rated, and tries desperately to justify it with intense violence and BARELY PG-13 language, and yet the efforts the director made to cover up Jim Gordon’s naked ass was nothing short of hilarious. Yeah, this is one of the rare examples of DC nudity, which is no doubt attributable to Alan Moore, but you can’t have that in a DC movie… Even an R Rated one. Christ, the PG-13 rated Assault on Arkham was more graphic than this. The writing is mostly taken line for line from the comic… By mostly, I mean they fucked up the ending of Joker’s speech to Batman… And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the main two voice actors sound like they phoned in their performances. You’d think you couldn’t go wrong with a cast headed by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, but Conroy sounds like he’s barely putting in the effort, and Hamill… He just sounds bored with the material.

I know what you’re thinking… how DARE I criticize a Mark Hamill Joker performance? Well, funny you should ask, I actually have an example to compare it to. In the folowing video, a fan-made impersonation does a better Mark Hamill Joker than the one appearing in this movie. Here it is. This is, once again, a FAN MADE impersonation, imbuing the speech with humanity, as well as tragedy associated with The Joker’s backstory. Tara Strong puts forth a commendable amount of effort, but like I said, she’s only present in the first act. Oh, and speaking of Tara Strong, don’t defend the movie by saying that she approved of it. She’s an actor. It’s rare for actors to talk shit about work that people give them. The fact that she’s a fan of The Little Mermaid Two and Teen Titans Go should be enough to immediately disqualify her from having a valid opinion on the quality of the projects she gets cast in, especially when we’re talking about a character rewrite that’s like the Hero version of Sempai Please Notice Me. I’m sorry I had to quote that.

So, is The Killing Joke impossible to adapt? Well, no, but when you’re adapting a story that’s almost thirty years old, dated, and heavily problematic, you have to update it. You have to change it to fit with the times. It’s not like DC’s not willing to change things in an adaptation, I mean, look at BOTH adaptations of Teen Titans. So why does Killing Joke get the by-the-book treatment? You’ve already taken two characters out of Kansas, why not just go all the way to Oz?

I say that, but what would I change? Well, first of all, I’d get rid of the romantic sub-plot, and focus on Batgirl establishing her worth to Batman, maybe as a mentor figure. They do NOT have sex, because that’s fucking creepy. Yeah, I know she’s an adult woman in the eyes of the law, but there’s a reason she’s called Batgirl and not Batwoman… There’s at least one or two generations between her and Batman, and his love interests are supposed to be closer to his age and level of experience, like Catwoman and Talia. Batgirl wants love? Batgirl gets Robin/Nightwing, who makes more sense when paired with her. I’m not going to say pairing Batgirl with Batman is impossible, after all Batman Beyond did it, but there’s a way to pull it off and a way to fuck it up.

She doesn’t retire after beating up Paris Franz, she decides to go solo, as I was yelling at her to do so many times throughout the first half. Keep the corpse discovery, and actually have Batman go into Joker’s cell to question him about it, but have the conversation naturally progress towards a question of their relationship when Joker refuses to answer about the corpses. Everything is the same until Joker knocks on Barbara’s door, and here’s where we change the source material. Moments before the gun can go off, Barb remembers she’s supposed to be a badass, so she knocks his hand to the side with a well-placed strike, leaving him to shoot into the wall. She then attacks him, and the two do battle in the apartment while Joker’s goons overpower and abduct Commish. Barb’s unable to end the fight and go after him, but once he’s gone, Joker ends the fight by releasing some Joker venom, which forces Barb to escape through a window while he makes his exit.

She then works WITH Batman in the investigation, proving just how capable she is at getting information and outsmarting people. They attack the carnival, fight off the carnies that weren’t present in the comic(I’ll be honest, they were a nice addition to the film) and Batgirl stays with her father while Batman goes after the Joker. His speech doesn’t get altered, neither does their fight, and Batgirl rejoins Batman when he’s already taken out Joker outside. They listen to his joke, as Batgirl does her best to keep her composure, but she jumps into action when Batman tries to strangle his foe. Seeing how hard it is even for someone like Bruce to resist the abyss sometimes, she waits until the cops cuff Joker to tell Batman that she’s retiring. She can be far more useful to him using her intellect from the sidelines than her abilities on the field, and she doesn’t want to go down the same path he’s become lost on.

Yeah, you read that right, I just transitioned Batgirl into Oracle without crippling her. Somebody warn Superman, because I must be a fucking magician.

So in conclusion, this movie sucks. As far as number ratings go, I give it a 3/10. There are a few shining moments, such as the added action, the extra scene during the credits, and Tara Strong’s voice work, but over-all, it just feels off. The story doesn’t fit together, the animation and art design is a far cry from the visceral imagery of the comic, and to be perfectly honest, it was never that great a comic to begin with. I can’t recommend it, but I can definitely recommend Suicide Squad, which was awesome. Some other DC animated movies I liked were Assault on Arkham, Teen Titans vs. The Justice League, Mask of the Phantasm, and Wonder Woman. That’sall I really have to say, so…

On a final note, are you sick of youtube’s bullshit? I just got invited to join LBRY, a new alternative video sharing site, and now through this post, I’m inviting you! Just go to https://lbry.io/get?r=uWr74 and get yourself added to the wait list!

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4 comments
  1. Glad you’re financial situation with your car is almost better !

  2. I loved the movie, although I would have been less generous with the scoring had they shown Gordon’s ass 🙂

    The Batgirl romance didn’t bother me, as in Batman Beyond it is mentioned that the pair had a relationship. Barbara quit because the mobster almost pushed her into the abyss (she would have beaten him to death had Batman not stopped her.) Later in the movie it can be argued that Batman did get sucked into the abyss when handling the Joker.

  3. Batman Beyond doesn’t say WHEN they had a relationship. There’s a possibility that they dated when she was thirty or forty, which wouldn’t have felt nearly as creepy. Also, since she never lost the use of her legs in Beyond, it’s also clear that some writer didn’t have them bone just to make her crippling feel more disturbing.

    As for Batman and the Joker? In the comic, it’s meant to be ambiguous. It specifically used shadows to suggest that a laughing Batman may or may not have strangled The Joker just as a police car was showing up. In the movie, not only do they remove the police car, but without the benefit of still images, it just looks like Batman and The Joker are laughing like old buddies.

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