There is perhaps no Batman/Joker story as iconic as “The Killing Joke,” the 1988 graphic novel that gave the world one of the origin stories to the Clown Prince of Crime (though the Joker does admit in the book he isn’t even sure if it is his true origin — because he is insane). And now we have an R-rated animated film adaptation of this book.
I’ll start this out by saying the obvious: This film kind of made a mess of the Barbra Gordon/Batgirl material that was added on. I was on board with it (it made for an enjoyable first half-hour, giving more weight to Barbara as a character that wasn’t in the source material) until she and Batman suddenly get their freak on atop of a building after an argument. This raises all sorts of red flags, making Batman kind of a skeevy person who sleeps with the people he is mentoring. The sex scene also doesn’t add anything to what follows, which is a fairly straight-on adaptation of the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland graphic novel.
It felt like lazy writing. I like the idea of adding more to Barbara here, and I did enjoy this added material up to that point. And given that “The Killing Joke” is not a long tale, it was a great opportunity to expand on this character in this particular story, since she becomes a victim later on in the Joker’s twisted plans. The weird relationship between Batman and Barbara just didn’t gel at all for me here for me.
But when we get to the source material, this film shines. And having Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil voice Batman and the Joker, once again, adds to the enjoyment of what is a twisted tale of how one bad day can drive someone to the depths of insanity.
We see what is possibly the bad day that drove a down-and-out comedian to become the Joker (he says he prefers having a multiple choice when thinking of where he came from, so this origin is basically a possible one, not a definitive one) sprinkled out through the film. We know the bad day that drove Bruce Wayne to become the Dark Knight. And we see the Joker’s attempt to prove this “bad day” theory by torturing Commissioner Gordon in a hellish carnival ride. We also see Barbara’s “one bad day” when she is shot through the spine by the Joker, who then disrobes her and takes photos (perhaps one of the most disturbing things ever).
But his theory doesn’t work. Gordon wants Batman to capture the Joker “by the book” and Barbara is on the path to become Oracle. They do not lose their minds, and they become stronger people from this horrific experience.
The art here is decent enough. “The Killing Joke” is one of the best illustrated graphic novels I have ever seen, with an insane amount of realism by Bolland. It is probably for the better they didn’t try to go that route, but I wish they stuck to some of the colors from the book (not the deluxe edition, the original with the use of reds and yellows and oranges that made the carnival scene much more creepy and jarring).
I did like how they emulated some of the more memorable panels from the book as well. For a not-so-long book, it has some of the most iconic panels in Batman history.
Over all, minus the baffling rooftop romp between Batgirl and Batman, this was a solid adaptation. It was fun having Conroy and Hamil return to voice these characters again. I wish the Blu-Ray had more special features (“The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 and 2” had a ton of them), but the ones included are entertaining to watch.