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When looking back through the rich history of Batman there are several defining moments. The campy run of Adam West in the 60’s. Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Tim Burton’s Batman. The beloved animated series. These stories, these moments in time, these incarnations of the character were incredibly significant in shaping the one we know today.
But if there’s one story that stands above the rest as being so monumental, it is Batman: The Killing Joke. The one-shot graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland took Batman and his universe to a tremendously dark place, visually and narratively. As much as it is a Batman story, it is more a Joker story, one that gives the character an origin and has inspired so many iterations of The Clown Prince of Crime since.
Now that traumatic story has been adapted into an animated movie courtesy of Sam Liu and Warner Bros. Animation, bringing the gripping pages of Batman: The Killing Joke to life. For the most part this animated adaptation is a faithful reworking of Moore’s seminal graphic novel. Often scenes are a panel to panel recreation, capturing the eerie and twisted art style of Brian Bollard almost perfectly. Batman has his elongated ears and The Joker his mighty jaw line. Dialogue is also stripped straight from the pages of the novel, including the many philosophical monologues from The Joker and his famous “looney” musical number. Throughout its hour and sixteen minute runtime brief additional scenes are incorporated to pad out the story, as the original novel is relatively short.
Bringing the whole thing to life are exceptional performances from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and The Joker respectively. The pair are perfect and prove once again that they are unrivalled in portraying those two characters. Their dynamic is almost second nature. In such a defining story, it would not have felt right without their voices as they unquestionably are Batman and The Joker. After all the years of hearing them as these characters, across multiple mediums, this window into their symbiotic relationship through The Killing Joke almost felt like their story had come full circle – like a swan song if you will. Barbara Gordon is voiced excellently by Tara Strong, too. She brings a powerful heart and strength to the character that once again feels so recognisable.
Where The Killing Joke falls apart, however, is before it’s even began. The additional 15 minute prologue felt completely unnecessary. It is incorporated to bring more of an arc to Barbara’s story, but ultimately falls to the way side. In it, Batman and Barbara enter this awkward personal and physical relationship when she is pushed aside on a case that has the perpetrator infatuated with Batgirl after their first run in with each other.
This man is Francesco, nephew to the most powerful mob boss in Gotham who wants that title for himself. It is a cliché mob story we’ve seen a thousand times over that serves little to no purpose, other than to instigate this weird feud between Bats and Barbs filled with needless sexual tension. The whole prologue exists to have Barbara be more than just the victim of Joker’s ruthless crime, to show how she can rise from such a life changing ordeal. And that’s fine. But that is conveyed perfectly in a final scene of the movie lasting only a few seconds that shows Barbara adopt a different role within the Batfamily. There was absolutely no need to incorporate a relationship of that nature into the story.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a faithful adaptation of Moore’s seminal story brought to life through legendary voice acting, but begins with unnecessary filler. The awkward and irrelevant sexual relationship between Batgirl and Batman fails in its attempt to give Barbara more an arc beyond just being a victim, and instead feels utterly insignificant and detached from the main story. When that story does truly begin however it is a reminder of why Batman: The Killing Joke is the greatest Batman and Joker story ever told.
Images: Warner Bros.