THE BATMAN, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, made his debut in Detective Comics #27 in May of 1939, this was the beginning of the legend of THE DARK KNIGHT. Whilst readers were introduced to the origin of BRUCE WAYNE/THE BATMAN, his allies as well as the gallery of rogues that would battle THE DARK KNIGHT overs the years to come. It wasn’t however until the 1980’s that we really got what would become the most well known and definitive stories of THE DARK KNIGHT. One of these stories was Batman: The Killing Joke, published in 1988 and written by the legendary Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke is best remembered as being the definitive JOKER story. Now 28 years later, The Killing Joke has finally been adapted into a DC Animated feature, giving fans a very interesting yet very unsettling BATMAN film that we’ve all been waiting for.
Originally intended to be a one shot graphic novel, The Killing Joke ended up being one of the most important BATMAN stories as it explores the complex relationship that he has with his most dangerous rival, THE JOKER. The events that transpire in The Killing Joke would also go on to be added into the mythos of THE DARK KNIGHT, most importantly THE JOKER’S crippling of BARBARA GORDON. The graphic novel wasn’t without controversy and the film adaptation is no exception, not only is it the first R rated BATMAN film (MA15+ here in Australia). But the filmmakers have had to add in new material to help give the film a feature length running time, without which would have made the film only 40mins long.
With the addition of the new material the film plays out in two parts, the first which focuses on BARBARA GORDON (Tara Strong) during her time as BATGIRL, and the second which is purely The Killing Joke. The BATGIRL prelude focuses on the last case that BARBARA would embark on with THE BATMAN (Kevin Conroy) and deals with issues and ideas that haven’t really been explored before with these characters. BATGIRL tries to help THE DARK KNIGHT track down a sadistic criminal who has formed an romantic obsession with BATGIRL, he pushes her to the point where she isn’t thinking straight and allowing her emotions and his infatuation with her to cloud her judgement. Regardless of the warnings from BATMAN who believes that she needs to remove herself from this case, she begins to lash out at her mentor, which leads to them engage sexually after a heated argument. The fall out from this encounter leaves them both confused and eventually leads to the ending of their crime fighting partnership.
The second act of the film is a page for page, word for word adaptation of the graphic novel as THE JOKER (Mark Hamill) plays out his plan to drive Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) insane. As with the graphic novel the film also depicts THE JOKERS origins, which depicts him as an out on his luck comedian with a pregnant wife and how all it takes is just one bad day to totally break a desperate man.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a fantastic and unsettling film, the animation is absolutely beautiful and the voice cast give what would have to be some of their best performances. The film is a reunion of sorts for Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, who have been playing BATMAN and THE JOKER since 1992 with Batman The Animated Series and it is an absolute delight to hear them once again lend their voices to these iconic roles. Tara Strong shines as BARBARA GORDON as does the rest of the voice cast that includes Ray Wise, John DiMaggio and Robin Atkin Downes. The score by composers Kristopher Carter, Michael McMuistion and Lolita Ritmanis is chilling and has a touch of Bernard Herman to it, as well as the inclusion of a musical number that THE JOKER sings during the films most unsettling scene.
The film however will be mostly remembered and heavily critisied by many due to the sexual encounter between BATMAN and BATGIRL. The scene plays out as a massive surprise and whilst is does completely change the dynamic of their relationship, it does provide a valid reason as to why they stopped working together. Sure they could have come up with another situation, but it had to be something that really pushed the boundaries in the same way that THE JOKER does in this story.
Possibly one of the greatest successes of both the graphic novel and the film is its ending, both BATMAN and THE JOKER have just reached the climax of their decades long battle to the point that this could be their final encounter. The brilliance of this ending is that is just ends, there is nothing that even hints at what could happen after the screen fades to black, it just simply ends and it ends with both foes laughing together over a lame joke.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a masterful adaptation of one of the greatest graphic novels of all time and is one of the best and most unsettling BATMAN films ever made.
The film screening was accompanied by a 10min interview with Mark Hamill in which he reflected on his casting in his two most iconic roles, Luke Skywalker and The Joker. It was a very touching tribute to the two greatest roles that Hamill has portrayed and he even reflected on the fact that his Joker has changed over the course of the years that he has played the role. The Killing Joke has been a film that Hamill has always wanted to be apart of to the point that he has stated that if he got the chance it would be the last time he would portray the Clown Prince of Crime. It was a beautiful way to open the film as well as to acknowledge Mark Hamill’s amazing career.