The Killing Joke- A Review

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If you follow me at all, you know that I love Batman, and The Killing Joke is one of the most critically acclaimed  stories in the Batman universe. Besides, I love dark stories, and this is certainly a dark story. I had the opportunity on July 25 to see the movie in the theater before the DVD and blue ray release.

I know not everyone was fond of it, but I enjoyed the experience and just wanted to give my take on it. There will be spoilers ahead, so this is your obligatory warning.

First of all, if you are a Batman fan, and more importantly if you are a fan of the Joker, you need to read The Killing Joke, so get your ass to your local comic book store or library and get it. The Killing Joke is fascinating in the way that, unlike most stories about the Joker, it attempts to explain why he is the way he is. The Joker is a very fascinating character and this story gives us a look into his origin. The overarching theme of this story and the point to Joker’s entire scheme is that he wants to prove to Batman that one bad day can make anyone lose their mind and go insane—just like him.

The comic this is based on is hands down my favorite Batman story. It’s extremely dark, the art is fantastic and there is a grittiness to the story that I think a lot of people weren’t used to at the time because at the time when Killing Joke was published (1988) most people were used to the cooky cartoony Batman of the Adam West era, and this storyline is far from that.  The movie does emulate a lot of scenes straight from the comic panels, which I deeply admire, but the animation didn’t have the grittiness to it that the original art from the graphic novel did to me. But that’s okay, whenever you change mediums, things change. It’s something I’ve had to work really hard to accept with things like Game of Thrones, but it is a truth fans must accept.

Many of the reviews I have seen and read give a bit of an unfair criticism, I feel, because the people reviewing the content were too wrapped up in the original content. The movie does a few things differently; the one which is getting the most complaints is the inclusion of a Barbara Gordon backstory showing her capers as Batgirl and eventually giving up her super hero mantle after she realizes that she can’t handle the places that fighting crime can take her. I will admit that this beginning portion does seem to drag and feels very tacked on, but I understand why it was done. Barbara Gordon’s fate at the hands of the Joker and losing her ability to walk is one of the most climatic scenes in The Killing Joke. For those coming in to the film without much of a knowledge of Barbara or her background, it is important to realize who she was before the Joker shot her through the spine. I did feel like it gave the audience a way to feel more sympathetic towards Barbara, so I understand the reason for the inclusion. The Killing Joke is also a fairly short story, so they also needed to increase the run time, I’m sure.

Some people also got upset that Batgirl comes on to Batman and that they end up having sex on a rooftop. The funny thing to me though is that the people who complain about this scene say that Batgirl is being objectified, that the way she acted was out of character, and so on and so forth. Out of character isn’t really true….Barbara Gordon has had a thing for Batman for sometime in multiple storylines. In the Adam West Batman, it was canon that Batgirl clearly had a crush on Batman. As for the claims of misogyny and objectification, I think some people missed a few things in that scene:

She kissed him.

She was on top of him.

She took her clothes off first.

Arguably, this is a highly feminist moment. Batgirl takes charge.

But even so, it was definitely a scene that did not really need to be there for the sake of the main story and seemed like it was added for shock value and to add to the R-rating. Overall, was this necessary? Maybe for some viewers to connect, but overall it really lends nothing to the source material of The Killing Joke and it almost felt like I was watching 2 separate episodes of the Batman animated series.

In the same vein, I also feel like it needs to be said that it was very clear to me that this animation was not done for the theater experience. It felt very much like when someone blows up a low resolution photo for a print. The images didn’t seem as sharp and defined as they should have. It was a disappointing feeling, and I would have expected a more hi-def experience for something like this movie which based on such a beloved story that was getting all this attention.

One of the supplemental contents that was included with the viewing was an interview with Mark Hamill and his work on voicing the Joker over the years. It was very interesting, but at the same time I feel like Mark got all the attention even though they referred to him, Kevin Conroy, and Tara Strong reprising their roles as a “family reunion”, Mark was the one with all the coverage. As my SO quipped, “it’s like he’s the one successful cousin at the reunion that got a high paying job and brags about his great life to everyone.” Even though it seemed like Kevin and Tara did not get as much attention, it was still an interesting look behind the scenes.

Another footnote from the theater experience I had: I was surprised by the overwhelming lack of female viewers. For the longest time I was sitting in a theater with only male patrons. The moment I finally saw another female it was so startling I had to point out each female who came in thereafter. I know Batman appeals to guys, but it was still a bit startling to me that females were so outnumbered.

I also felt that those who were not familiar with the story didn’t fully grasp the meaning of the ending. I definitely heard at least one person say “that’s it?” at the end.

The ending of this story was one of those endings that always really made me think and shook me a bit when I finished reading. The Killing Joke’s ending is in my list of endings that made me put the book down and just stare for a moment in contemplation. It didn’t translate so well on the screen from the comic in my opinion, but it was still eerie to hear Batman and Joker laughing together and then in he end it is just Batman laughing. The implication of this is Batman strangled Joker and killed him, but when I think about it in terms of the Joker’s plan I came to a much more sinister conclusion: in Joker enacting his plan on Gordon to prove to Batman that one bad day can make anyone go crazy, I think that Joker actually made Batman go crazy and finally break his one rule not to kill….and proved his point. So in a way…. Joker won.

So that’s basically it, just some things I wanted to say. What did you think of The Killing Joke?

 

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3 responses to “The Killing Joke- A Review

  1. Great writeup. I was a little disappointed with this adaptation. Such a lofty goal they had and I wish they had just taken their time with it a little more. Nice work here, do you feature your writing on any other sites at all?

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