Ever since its debut in 1988, Batman: The Killing Joke by writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland has been long since regarded as one the greatest Batman stories of all time, standing alongside Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as one of the most seminal graphic novels ever created. It’s also been classed as the definitive Joker story, exploring the madness behind the carnival and showing the closest thing to an origin story the character ever had. It has influenced Batman in popular media ever since, with the Arkham games heavily referencing the story on multiple occasions and filmmakers Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan borrowing heavily from the plot’s basic story, adopting Moore’s approach to Batman and Joker’s complicated relationship. DC and Warner Bros. Animation has had a solid track record with adapting famous stories for their movies with standouts including Superman vs. The Elite and the The Dark Knight Returns, but this has been the one that everyone has been waiting to see them adapt for the screen.
Despite being a hugely popular story, to this day it is still shocking and disturbing, not just by its graphic content, but also by being the most chilling and believable analysis of a criminally warped mind that has ever been encountered. This story needed to have been done justice, and what we have in the last 45 minutes is a very faithful adaptation. By the time the newly added 28-minute prologue is finished and The Killing Joke properly starts, what follows is simply astounding. It is brilliantly directed by Sam Liu and wonderfully written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets and DKIII: The Master Race), capturing the dark and bleak atmosphere of the source novel thanks to its animation design and plot structure. The animation has a well-defined style about it, capturing the creepy griminess of Bolland’s art style, as well as being very reminiscent of the famous art style of Batman: The Animated Series. As for the core main storyline, it is nearly word for word, beat for beat, accurate to the source, and that means its core message of how one normal man can turn insane after suffering just “one bad day” is never lost, even when the horrible events transpire.
Despite the tremendous animation and storytelling, bringing this famous tale to life wouldn’t be complete without the phenomenal voice cast we have here. Mark Hamill has always loved The Killing Joke and for years has wanted to do a movie, and he delivers not just his A-game but also quite possibly his best performance to date. This is the most twisted Joker he’s delivered yet, and during the fatal flashback sequences, he brilliantly nails the pathos and tragedy of the man that would be fated to become the Clown Prince of Crime. It all just goes to show why Hamill is the greatest Joker we’ve ever seen on screen, and the same can be said of Kevin Conroy, who is still THE Batman. Also both Tara Strong and Ray Wise bring real depth and gravitas to their respective roles of Barbara and Commissioner Gordon.
However, the one thing that comes close to spoiling this classic tale is the horribly tacked on first 28 minutes that feels as if you are watching a completely different movie to the one you’ve been waiting for. Granted, the whole idea of the 28-minute prologue was to flesh out Barbara Gordon’s character and to show what her life was like as Batgirl before the tragic events of The Killing Joke. However, it does the complete opposite; it diminishes her character dramatically, turning her into the personification of refrigerator’s syndrome and makes her even more of a plot device than she was admittedly in the original story. She’s basically the object of affection for Batman (as well as a mobster that has a creepy fetish obsession for her) and vice versa, which butchers the characterisation for both characters, almost ruins your perception of the main story’s events, and culminates in the most disgusting thing imaginable: both of them doing the nasty, which is even more disturbing considering the fact that Batman is supposed to be a mentor/other father-figure to her! Why?!
When you get this movie when its available, it is best advised to avoid the first 28 minutes like the plague and go straight into The Killing Joke, because from then on it is glorious. The animation is beautiful, the storytelling (apart from the prologue) is sharp, and the voice acting is outstanding (especially Hamill). It does Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s comic justice, honours its legacy, and further demonstrates why both the story and its main villain have stayed iconic to this day.
BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SAM LIU / SCREENPLAY: BRIAN AZZARELLO / STARRING: KEVIN CONROY, MARK HAMILL, TARA STRONG, RAY WISE, JOHN DIMAGGIO / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 8TH