The Killing Joke is famous for being one of the highlights of the Joker’s career, and many scars of Batman’s. Alan Moore’s psych is probably in question when his most famous work features purposefully crippling a beloved character, rape and psychological torture.
Ladies and gentlemen, Adam West has left the building.
In his place strut Kevin Conroy, the voice of animated Batman in most forms, including the Arkham games, and in an act of art imitating life he often partners up in media with the Joker everyone gasps at the sight of: Luke Skywalker – or Mark Hamill, when he’s at home.
Spoilers ahead, folks!
Even I, someone who avoids both comics and Dr Who for the same reason (I reckon if I dove in now I’d drown in established plotlines and universes), even I have a copy of Alan Moore’s 1988 gritty graphic novel and Batman’s toughest stain on his cape: The Killing Joke.
Finally the movie adaption was released, albeit to a select few cinemas, but it was met with great enthusiasm. I’ve never felt out of place for forgetting my bat-symbol t-shirt before!
Transfer from book to screen is never easy, though it’s expected to be when its source is a comic. Every shot is there ready for you, guys!
For the most part The Killing Joke hits its mark, but there are a few gains and losses in small changes throughout the transition.
Gains & Losses
We gained fleshed out plot but lost patience waiting for the Joker.
Don’t be put off by the prologue. If you’re looking for a shot-for-shot adaption of The Killing Joke you’ll get it, just after the first act.
This was helpful to me, someone who avoids comics, since Batgirl hasn’t really been on my radar without them. When I picked up The Killing Joke it was initially to see her, ahem, transition from Batgirl to Oracle. That happened about ten pages in with no sympathy built, but I’m guessing it would have easily stabbed at the hearts of those who’ve followed and loved her from the start. (Not to mention the shock that she didn’t just pick herself up on the next page.)
With only twelve pages of knowledge of Barbara Gordon, the movie did need an extra character-building arc, it’s only real problem being NO JOKER!
I assumed this particular fixated bad guy Batgirl was chasing (lazily named Paris Franz) was actually Joker in disguise, or before he “changed”, or whatever. That was as far as I got before I left it to the movie to surprise me. Alas, there was no surprise. Paris was tossed away and Joker began his story, finally.
This move also fixed a problem in the book but created new ones. Batgirl has been considered thrown away with her entire plot being only to drive Batman in this out-of-universe novel, but in making Batgirl less disposable they managed to make her less Batgirl, with her new pining characteristics annoying fans. When pulled up about it at the San Diego Comic Con, screenwriter Brian Azzarello dug himself a hole while trying to defend the decision by saying “She manipulates the men around her.”
The annoyed fan finished “using sex.”
Not exactly our idea of hero, nor does it fit with Batgirl’s character. It doesn’t even fit the plot. Paris was manipulating her and some argue Batman was too.
We gained action but lost violence.
Something I’ve always found ironic about comics is they’re usually (not always, but usually) about fighting, which means a lot of movement, which means even if it’s done well a comic can lose a lot of the action. In this era of Fast and Furious and Mission Impossible-esque stunts getting grander and grander, the usual “BAM!” in explosive writing is a little hollow.
This is where the movie gains big time. There’s not actually a lot of fighting in The Killing Joke, just Batman being menacing, but the prologue to the movie gives a lot of chase and fighting, upping the ante for those of us who love a damn good thrashing!
But then a punch to the gut was out of shot. A lot of gunfire resulted in little blood. It was all a bit tame and reminiscent of Age of Ultron where the bad guys were conveniently robots so as not to get too real.
This all makes no sense, since the movie was rated 15. It deals with rape, psychological and physical torture and there were no toys to sell, so let us see a damn good thrashing!
We gained a steamy sex scene but also a creepy relationship and a besmirched Batgirl.
This is where the high age rating for a cartoon really comes in, right BBFC?
Easily the most controversial aspect of the story isn’t in the book. I can practically see your eyes rolling, but this time it really wasn’t for the better.
So the clichéd anger turning into sex is clichéd for a reason. Pretty sure there’d be no need for marriage therapy if everyone adopted this method. It made for a mouth-drying moment that also gained a gasp when Batman grabbed Batgirl’s ass!
Some called this move misogynistic. Those people, I ask, go get laid and see where your hands end up. If that’s misogynistic then that means just about everyone is a sexist pig. I bet Barbara’s hands were wandering too.
But it’s still Barbara. Maybe the result of watching Young Justice lately is taking the “girl” of “Batgirl” too literally. Batman is a father figure to her, someone she respects but doesn’t lust for. Leave that to Catwoman or Talia Al Guhl. It was out of character for both of them especially since there was no hint of lust on his part. Okay, Batman is a closed book to feelings, but it seemed like the man who has a plan for everything just kind of went with it. Maybe it’d been a while..!
After the rooftop romance (which I know enough to guess was in fact inspired by Catwoman) the two are petty teenagers playing Mexican stalemates with the Batphone and Barbara is reduced to whining to her offensively stereotypically token gay best friend about her “yoga instructor” refusing to talk to her. It really took the badass out of Batgirl.
We gained Joker’s song due to lost tone.
Another aspect the film brought to life was Joker’s song, which he sings merrily while Commissioner Gordon goes through his “terror-go-round”. It’s fun and chilling, just as Joker himself is, and adds something to what otherwise would have been a rather tame experience.
All the aspects that make it a torturous experience are there; a crippled and raped daughter displays on the walls around him, Joker’s voice sings harsh truths, creepy circus freaks keep his naked body imprisoned, and yet, I felt nothing.
That’s because there is a panel that’s almost art in the comic, which uses an important aspect forgotten in the film: tone. It’s not something you can really pinpoint, just feel. But it gets implied using various optical illusion-type methods.
Gordon is suffocated in the panel, the video walls closing in as he sees more and feels more. Plus, Barbara’s naked body and pained expression is very much front and centre, whereas in the film Gordon travels merrily and struggles weakly to look at shapely legs at most.
He could have been watching Teletubbies.
We gained clarity of the ending but did we want it?
The ending was what most of us were most looking forward to, not only because it’s notoriously ambiguous, but also, who has ever heard Batman laugh before? I didn’t think it physically possible!
I always assumed Batman killed Joker.
This is based on only one panel, one shot of Batman reaching for Joker, his arm(s) outstretched, but it’s so dark you can’t see what he’s going for. It’s possible there could be a batarang in his hand since that arm seems to hover over the heart…? Or was there some strangling? Or worst, but most sickly satisfactory, a neck snapping?
All this is aided by the fact that Joker immediately stops laughing.
And it seems I’m not the only one who thought so. Courtesy of Grant Smith, another Batman comic writer…
The film makes it pretty clear that arm reaching for Joker was simply support for a hearty belly-laugh, meaning what exactly? A shining moment of peace between a troubled duo that will eventually end in death? Or proving that By The Book is the right way, like the commissioner begged?
Plus it would’ve been interesting to have seen what that would have done to Batman thereafter. Joker and Batman have a twisted relationship wherein one drives the other: a rock repeatedly slamming into a hard place. It would have been interesting to see Batman’s psych once that drive was gone.
Would he grieve?
It’s hard to say which was better because the prologue was entertaining and the rest was a realisation of long-time desire. For all that’s lost there’s some to gain and vice versa. Like Batman and Joker themselves, you take the good with the bad.
Batman: The Killing Joke will be released on DVD and blu-ray on the 8th August 2016 and the graphic novel is still available in most stores.