The Killing Joke
Reviewer: Daniel Burden
Director: Sam Liu
Stars: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise
What is there left to really say about The Killing Joke that hasn’t already been said?
Alan Moore’s seminal comic book 1988 and it became a defining piece of art and literature. But due to the violence and potential sexual abuse of a female character, much of it is implied in the page, in recent years certain corners of the internet have tried to convince us that it nothing but a grotesque exploitation.
We painfully wait for the inevitable knock at Barbara’s front door, and it has lost little of its impact, because we’ve spent more time with Batgirl in the newly added prologue. Again, several aspects of this new material have caused waves online, the outrage feeling manufactured at best, rage for the sake of it, all too commonplace these days.
One scene in particular has gotten some people’s backs up, and it is quick, almost throwaway, and honestly it works within the narrative. More than that, if you’re a fan of the Timm-verse Batman, then you’ll know there is precedent for it. I’m dancing around spoilers here, suffice to say certain groups of fans don’t like a development in Batman and Batgirl’s relationship.
It’s a shame that this controversy will overshadow the film itself, because the voice acting and direction is absolutely perfect.
There’s still something deeply horrific about the animation here, Joker looking creepier than ever, similar to Moore’s book but more alive, shadows fall across Joker’s face and he will haunt your nightmares. While the art style doesn’t match the comics exactly, several terrifying panels make the transition perfectly, images you won’t ever forget brought to life to haunt the viewer.
The flashbacks to his origin story are nicely done, and we end up feeling some level of sympathy for the man he used to be, but this only goes to further illustrate the monster he has become in later life. It’s tragic, as it should be.
How far would the Joker go? And what does he have to do for Batman to finally kill him? That was always the point of The Killing Joke. But why is it considered such an evil? In more recent years, Joker has done far worse things to Batman and his family. Even going back to killing Jason Todd, an actual murder, using a crowbar to beat a child to death, is considered less heinous that the crippling of Barbara Gordon. And with this story, we wouldn’t have gotten the character of Oracle, a disabled hero in her own right.
The film, and the comic it’s based on, is treated unfairly. It’s not meant to be a nice story.
“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once. Am I right? You had a bad day and everything changed.”
Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill know these roles inside out. They could play these characters in their sleep. Probably more than anyone else who has ever played them. But this is new material for them, such an incredible story of the dance Batman and the Joker, one that ends on a very famous laugh.
Interestingly, Hamill is able to bring a whole new level of creepy to the Joker. It is his definitive performance as the Clown Prince of Crime.
Did we need the extended prologue? Maybe not, but it does add to Batgirl’s character, it allows the audience to feel more when the terrible events befall her.
Overall The Killing Joke is excellent, with actors who know their roles like they know how to breathe, it remains disturbing and unpleasant, as it should. A piece of art doesn’t have to be nice and you don’t have to agree with it, but people do seem determine to undermine it and take away from our enjoyment, I refuse to let that happen.
The Killing Joke feels like a culmination of decades worth of Batman animation, it is only fitting that Conroy and Hamill get to have the last laugh.
Batman: The Killing Joke is available on Blu ray/DVD and on demand from August 8th