Batman: The Killing Joke
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Batman: The Killing Joke is one of my favorite graphic novels in the Batman series, an extremely dark edition to the series that reveals quite a bit about Batman and The Joker. It also happens to be the graphic novel in which Batgirl’s career ends and Oracle's begins. In my opinion, it was this graphic novel’s Joker that Heath Ledger based his award winning movie performance on. Incredibly dark and daring, this graphic novel is a Batman classic, so when I heard that it was going to be made into an animated film, I couldn’t wait to check it out.
The animated film begins with dialogue by Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) as she looks back on a series of nights that changed her life forever. She looks back on the last case she worked on with Batman (Kevin Conroy) as Batgirl, a case that threatens to push her over the edge, making her lose control. Batman eventually terminates their partnership to protect Batgirl and, though she resists at first, Barbara realizes he is right. She retires from crime fighting, but, unfortunately, this is not enough to keep her safe.
Sometime later, a knock on the door interrupts a night with her father and changes Barbara Gordon’s life forever. The Joker (Mark Hamill) is waiting there at the door with a gun. One shot causes damage to Barbara’s spine and almost kills her, but the worst is yet to come. The Joker has a camera and he intends to use it to destroy Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise). Taking him to an abandoned amusement park, The Joker tortures Jim Gordon, stripping him naked and showing him pictures of his daughter, naked and in pain, in hopes of stripping Gordon of his mind as well.
All the while, The Joker is plagued with flashbacks of his past as a one-time engineer who left his job to become an unsuccessful comedian. In one night, he loses everything – his wife, his unborn child and his sanity after an escape from a crime gone wrong leaves him disfigured. Though one might take pity upon The Joker for what has become of him, we soon realize that The Joker’s mind is so twisted that even he is not quite sure that this is actually really what happened.
In the end, we discover that Batman and The Joker are not quite as different as they seem. It was one event that drove them both over the edge…to the point of no return.
I have such mixed feelings about Batman: The Killing Joke animated film. First, we’ll discuss the good. Mark Hamill as The Joker – who better than Mark Hamill to recreate on of the most infamous villains in the Batman comic book series. His interpretation of this deranged criminal is spot on and the only voice I can ever imagine when I think of The Joker in animated series. Tara Strong is excellent as Barbara Gordon and Ray Wise is just as believable as Jim Gordon. I’m not sold on Kevin Conroy’s interpretation of Batman, but I could live with it. The second half of Batman: The Killing Joke was awesome and very much in tune with the graphic novel I have come to love, even down to the joke at the end.
And now for the bad. The whole first half of the movie is a nightmare for any fan of Batman and Batgirl. Sure, I can see Batgirl rushing in rashly, trying to prove herself as capable a crime fighter as Batman. Young and impetuous, it’s not so hard to believe. And I did enjoy the banter between Barbara Gordon and her librarian co-worker as they discussed her love life or lack thereof. But the idea of a relationship other than mentor and protégé for Batman and Batgirl is ridiculous. I’m sure I’m not the only fan of Batgirl to scream, “NO! She’s supposed to be with Robin/Nightwing! What the hell?!” Couldn’t it be enough that Batman would worry for her safety because of what has happened to protégé’s in the past? To make it because of a sexual relationship cheapens the bond between Barbara and Bruce.
So, mixed feelings. But that’s not to say that I lost seventy-some-odd minutes watching this film. The second half of the movie was terrific and well-worth the watch for any fan of the graphic novel. Sure, it’s a cartoon, but a faithful one at that…just ignore the ridiculous prologue and you’ll be fine. All-in-all, not a bad watch for the price. I paid $5.00 to rent it, but I have no intention of buying – the graphic novel will still be my favorite version of Batman: The Killing Joke and the only one I would pay full price for. One more warning – this isn’t your grandma’s Batman: this movie is graphic and contains explicit language, so cover your kids’ ears while watching.