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‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ Limited Theater Release

The animated feature adaptation of Alan Moore’s 1988 graphic novel Batman: the Killing Joke was released July 25th for a brief stint in theaters prior to its July 26th and August 2nd slotted digital and Blu-Ray releases, respectively.  I’m sure we’ll be reading mixed reviews in the coming days, but here’s my take on the good, the bad, and the psychotically insane.

Return of the Voice Actors

Mark Hammill IS Joker.  Kevin Conroy IS Batman. And, Tara Strong IS Harley Quinn… but, in this case, she’s also a wonderful Batgirl.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for returning to voice these characters time and again.  They wouldn’t be the same without you.

Left to Right: Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Kevin Conroy
Left to Right: Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Kevin Conroy

Art Style

I’m a huge fan of Batman: The Animated Series and its art style, which was reincarnated in this iteration of Killing Joke.  As an homage to the series and related feature films, the creators elected to bring back the more dynamically twisty-faced, ruby-lipped Joker from the series’ run on Fox, rather than the Looney Tunes-reminiscent hollow-eyed blank-faced simplification from later in the series when it switched over to WB.

Early animated series Joker on Fox versus the later Warner Bros. version on the right.
Early animated series Joker on Fox versus the later Warner Bros. version on the right.

The cityscapes are impressively modern, particularly in the opening scene over Gotham as Tara Strong speaks as Barbara Gordon of the horror to come.  Though the art style of the show may have been appropriate for efficacy, parlaying Brian Bolland’s exquisitely succinct, yet harsh, realism from the graphic novel’s paneling into the feature would have facilitated the sale of some of the more poignant moments in the story, and there are poignant moments aplenty.  Save for the Joker’s glimpse into his newly found insanity, the novel’s visuals were adapted, sometimes frame for frame, with far less detail and far less grimness.  The abandoned theme park setting along with its newly appointed Smilex-deceased caretaker, however, is still overwhelmingly ominous and macabre.

joker going mad

Extended Introduction

Parry Francesco, aka Paris Franz, is, to my knowledge, a newly created antagonist who develops an unhealthy obsession with Batgirl. Batman gives a line about Barbara being his partner, but not his equal, banning her from the case for her own safety. A little sexual tension later, and BOOM… Batman and Barbara, sitting in a tree, doing more than K-I-S-S-I-N-G. It makes the original storyline from Killing Joke even more compelling- Batman has failed Barbara as a mentor and, now, also as a lover. Bow chicka wow wow!

The culminating Batgirl "I hate you, I love you" moment.
The culminating Batgirl “I hate you, I love you” moment.

Use That R-Rating

I’m no sadist, but to put it bluntly, the allusion to the rape and torture committed at the hands of the Joker was so much more powerfully conveyed in the graphic novel.  That’s the horror of this story.  That’s the crux. It’s what is supposed to break our hearts for Jim Gordon, and it’s what is supposed to lead us to believe he’s been brought to the brink of insanity, or to the coined “edge of the abyss,” if you will.  You’ve got the R-rating, and though I don’t need or want to see Batgirl at a Hustler level of intimacy, Jim’s little girl was shot in front of him to the point of paralysis, and images of her raw bloodied desecrated naked body are being paraded in front of her father as the lead-up to a punch line.  This moment is so severely gut-wrenching in Moore’s story, and the film adaptation just doesn’t quite communicate the gravity of that moment, likely because of the goddamn…

…Ughhh Musical Number

It’s in the graphic novel, and it definitely works in that medium, but reading the words versus actually hearing a musical number… ughh I just don’t like musicals.  Joker’s literal song and dance was a show of irreverence for the absolute breakdown of Jim Gordon under the pageantry of this cruel carnival ride of a charade.  It fits Joker’s character.  I get it. I’m just not sure it was executed all that well.

Joker Singing
Everybody’s favorite murderous clown performing for our amusement.

Favorite Moment

Foiled again, Joker lands a perfect punchline when his gun won’t fire.  I won’t ruin it for you, but it gets a laugh.

That Laugh Was A Little Long, Bats

This storyline does much to further the ongoing theme that Batman and Joker are the perfect antithesis of one another.  They bring balance to one another.  They are contrary and inverse, and that opposition breeds consistent conflict within them, which is never mundane.  Batman makes his final plea to Joker to end the violent insanity before one of them ends up, inevitably, killing the other.  With a briefly pensive reflection of his inability to revert to a normal state of psychosis, Joker declines the olive branch, acknowledging that he’s too far gone, and follows up, in Joker-like fashion, with a two-bit joke.  The two share a laugh that goes on for like 15 SECONDS.  Batman, this is so unlike you.

It's so uncharacteristically Batman to have a laugh after his apprentice has been shot and his partner has been tormented.
Seems appropriate to have a laugh with the madman who maimed your apprentice and tormented her dad.

And, thus begins the story of Oracle. With the animated reincarnation of a timeless graphic novel like Batman: The Killing Joke, it brings to mind that the source material is out there to bring DC’s universe up-to-par cinematically with that of Marvel.  If only someone could convince the decision-makers at Warner Bros. to bring in some storywriters like Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Frank Miller instead of hiring vapid blockbuster celebrants like Zack Snyder.  That being said, with the upcoming release of Suicide Squad, here’s to seeing my favorite clown groupie/villainess become a household name in 2 weeks…  ::rolls eyes::

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