The Killing Joke is possibly the most controversial superhero story ever, at the very least it’s the most controversial Batman story ever. It’s also a classic and a defining work of the genre and it’s time. Now it’s been adapted into an animated movie.
For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed all of the DC movies. Not every one of them is a home run, but they all seem to be made with a quality and a respect for the original source, unlike some of the live action movies but that’s a different post unto itself.
I was very excited to hear that an adaptation of The Killing Joke was coming, especially once they said Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy were returning to their respective roles. My anticipation dwindled when the first screenings happened and I started to hear about what was done to the story. But, I feel it’s important to see things for yourself and to form your own opinion. Full disclosure, I’ve never read the original Killing Joke graphic novel, not for a lack of wanting though.
Batman and the Bat Family are my favorite parts of the DC universe. Batman is in my top 3 favorite characters out of all genres. Batgirl is one of my favorite DC characters. So, I was very happy when I heard that the Killing Joke adaptation was being expanded to include more Batgirl scenes. Then again, there was the talk coming out of those first screenings. Again, I wanted to see it for myself and to see if maybe people were overreacting to an implied subtext or whatnot.
The movie opens with a story centered on Barbara Gordon and Batgirl. The first 19 minutes of the movie are a pretty good Batgirl mini-story. There is a mobster who is a bit too obsessed with her, which is kinda gross, but not without precedent. There is also her problems with Batman and his role as a leader. He is overbearing and controlling, trying to keep her away from the dangerous situations. Again, a little iffy, but more or less matches up to the comics. Then this movie goes and literally fucks Batgirl’s character. Instead of her using Batman as a role model and a teacher, she is in love with him. He stands firm and orders her, she defies him, tries to fight him and then decides to have sex with him. Wait, what?
Batgirl’s story has always had an aspect of hero worship to it. But, I’ve never seen it mentioned or implied that she had a physical or lustful attraction to him. Following the sex scene, she is acting completely out of character. Now awkwardly dealing with him like this is a bad romantic comedy where she slept with the wrong guy. It’s pretty much awful, and what follows is even worse as the film moves into the actual Killing Joke story.
The Killing Joke is what it is, and much smarter people than I have expounded untold amounts of internet bandwidth on it and it’s treatment of Barbara Gordon. You can go look it up, it’s not hard to find. My problem here is more to do with the added material to this film than the source material.
Here, they managed to fridge Batgirl even moreso than she was originally. The original story has her being used as a pawn to hurt Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and now we are supposed to believe that it hurts Batman that much more because she’s his girlfriend or something, completely ignoring her role as a hero in her own right. The hits keep on rolling when their encounter on the rooftop is not referenced again and Barbara Gordon simply retreats into the background. It’s like they wanted to add in this extra motivation, even though Batman is constantly striving to save as many as possible, especially when the Joker is involved, but then forgot about it later and just stuck with the text from the original book.
The rest of the movie continues on and is a well made and enjoyable Batman animated movie. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy continue to be the best Joker and Batman ever. While Alan Moore’s name does not appear in the credits, his words play out on the screen and the Batman/Joker relationship is explored by both parties.
The best part about The Killing Joke movie is the adaptation of the original source. The worst part is the added Batgirl story which feels entirely tacked on. Numerous characters and plots are set in motion but then dropped when the real story starts. Simply put, this is a poorly assembled mismash of two separate stories. It’s an incomplete and insulting Batgirl story mixed with a classic that isn’t long enough for a full movie.
It seems Batgirl and Barbara Gordon will never be able to escape the shadow of The Killing Joke.