Today: June 16, 2024

Batman: The Killing Joke

Even if you haven’t read the graphic novel of Batman: The Killing Joke you will be familiar with it. Because Alan Moore’s seminal Batman story, first published in 1988, has, in one way or another, influenced almost every Batman story since. Because what Moore did with The Killing Joke was draw a crucial parallel between the Caped Crusader and his arch nemesis The Joker. More importantly it also took Batman to darker levels than he’d previously visited, conjured a smart backstory to The Joker and dealt a sense of melancholic glee that has been a part of Batman ever since.

Watching DC’s animated film of Moore’s story is like playing a game of “where has it been seen in Batman lore since”. Remember in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in which Heath Ledger’s The Joker keeps telling a different story as to how he got his scars. That’s down to The Killing Joke, because, as The Joker so eloquently puts it, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice”.

In other words, if you’re going to adapt The Killing Joke for the screen you best get it right. And so it is with some trepidation that Bat fans will go in, worried about what punchline is going to be delivered.

For the most part director Sam Liu, who also co-directed another classic Batman story to screen in Batman: Year One, gets it right. The main text of Moore’s book remains not just intact but lovingly recreated in animated form. The dark tone and smart psychology of Moore’s piece make this is a truly adult animation and one that never shies from what it sets out to do.

The main crux of the story sees The Joker, voiced as always with twisted brilliance by Mark Hamill (yes that Mark Hamill) escape from Arkham in order to unfurl his greatest joke ever. With Batman (Kevin Conroy) hot on his heels The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) and takes Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) hostage. His aim is to show how one horrific day in a normal man’s life can send their world spiralling. All the while we flash back to a time before a stand-up comedian became The Joker to see his one God-awful day.

It’s in that storyline that Moore’s novel was centered and Liu’s film works best. However, there is one very long, and almost unforgivable misstep, and that is in the prologue. Firstly said prologue lasts the same length as the main plot but it also undermines Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon’s relationship with Batman. What is even more unforgivable is the way in which Batgirl is portrayed, as little more than a sexual object for both criminals and vigilantes alike to oggle her.

It’s a spanner in the works that could easily have destroyed what is a fascinating text in Batman cannon. It’s only forgiven because it precedes the main event and therefore is almost forgotten come the closing credits.

Early detours almost derail it but Batman: The Killing Joke hits home by sticking closely to the source material.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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