Fans of Batman: The Killing Joke waited since 1988 to get their hands on an animated version of their beloved tale, but it has finally arrived. Is it possible for the product to be anything less than amazing with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill providing the voiceover work to a big-budget production of Alan Moore’s tale? The short answer: Yes.
Before we move on, let me first stay that I find central premise of The Killing Joke — we are all just “one bad day” away from becoming the Joker — rather intriguing.
The Joker says:
“Let me ask you something. What does it matter if you send me back to the asylum if it doesn’t matter to me? I’ve proven my point — Gordon’s been driven mad. I’ve demonstrated there’s no difference between me and everyone else. All it takes is one bad day. That’s how far the world is from where I am — just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right? Oh, I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Dressing up like a flying rat doesn’t hide it. It screams it!
You had a bad day and it drove you as crazy as everybody else, only you won’t admit it! You have to keep pretending that life makes sense, that there’s some point to all this struggling. You make me want to puke. I mean, what is it with you? What made you what you are?
Without getting into too many spoilers, I must say that specific scenes are incredibly thought-provoking, particularly when it comes to exploring the rule of law in a world populated with vigilante superheroes. The Joker conjures up a scheme to prove to his rival once and for all that moral relativism reigns supreme, and he certainly makes the case to those who are not eagle-eyed when it comes to spotting spurious arguments.
Where The Killing Joke fails, however, is its well-intentioned attempt to add extra depth and dramatic tension to the script.
Two words come to mind: Batman sex.
Longtime DC readers can correct this Marvel fan if he is wrong, but has Batman ever appeared as anything other than a father figure and mentor to Barbara Gordon? This version of The Killing Joke turns Ms. Gordon into a smitten girl with impulse-control problems and Batman into a caped crusader who robs the cradle.
One can almost hear the internal monologue of screenwriter Brian Azzarello: “If Batman sleeps with Barbara Gordon, then it will sting him even more when he finds out that she was shot by his arch enemy. Then, when he realizes that the Joker raped her — yes, they have both been with the same woman — the audience will understand why Bruce might go over ‘the abyss’ in the end…”
The problem, however, is that a self-contained 30-minute tale simply cannot set the stage for a relationship between the two to grow. It comes across as forced and, quite frankly, creepy. Perhaps this reviewer is in the minority, but the bizarre nature of the scene lingered with me for the entire movie — so much so that I would recommend fans of the comic book consider skipping the first 28 minutes all together.
If you are a fan of DC’s animated movies, then I would suggest watching Batman: The Killing Joke when it comes out on Netflix. It is not worth the $14.99 YouTube charges if you are by yourself, although a fun night can be had if you split the cost three ways with a couple of friends.
Did you see Batman: The Killing Joke? If so, then let me know what you thought in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Editor’s Note: I always thought that the story behind “The Red Hood” was rather dumb. Moore’s attempt to humanize the Joker by turning him into a failed comedian always seemed lame to me, but I would like to hear a hard-core Batman fan’s take on the subject.
They’ve hinted at a relationship between Batman and Batgirl in Batman Beyond and one of the animated movies involving Batwoman, I believe.
“They’ve hinted at a relationship between Batman and Batgirl in Batman Beyond and one of the animated movies involving Batwoman, I believe.”
Interesting. Thanks for the heads up, Conner.
The whole thing felt like a 40-year-old man sleeping with a 21-year-old girl. It weirded me out.
In the Batman Animated Series, Bruce and Barbara were shown to possibly have romantic feelings for each other that went beyond the typical mentor-pupil relationship. In Batman Beyond it was confirmed that they were in a relationship at one time.
I’ve always disliked this story. I felt it was Alan Moore projecting his own misanthropic mental state out upon the rest of the human race. It isn’t true that we’re all just one bad day from going completely nuts. I think Elie Wiesel and Corrie ten Boom could refute him. Alan Moore might be one bad day from going nuts, but that’s him.
But then, I’m opposed to all the pseudo-psychologizing that has been inflicted on Batman over the recent decades. Bruce Wayne dresses like a bat-man because he’s trying to freak out criminals. It’s a tactic. Wayne is driven because he doesn’t want to happen to anyone else what happened to him and his folks. Wayne has an injured heart, but he isn’t crazy, and not even vengeful. He is *compassionate”, but to an extreme degree. Moore’s Killing Joke is another sample of his cynical poisoning of the superhero universe.
The ugly sexual material is just more additional reason I won’t watch this movie.
“I’ve always disliked this story. I felt it was Alan Moore projecting his own misanthropic mental state out upon the rest of the human race. It isn’t true that we’re all just one bad day from going completely nuts. I think Elie Wiesel and Corrie ten Boom could refute him. Alan Moore might be one bad day from going nuts, but that’s him.”
It’s funny you should mention Elie Wiesel. I literally just bought “Night” last week because it’s one of those books I should have read years ago. My sister has read it multiple times.
“But then, I’m opposed to all the pseudo-psychologizing that has been inflicted on Batman over the recent decades.”
From my distant perch…that does seem to be a problem.
I agree with you about The Killing Joke. As I mentioned, I am intrigued by some of the questions the story asks, but the execution of those ideas is flawed. I may be in the minority on that one…
Jack — Solid assessment.
I’m going to have to disagree with you – The Killing Joke was originally written in a Bronze Age context, and Batman is actually remarkably compassionate (especially put next to Frank Miller’s snarling, macho he-man). I mean, he decides, a propos of nothing, to take time out of his day, go down to Arkham, and practically beg Joker to make an honest attempt at reform so they won’t end up killing each other. I don’t think even BTAS Batman was ever that proactive.
Of course, most of this was buggered up by the movie. I don’t like any of the DC Universe Original Animated crop very much (with the possible exception of The New Frontier), but I’ve never seen opinion as universally bad as it was on this one. Everyone on every end of the political spectrum is finding something to trash, and no one’s happy. Except maybe Bruce Timm, who still stands to make a mint off the controversy.
“Everyone on every end of the political spectrum is finding something to trash, and no one’s happy. Except maybe Bruce Timm, who still stands to make a mint off the controversy.”
Honestly, the movie’s release has made me really rethink how I feel about the book. That said…the Barbara/Batman relationship is just gross. Maybe it wouldn’t be so gross if she and Nightwing didn’t have history? It’s like dating someone, then getting with their dad. Also, from Batman’s angle, Jim Gordon is a partner in fighting crime. Like a co-worker, in a manner of speaking. How many people would have sex with their co-worker’s barely legal daughter? It really doesn’t matter to me that it was hinted at in Batman TAS, and made canon in Batman Beyond. In Batman, it came across more like a little girl crush, like a kid might have on a teacher. In Batman Beyond…hell, she could have been 40, and he 55 or 60 (which is still gross, but in a different way).
“It really doesn’t matter to me that it was hinted at in Batman TAS, and made canon in Batman Beyond. In Batman, it came across more like a little girl crush, like a kid might have on a teacher. In Batman Beyond…hell, she could have been 40, and he 55 or 60 (which is still gross, but in a different way).”
I was going to say…I grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, and I don’t remember there being a sexual tension between the two of them. Maybe I didn’t notice it because I was too young? (Although, I did grow up with MTV…and even as a kid I knew what was going on in some of those videos.)
I just know that as a guy who is closing in on 40, I would feel weird hooking up with a 21-year-old-woman. (Note: This hypothetical takes place in a world where I am not married. I’m just covering my butt in case my wife reads this. Haha!) I look at college girls now and they’re just…über young. I would have nothing in common with them.
Like you said, if he were 60 and she were 40 then it wouldn’t be bad…but the gap as it appears in The Killing Joke just felt gross.
The relationship between Batman and Barbra was never in the original book, but I believe it was in the animated series comic at one point, and it was hinted at in the cartoons. They added that to the story to make you care about Barbra more, but I do not find the relationship necessary, and if so they could have done by showing the impact on Dick. I am not a fan of that relationship, it seems odd at best. The book was not intended to be cannon originally but it was so popular that they adopted it into the history, which I think was a mistake and forced a major change for Barbra that really made her our of character “but I do like her as Oracle”.
I did a review on the story several months back if anyone wants to check it out.
I like the story, but I don’t think I would prefer it to be cannon.
I’ve never cared for the Killing Joke. It seems like Alan Moore at the height of his sophomoric violence-against-women-as-plot-device phase, where he seems to think sexual assault is the ultimate transgressive flourish, but it’s really just a case of unimaginatively upping the ante on sex and violence as entertainment.
It’s beautifully illustrated and of course, the detail in the writing is beyond most comic book writers, but Moore is much better than this material, which seems calculated to make traditional fans go “oooh, this is really adult stuff now” while keeping the same basic escapist elements the place. The psychological and philosophical issues raised here are really pretty weak and superficial once you dig into them.
I hate that it has become such a benchmark for the characters of Batman and, particularly, the Joker. I never thought that the idea that the Joker was willing to rape women an essential or even necessary part of the character. There are plenty more interesting aspects to the Joker’s “evil.” To me, the Laughing Fish story is the ultimate Joker story, in that what he wants is basically impossible, and his terror campaign seems almost omniscient and as unstoppable as a virus. That, to me, is more worrisome, the idea that if Batman doesn’t stop him, he will infect the world with his madness. It’s much more dramatic (and effective for what should be a kind of mythic adventure story) than the risk that if Batman doesn’t stop him, he might go rape someone. That just seems so much more pedestrian and tawdry.
So, I wasn’t really keen on the idea of giving this story the big feature treatment as is. But now we’ve got to add elements of Batgirl sleeping around and Batman happily having one night stands with his associate’s much younger daughters? Ugh. Does everything have to be about F-ing? Does it really add a dramatic dimension to the material if I can imagine Batman taking Batgirl doggy style? Does that really raise the stakes? Does it really deepen the emotional investment? Or is it just more oddly misdirected titillation? My money is on the latter, but I probably won’t ever bother trying to find out.
“It’s beautifully illustrated and of course, the detail in the writing is beyond most comic book writers, but Moore is much better than this material, which seems calculated to make traditional fans go “oooh, this is really adult stuff now” while keeping the same basic escapist elements the place.”
Wow. I should have reviewed the comic book years ago. I’ve had similar feelings on The Killing Joke, but for whatever reason never talked to anyone about it. I just put it back on my shelf and then eventually threw it out…
“The psychological and philosophical issues raised here are really pretty weak and superficial once you dig into them.”
My problem with the story is that there really is no rebuttal to the Joker’s worldview. I think that any superhero tale should make sure that the villains’ rantings and ravings are countered. This story does not fulfill that requirement and, on multiple levels, gives it added credence. It’s gross. I cannot believe Mr. Moore now has the nerve to lament the downward spiral of Western civilization.
“Ugh. Does everything have to be about F-ing? Does it really add a dramatic dimension to the material if I can imagine Batman taking Batgirl doggy style? Does that really raise the stakes? Does it really deepen the emotional investment? Or is it just more oddly misdirected titillation?”
This is a very important point. It ties into conversations I’ve had with a few good friends about the nature of liberalism. The goalposts are always moving, often just for the sake of “progress.” Never mind the fact that “progress” is never defined. One needs to just keep going in the same ideological trajectory. It’s like: “What’s wrong with showing Batman sex in DC Comics, man? What’s your problem? Do you think it’s 1950 or something?”
Ummm, no. It just seems as though you’re weirdly waiting for the day when all your perverse fantasies are considered mainstream.
“This is a very important point. It ties conversations I’ve had with a few good friends about the nature of liberalism. The goalposts are always moving, often just for the sake of “progress.” Never mind the fact that “progress” is never defined. One needs to just keep going in the same ideological trajectory. It’s like: “What’s wrong with showing Batman sex in DC Comics, man? What’s your problem? Do you think it’s 1950 or something?”
Ummm, no. It just seems as though you’re weirdly waiting for the day when all your perverse fantasies are considered mainstream.”
…Agreed. Part of it is a problem with the world and part of it is a problem with writers who are championing a certain version of the way they want the world to be.
But, to me, love will always be a more dramatic element than sex. And, in a narrative, fleshing out a relationship, whether it is based on admiration, familial love, true passion, whatever, is much more effective at building characters and our connection to them than simply showing them jumping each other’s bones.
It seems like so many hack writers these days want to have it both ways. Sex is everything but sex is meaningless. They want their characters to just go at it with the bare minimum of motivation (and essentially shrug and say “hey that’s how it is in the real modern world”, though only a small percent actually live there) and then they also want it to be a shorthand for characters forming some kind of bond. But it can’t work both ways. Either it means something or it doesn’t.
And, as much they want to pretend that they are showing us a more “real” version of the world, they never can be bothered to actually deal with the details. When it comes to no-strings-attached, meaningless sex, it’s hardly the simple transaction these writers make it out to be. In the real world, it’s much more rare that both parties are equally happy with the arrangement. Usually at least one of them has an emotional investment and hopes for more out of the relationship. And often the other party is guilty of manipulating these emotions, of stringing the other along, of lying to them. These aren’t character traits I want to see out of Batgirl or Batman, but if you’re going to introduce one night stands as part of their relationship, you’re being superficial or dishonest if you don’t deal with them.
Oh, but what about those rare couples that can keep it completely free of emotional investment? Well, is that really anything we ought to regard as “normal”? I mean, those folks have essentially devolved their sexuality to series of physical releases. Seeking to avoid connections with others is often a sign of deeper psychological issues. If the writers really want to get into this in a real and honest way, they need to deal with the effects and implications.How does it affect their health? Is Batgirl on the pill? Has she had an abortion? Have they dealt with STDs? Does Batman keep a condom in his belt or does he finish on her stomach? Do they expect to cultivate real emotionally constructive relationships with future sexual partners? How will those partners feel about their history of approaching sex as just something that you do with whoever whenever you want? How will that hinder building trust in future relationships?
Now, do I want them to go into all of this stuff in superhero story? Heck no! I am simply illustrating why it is so problematic to go to use this stuff as a shallow plot device or, rather (as I suspect was the real motivator) as simply as window dressing to try to seem more “real” and “modern”. I think once you go down the road of trying to make the mythic “real”, you’re really getting into dicey territory. After all, these are stories about folks who put on colorful tights and jump around. Do we really want to deal with how that would equate with real world sexual impulses?
I don’t think you need to go down that road. The characters are larger than life, the settings and situations are larger than life. I think the writers need to give us more than frivolous behaviors and petty notions.
In my opinion, the problem with the story is that it did not show the aftermath, I think it would have been better if we were able to see commissioner Gordan moving past the event, not letting the dark side of life corrupt him and disproving Joker’s theory. The story only left us with the one perspective that we are all just one event away from evil, and I disagree with that immensely. A hero takes the hard road when the easy road is the wrong way, Gordan could have been used as a way to show light in a dark message, but that is not Alan Moore’s self-indulgent style.
Longtime fan of Killing Joke, Moore and Batman here.
My TKJ review in a nutshell; I took my g/f to a screening out here in LA. I really, really didn’t like what Azarello added, the stuff between Babs and Bruce, as well as the preppy, Patrick Bateman-light villain of the first 30 minutes.
The actual Killing Joke adaptation was a lot better, as Az adopts Moore’s story about word for word (while adding stuff like Batman talking a little too casually to prostitutes while looking for Joker).
These were like two separate stories, and Babs and Bats seem to have no connection to each other in the Killing Joke section. I don’t think Joker physically raped Barbara in Moore’s story, but the implication is certainly present in this movie.
Lastly, I kinda like the Red Hood stuff in the story–it was Moore’s take on the Joker’s previously revised origin:
“I really, really didn’t like what Azarello added, the stuff between Babs and Bruce, as well as the preppy, Patrick Bateman-light villain of the first 30 minutes.”
Heh. That’s a good way to put it! 🙂
“Lastly, I kinda like the Red Hood stuff in the story–it was Moore’s take on the Joker’s previously revised origin.”
I think I wouldn’t have as much of an aversion to it if the red hood didn’t make him look like “The Red Condom.”
I wouldn’t really consider myself a hard-core Batman fan, but I do prefer DC and I feel like I have a decent understanding of Alan Moore (that is…if you CAN understand a weird magician who once worshipped a snake), so I’ll take a shot at the Red Hood problem.
In regards to the Joker’s past as a failed comedian, the most important statement actually comes during that same monologue you quoted (at least in the comic it does…I haven’t seen the animation). Joker goes on to say,
“Something like that… Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not exactly sure what it was. SOMETIMES I REMEMBER IT ONE WAY, SOMETIMES ANOTHER… IF I’M GOING TO HAVE A PAST, I PREFER IT TO BE MULTIPLE CHOICE! Ha ha ha! But my point is… My point is, I went crazy…”
The immediate reaction would be to assume Moore was simply implying that the Joker is either crazy (which he definitely was implying), a liar (which he probably was implying) or honestly doesn’t remember his lame past as a dorky comedian (which he may have been implying). The more Moore you read though, you will notice that he has a tendency to sneak metacommentary into the dialogue and backgrounds of his work, and in this case I believe he was pointing out that, due to the fluid nature of what is considered canonical in superhero comics there will likely never be a definitive origin to the Joker, and because it will likely be subject to change sooner or later, you shouldn’t take his Killing Joke origin too seriously.
The “multiple choice past” bit is what I would consider one of Joker’s character defining quotes. The Nolan brothers apparently agreed, because they adapted that idea into the Dark Knight’s “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?” sequences. Also, I liked Barbara Gordon a lot more as Oracle than I did as Batgirl. Other than that, I’ll agree with pretty much everyone else in this thread that The Killing Joke’s legacy is grossly overrated. According to several interviews I’ve read, Alan Moore agrees with us as well.
I think Moore feels animosity towards superhero comics because he set out to elevate the medium and not only did his efforts fail,a majority of his peers and the fandom embraced the WRONG message. His 1980’s superhero work is all dark and gritty, but he usually made it pretty clear (never clearer than in Swamp Thing #50) that it wasn’t just for the sake of being dark and gritty. He wanted to use a medium that had been written off as meritless children’s stories to ask bigger questions and hopefully get comics the sort of academic attention and respect that literature, film and music regularly enjoy. Unfortunately, the industry missed the important part and for the last couple of decades have tried to emulate the dark and gritty without the lofty aspirations. He even appears to feel some guilt about the fact that the decline in quality of mainstream superhero comics is partially the result of his attempts to call for (what he thought at the time) would be higher quality comics. At least, that’s how I read him.
If you’re interested in seeing Moore try to fix a problem he feels he started, I really recommend you track down his ABC (America’s Best Comics) work that does NOT contain the words League, of, Extraordinary or Gentlemen in the title. Tom Strong in particular is a positive and creative look at where comic books might be if the heroes hadn’t become so perverted. Promethea looks at religion, science, history, philosophy and Eastern mysticism and tries to find the connections in all of it. Top 10 had a lot of fun characters and through the inter-dimensional, super-powered police force plot became sort of an homage to the entire wild history of never-ending comic book continuities (I’m not wild about the SMAX spin-off series though). All of those books had phenomenal art as well, and although the ultra-liberal looniness you’d expect from a guy like Moore IS sprinkled in there, I never remember it being in portions too big or administered too forcefully to spoil my appetite.
Concerning DC’s feature-film animations, I’ve stopped watching them entirely. For one, I’m not really a fan of the new, anime-inspired style they currently employ. It seems incredibly bland and lifeless to me. I miss the Bruce Timm style and feel that abandoning it was a big mistake on DC’s part. I’m also not a fan of the increasingly dark tone that all these new films have or of the reprehensible behavior of the so-called “heroes” (I’m looking at you, Superman, as you nonchalantly snap Desaad’s neck in Justice League: War). Another big part of the problem is that they seem content to adapt a Geoff Johns story with every other release (barf).
I like The Killing Joke comic pretty well, but I always saw it as an Elseworlds kind of thing. I never really saw it as “the” Batman and the Joker. It’s a possible version of the Joker and a possible version of Batman, but neither matches their usual portrayal very well. Moore wanted to say some particular things and he used the characters to act it out, but I don’t think it was important to him to capture how they are outside of that story, kind of like Nolan’s trilogy which is like the character in some ways but very different in others.
I actually felt the scene-for-scene adaptation of the story wasn’t very good, ironically because the voice actors are too good. Conroy and Hamill have created these detailed characters, and in every scene a part of me kept saying “Kevin Conroy Batman wouldn’t do this!” or “Mark Hamill Joker wouldn’t do that!” There’s a very forced feeling to the whole proceeding, as Moore’s dialogue and actions are foisted on characters who have their own identities and wouldn’t act that way.
I always saw Killing Joke Joker as Sean Penn or something, the “sad clown” archetype. A manic depressive who’s heavy on the depressive side. I could buy this plan from Dark Knight Joker maybe, but not Hamill’s Joker. This is one time I really wish they’d have just gotten other voice actors, despite how amazing those guys are.
Also I felt that they were too slavish to the source material, using large batches of dialogue directly from that page that doesn’t sound very good when spoken (“perhaps I kill you, perhaps you kill me”, using the word “perhaps” about 7 times in one sentence, is an example that really stood out to me, but there are others).
I also felt that in the original it was a bit more clear that the Joker had failed. It always struck me that after all his planning and efforts he might as well have just had that conversation with Batman at the beginning. His plot didn’t even begin to work on Gordon. They should have focused on that a bit more, like in The Dark Knight film; in this version it’s glanced over.
Finally, I never saw it as Joker raping Batgirl. I always thought that was an odd interpretation, or an overly salacious one. I took it that Joker took pictures of her naked on the floor, forcing a father to go through all the mixed, messed-up and confusing emotions of see his young and attractive daughter (who may look a lot like his wife when she was young) naked, while also injured and bleeding. That’s bad enough, and I never saw it as necessary to assume that she was sexually assaulted. It was only later that I realized that every but me seemed to think that.
This is a remarkably good encapsulation of my thoughts (mostly). I’ve long felt The Killing Joke works better as a metaphor for the Batman-Joker relationship than something that “actually” happened in the DC Universe.
On a less popular note, I also feel they shouldn’t have gotten Hamill for this one. 2016 Hamill is too raspy to pull off the Joker’s quasi-sympathetic moments (of which there are many) well.
“On a less popular note, I also feel they shouldn’t have gotten Hamill for this one. 2016 Hamill is too raspy to pull off the Joker’s quasi-sympathetic moments (of which there are many) well.”
I was thinking along the same lines. It’s nice to see him reprise the role, but I think age (or smoking) is catching up with him.
In both “Batman Beyond” and in the direct-to-video movie “Mystery of the Batwoman,” it was implied that Bruce and Barbara had a romance of some kind. However, I do agree with you in saying that their relationship here comes off as kind of creepy, a 40 year old man with a 20 year old woman… maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it just doesn’t seem right. I’m 26 and I’ve always dated girls around my age.
I know DC’s animated movies are now intended for a more mature audience, but I also find it odd that they’d shoehorn a sex scene into an animated movie. As someone who grew up watching a ton of cartoons, it just doesn’t seem right to me. It would be Ariel and Eric having undersea sex in “The Little Mermaid” or showing Beast and Belle having interspecies sex in “Beauty and the Beast,,,” ugh. Plus, I don’t like sex scenes in general, as they usually bring things to a grinding halt and often completely unnecessary; I’ve always preferred the old movie method of fading to black when something like that was going to happen. I especially don’t like them in comics and comics-related media.
“I do agree with you in saying that their relationship here comes off as kind of creepy, a 40 year old man with a 20 year old woman.”
I saw some guy on YouTube try to say that this Batman was in his early 20s and I just had to laugh. There is simply no way. Bruce Wayne in his early 20s would not look like that, and Kevin Conroy’s voice immediately ages the character. That is not the voice of a 24-year-old man.
Besides the age thing, then there is the question of whether or not Batman would sleep with Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Answer: No. I just don’t see it happening.
“I know DC’s animated movies are now intended for a more mature audience, but I also find it odd that they’d shoehorn a sex scene into an animated movie.”
I honestly think the writer felt as though it would add an extra layer to have someone who was romantically tied to Batman get caught up in the Joker’s scheme, but I’m not going to push back against anyone who says the sex scene was forced.
Sometimes I wonder if stuff like this is a weird wink to the cosplay crowd. I can see certain elements going nuts for that, but that’s a whole other conversation. One day I may disclose a very awkward situation I was placed in at a convention, which my friends still joke about until this day. Let’s just say that I will always get my own hotel room from now on. I don’t care how much money it costs…