Review: Batman- The Killing Joke


One thing to keep in mind is that TKJ was never meant to be canon; it was an alternate story.  It simply steamrolled past its original purpose and became one of the most compelling & galvanizing events in comics history, even more so now with having garnered so much mileage out of it DC made the utterly ridiculous decision to retcon the whole thing, which only cements the movie’s role as a cash cow than the next step in cinematic continuity.


The R-rating is both well earned and deserved.  In both stories we get graphic violence – dismemberments, gunshots, bodies, etc- and while not so much nudity some very direct handling of mature and sexual themes.  Notable is the fetishization of Batgirl by the villain in the first story- down to having a call girl wearing a bat mask- and that one scene everyone’s talking about.


What’s Bad: The disconnect the first part has with the rest of the movie.  It’s a completely separate story and you’d think it would tied into the bigger story but ultimately has no bearing on anything, other than perhaps to build the emotional connection to Barbara.  There’s literally nothing to tie the two together other than the characters, and it makes you wonder why they bothered.


As a nitpick there was one part of the Joker's speech about madness to Batman that I noticed was left out: about how a key factor to the start of World War I was how many telegraph poles Germany owed their creditors.  No idea why that one didn't make the cut.


What’s Good:   I did like the first story about Batgirl’s relationship with Batman.  Is it hero worship or something more?  As Barbara Gordon, she voices her frustrations to a co-worker, who naturally doesn’t quite understand the dynamics of this “thing” she has or doesn’t have with her “yoga instructor”.  (She likes the “yoga”). “He’s demanding; he’s always been demanding- and controlling!  But I can’t just find another class!  There isn’t one; this is it!  And I’m good!  He won’t say it, but I’m the best damn student he’s ever had!  So if he’s gonna start making decisions based on emotions- of which he has ZERO- then I think we’ve got a problem!”  Ok, then.


It works well as a standalone.  It’s actually pretty good; it completely drew me in before it fizzled out. The story opens with Batgirl assisting Batman on what seems like a simple getaway after a robbery, but the thieves are more resourceful that expected, giving Batgirl the slip.  But the embarrassment of the incident leads crime boss Francesco to order his nephew Paris Franz, to reimburse him for his losses or else.  Paris already has his eye on his uncle’s businesses and, in true psycho-sociopathic fashion, happens to have a ‘thing’ for Batgirl.  Bats doesn't want her involved; Paris' attraction to her makes it even more dangerous and  can lead you right to the edge of the abyss.  And it's not a view you want to take in.


A lucky break leads Batgirl right to Paris, but he gets away again.  Batman, recognizing what Paris is all about, orders her not to take him on without him there, which gets her back up.  Paris lays a trail for her to follow- right to his uncle’s body.  This leads us to *that scene*.




Now I wholly understand the outrage, I do.  Aside from the squick factor both the buildup and the scene itself was awkward and felt literally just inserted in (pun intended).  But I think the outrage has more to do with Batgirl's reaction in the aftermath than the sex itself.



If there was somewhere to go with this, if it had built towards something, I think it would've all worked out fine.  But it didn't.  After the case is wrapped up, their big talk is Barbara informing Batman she's retiring as Batgirl and... that's it.  The only acknowledgement of what happened between them is that they're too close now and it's time for her to step back from the abyss.  So I guess she got her wish after all.


When we finally get to the Killing Joke itself, it's a faithful adaptation of the comic.  It’s stellar in that regard, but not without a few flaws.  Like all adaptations, familiarity with the material is both helpful and harmful.  It helps because it takes a few shortcuts with dialogue; some things could’ve been expanded and fleshed out a little without missing a beat.  But writer Brian Azzarello must’ve figured the fans already knew, so just stuck to the story panels, making for some choppy exposition; without captions to expound on the situation we have to rely on the script, and the script needed some beefing up. The animation is also great: the visual style is directly drawn from Brian Bolland’s artwork, right down to Batman’s ears on his cowl. 


The mix of CGI into the animations is pretty flawless, even when obvious in some scenes.  All the iconic visuals are present: the Joker’s appearance at Barbara’s apartment (his eyes!), the moment the Joker sees his reflection and finally goes mad, Batman’s visit to Arkham, Jim Gordon’s ghost ride through the tunnel- all there, as well as the flashbacks of the Joker’s past leading up to that fateful night at the chemical plant.  There’s also a few new wrinkles: the Joker performs a musical number while Gordon rides through the tunnel and sees the up close photos of his daughter, Batman’s search for his prey who oddly hasn’t returned to his usual haunts.


And I'd be remiss without mentioning the outstanding work of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprising their roles.  Felt like old times.


The finale remains ambiguous, as it should.  The idea of Batman strangling Joker to finally put an end to their conflict is left to the imagination, and since it’s an alternate storyline, whatever ending suits you is fine.


What’s Left: overall an odd offering from DC.  The first part, while entertaining, is rendered pretty meaningless other than for shock value and, according to the internet, they got it in spades.  You really can skip right past it and go straight to the main event, which won’t disappoint in the slightest.  In fact, it’ll put a smile on that face.  Batman: The Killing Joke kills it.


4.5/5 stars