The Killing Joke has been one of the integral pieces of Batman literature for years. Published in 1988, written by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke is an origin story of one of the most perplexing and loved characters in Comic Book history.
If you know me, you know that I haven’t been into comic books my entire life, in fact, I didn’t start really reading comic books until around late 2009. However, through High School, I dabbled a bit and The Killing Joke was definitely one of the first graphic novels I sought to read. I instantly fell in love with this excruciatingly graphic story of two of my favorite characters. It’s no surprise that Alan Moore’s work would be amazing but I don’t think it would have been as amazing, moving, and downright uncomfortable to read without the art of Bolland.
But with this little bit of backstory, you could imagine my excitement when there were rumors that the next DC Animated film would be an adaptation of The Killing Joke. Multiply that by 10 and that was my excitement when I heard it would be rated R. Now take that, and multiply it by 100 and THAT was my excitement when I heard that Tara Strong, Kevin Conroy, and Mark Hamill were coming back to reprise their roles from Batman: The Animated Series. Fast forward a few months and it was announced that The Killing Joke would have special screenings for a ONE-NIGHT-ONLY event and that was it. I HAD TO GO. A few friends of mine were forming a group to watch it at the TCL Theater in Hollywood and I was as down as ever. However, lots of things started going on and getting tickets slipped our respective minds. By the time I tried to get tickets to join my group, they were SOLD OUT.
-insert crying selfie here-
I would just have to wait to see it when it was released on blu-ray the following week. -sighhh- After mentioning to my boyfriend and coming to terms with missing it on the big screen, he simply said, “pick me up from work tomorrow and we’ll go.” DONE AND DONE. He got us tickets to watch it at the Arclight in Hollywood. Once I stepped into that theater, I felt at home. I was among my own nerdy-Batman-loving kind. But enough about my experience, let’s talk about the movie.
The film runs at about 77 minutes (1 hour and 17 mins) long. It’s about the average running time for the DC Universe Animated films but The Killing Joke graphic novel itself is not very lengthy. I wondered how this would play out.
I’m not going to go into grave detail about everything, in fact this is simply going to be a rambling about my feelings more than an actual in depth review of the film. So bare with me. (also, probably SPOILERS ahead, just saying).
Let me just lay it down simply, right here, right now. The first about 30 minutes of The Killing Joke really didn’t need to be there. It felt rushed and displaced. I understand the need to appeal to new fans and people who hadn’t read the graphic novel but it all felt so wrong. I may come off as a nitpicky fan right now but ohmygosh, (SPOILERS) what was that romance between Batgirl and Batman? NO. And they actually hook up? and Batman is kind of a weirdo about it after? It just wasn’t true to the characters I’ve read and watched. Maybe there’s some story arc I’ve never read where this is all okay but it just wasn’t smoothing over well for me. But alas, you learn to get past things like this when you’re a fan of comic books, and I did. It’s fine. I’m over it.
I understood what they were going for with this. I really did. There needed to be some other emotions at stake for their relationship. This served to forge a greater bond for the two characters that was easy for new fans/readers/viewers to digest in short amount of time. However, it still seemed so…detached. It was almost like watching an episode of Spongebob Squarepants where the first 15 mins is a different episode and has absolutely nothing to do with the following 15 mins. Ugh, I know how I sound but trust me, it gets better. After this mini Batgirl story, the true story starts.
My little fangirl heart was ready to explode when the actual Killing Joke storyline began. It was everything I had ever imagined. Almost to the tee. This film did exactly what the graphic novel did in the late 80’s. It forces readers and viewers to sympathize with The Joker in ways that no other story arc has. The Joker is the quintessential example of an unreliable narrator and nearly admits this to the audience. He states that “Sometimes [he] remember[s] it one way, sometimes another..” which truly adds to the sympathy the audience feels. This line explores the themes that Alan Moore and Brian Azzarello set out to portray in their respective works (graphic novel and film). That is, the implication that Batman and The Joker are one in the same, mirror images. The Joker mentions that all it takes “is one bad day”. Each character having their own but what is up to them is how they come to terms with it.
It’s just such a beautifully told story. But not just that, the art is amazing. It stays true to the look of previous DC Animated films but also stays true to the dark and graphic nature of the source text. There were countless frames that were taken directly from panels from the graphic novel and I could hardly contain my happiness over it.
The bottom line is, I loved it. I absolutely loved it from the point where The Killing Joke story truly starts, everything is better than what I would have imagined. But even with my whole rant about the first 30 min, I still kind of enjoyed them in a totally detached sort of way.
So yeah, definitely watch it.
Also, did anyone else notice that easter eggy kind of thing when Batman is in the Batcave looking at the screen and there are multiple pics of The Joker? Well, from what I saw, a few of those pics were paying homage to other storylines. Of course, the one they focused on was the picture of The Joker with his cards fanned out in his hand which is directly from the source text, but there was also a homage to A Death in the Family, Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker from The Dark Knight, and after a rewatch (as I did watch this over a week ago), I’m sure I’ll notice a few more. Or maybe I’m just crazy?