Rating 2/5 – I don’t make any bones about being a comic geek first, so an animation version of Batman: The Killing Joke is something that’s going to grab me by the balls and pull me into any place that sells Blu Rays. No “watch online” or getting a present from my Uncle Torrent, this had to be a blu-ray special edition with the cool box cover that adds another notch on the geek cred meter. I became a geek between the days of the Adam West Batman and the British invasion of comic which heralded the great speculation boom and bust of the 1990s. How Batman was being written very much tracks with the shift in comics. Most people say things got dark. I say that’s bullshit. Comics literally grew up and it started long before Alan Moore and Frank Miller came on the scene. There’s a period of Batman where it was reflective of the Adam West TV series. Now let me make this very clear, comic collectors love that silly series for it’s camp and stupidity. However we also hate it because it single handedly stain all of comic in the Pop Culture consciousness. That change at the same time they made Tony Stark and alcoholic and Green Lantern an actual space police corps. Out of all the character when Batman comics stopped being dumb things like Batman Family books and writers decided to do a serious take on the character, it’s one book whose issues you can get in a huge stack and find the stories just good. Even at it’s worse Batman seems to inspire writers to just doing something better.
Along comes Alan Moore. He’s already kicked comic’s collective ass with Miracleman and Watchmen. He working on interesting stuff for the new Image comics but out of no where he does this book. It was advertised in the middle of most DC books in a splash page showing the now iconic close-up of the Joker with his hand in his hair behind a background of ever repeating “HA-HA-HA-HA.” Then it come out. It was a prestige edition one-shot that told a typical Joker escape story. Then Barbara Gordon who we know is Batgirl is just having a night in with her father. The door bell rings and there’s the Joker with a gun who fires it immediately. It became a completely different Joker story then. Joker was always a bit of a highlight even if he was often silly. That began to change in the 1980’s especially with Dark Knight Returns. But Dark Knight Returns was a bit of a Batman The End story and Joker did some awful things but he was still. . .well, the Joker. Dangerous but silly. The moment Brian Bolland drew that panel of the bullet exiting Barbara’s lower back as the impact lifted her off her feet, Joker stopped being silly in every single way. This is what makes Batman: The Killing Joke one of the most iconic books in comics. So much so it is list on practically every top reading list you can think of.
So yeah, it is a little important they get the animation right on this one. That book is culturally popular beyond us comic geeks. It’s important because it made a major change and DC had the balls to stick with it until they cut off those same balls with New 52. So I watched my copy, and here are my thoughts.
The Old Man/Young Girl Fetish Needs to Stop
I’m a guy. I like the ladies. While I believe that things like Feminism might have issue it stands on the side of being right because it’s just right. Sexism is a problem. It’s not a problem for me, but it’s a problem. At the same time I did not meet a single girlfriend, ex-wire or hooker because my mind immediately jumped to “what a great mind she has.” Sorry ladies but I notices the pretty, the shapely soft bits and just had to rare courage to go up and talk to them. I don’t think sexism is a guy approaching a lady. Nor do I think every guy who see a younger girl is super-perv. The idea is to act like a human being and keep it in your head and realize there’s a vast difference between having a look at an attractive female and crossing the line between stalker or creepy. It’s not that hard. Unfortunately in this society everything becomes a fetish. Some fetishes need to die, seriously. The whole 50+ guy/just past 18-year-girl thing is one of them. I’m sure there are lots of such relationship that work better than you feuding grandparents, but it’s still creepy. So the decision to have Batman have sex with Batgirl was fucking creepy.
First of all that is not their relationship in any version of the characters you come across, not even in the Horrible Batman & Robin. Because while Batman is supposed to be the great super hero who some people want to imitate, their relationship is as best Uncle and Niece. That’s the daughter of his best friend, for Ra’s sake. And she’s just over 18 so there’s the barely legal porn aspect. It did not add anything to the story. When Batgirl got shot she did not have to be Batman bloody girlfriend for it to have an impact. Despite the misconception that only comic readers know comic character, Batman, Robin and Batgirl are known and people get their general relationship. The film makers were not being edgy or trying something know, they were making a stupid shipping fantasy real. Needless to say I found it annoying.
So the movies opens with Batgirl talking about her last days as Batgirl. There’s a young mob son or nephew or something and he’s the “guy who going to take over the mob and do it his way” type. Comics are full of those. This guy gets obsessed with Batgirl and does the things villains do with obsessed with a hero only he’s obviously macking on her hard. Things get dangerous and Batman orders Batgirl to stay out of it because she’s not at the point where she’s driven like he is. It’s one of those “you haven’t stared into the abyss” conversations. Batgirl gets annoyed because she thinks Batman is being to controlling and over protective, so of course she keeps going after the Joker-Lite guy. Things goes tits up, there’s an argument that leads to a fight that leads to the creepy then Batgirl saves Batman and cut to the actual Killing Joke Part of the Killing Joke.
I am not sure if they were trying to make a clever point with this, but it would have been fine if the did not add the sex thing. I know this treads into whiny fanboy territory, but that does not mean I’m wrong. Batman would not fuck Barbara. It’s just that simple. It especially derailed the Joker-Lite storyline as it added nothing but turned what could have been an interesting prologue to the main story more of a groan.
The Killing Joke
The actual book opens when Batman going to see the Joker. It’s never said what made Bruce go see his greatest enemy that particular night but from the conversation it felt like Bats was having a bit of an existential crisis about his relationship with Joker. The animation decides to go from the end of the Joker-Lite story to Batman being called in to a storage unit where four corpse gassed by the Joker years ago sit facing a makeshift stage and mic. This was the thing that sent Batman to see the Joker because I guess even the writers though him doing to because he fucked his best friend teenage daughter wouldn’t quite cut it as motivation. From there we start getting the actual Killing Joke. Batman goes to see the Joker, presumably so he confess to the two year old murder, finds out it’s a guy in white make-up and goes on a tear to find the Joker. The Joker is buying the amusement park, then shows up to Commissioner Gordon’s house, shoots Batgirl and puts the Commissioner through a night of hell. It pretty much carried the same beats the book and having Bruce Tim and Mark Hamel back in their Batman The Animated series roles was fun.
The Killing Joke is not a hard book to translate. It’s a pretty straight forward story that relies more on nuance then story. It’s not that it implies anything, for instance I do not get the feeling that Joker raped Batgirl. Took her clothes off and took pictures while she bled to death, but not actually sexually assaulted her. I don’t get why people think it was implied but it really wasn’t. Batman’s crisis of faith seemed more like something on his mind than anything else. I don’t think it was a murder he found out about years later, but I guess the animation felt it needed to be added to fill holes. Holes tends to be a problem with many of comics greatest stories. Not because the writer intended it but because comics have a very different pacing than movies and TV. Sometimes you can stylize it like 300 or Sin City, but most comic stories need changes and fixes to help the pacing fit the media it’s being translated to.
It’s one of those books that reaches sacred levels with collectors. Don’t believe any of the jaded cynics who throw out words like “over-rated” – they’re pretty much full of shit. The famous stories and mini-series were famous for a reason. As I pointed out before, Batman: The Killing Joke transcended comics become a popular book period for a lot of reasons. When the animation got to the actual it was in no way boring or slow or bad. But. . .
Okay, one of the problems with the Killing Joke is Joker’s backstory. It was written in 1988 but the way the did Joker’s backstory felt as if it were in the 1920’s or 1930’s. If they drew Al Capone walking by during those part he would have not felt out of place. The clothes, the scene the dialogue just felt like it was in a flapper era when alcohol was relegated to a speak-easy and gangsters were mostly bank robbers. I know today 1988 was a long time ago but even then those parts felt dated. But something about it worked for the book. Using the same type of affect to the scenery in the animation felt even more off putting. Your mind just could not help but ask “how old is Batman and the Joker?” At best I can say this did not suck. At worse, there were things they should not have put into this movie. The sex thing did not need to be there at all.