Comics / Movies / reviews

Joe Reviews: “Batman – The Killing Joke” (2016)

Having never read “The Killing Joke” and been exposed to the heaps of praise put upon it, Joe’s interest was assuredly piqued when he heard it was being adapted into an animated feature, and doubly so when he heard Tara Strong, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil were back on board as Batgirl, Batman and The Joker respectively. Here’s what he thought…

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How sweet a thing it is to have more. More Batman with the involvement of Bruce Timm, Tara Strong, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. More entries into the widely praised DC Animated Universe, and Moore, Alan Moore. Or at least, the obligatory mention of him followed by the obvious “they’ve made changes to another one of his masterpieces” complaint from some blue jean clad, black slogan tee wearing comics purist that can’t quite handle a little bit of change – That’s fine and dandy, you’ll always have the graphic novel, and this time, you might even have a point

The Killing Joke can be heard quickly after any utterance of Batman, it’s galvanized in DC, and Comic history, and is perhaps the quintessential tale that, whilst being short, showcases the relationship between Batman and the Joker in it’s simplest and purest form. But this version has a twist, there’s an extra story tacked onto the front that explores Batgirl and Batman’s relationship in more detail, and ultimately is a ruse to ensure that we’re hugely invested in Batgirl, and then shocked when everything goes a bit pear shaped later on in the film.

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There’s obvious controversy surrounding this addition, and in particular the extent to which they’ve escalated their relationship. Making it romantic in nature as opposed to the normal mentor/student or father figure/daughter set up has fans up in arms, and I can see why, introducing a sex into their relationship leaves a sinister aftertaste into what should be a purely asexual thing. Making it romantic and then depicting the aftermath of their falling out shows Batman in a strange light, it’s hard to see him as heroic when he’s giving Batgirl the cold shoulder. It is purely a mechanical addition designed to make us connect on an emotional level with Batgirl, and whilst it doesn’t upset me, I do feel as though it’s a shortcut to a payoff that could have been achieved with a longer running time featuring more character moments between the two. Not showing any sweetness between the two, any moments of downtime or bonding robs the viewer of any true connection to Barbara or Bruce, As such, it feels half baked and rushed. However, the original story still packs the wallop of the Graphic Novel original, and serves as a great deconstruction of what makes Batman and The Joker tick.

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The animation is something that is consistently great here, and in other DCAU releases, it evokes “Batman: The Animated Series“, but surpasses it in terms of scope, in places dropping the simplified look for dramatic effect – particularly memorable in the scene depicting the ‘birth’ of The Joker. The inclusion of 3D elements mixed with traditional 2D animation work exceedingly well here, and aren’t jarring like they often can be.

Vocal work is where this release shines, and Batman buffs will be absolutely pleased with this, as the return of  Strong, Hamill and Conroy will be the main draw here. Particularly to those newcomers who’ve grown interested in the characters through playing Rocksteady’s Arkham games, and also to those of the old guard who grew up watching “Batman: The Animated Series”. 

Blu Ray extras include “Batman: The Killing Joke: The Many Shades of The Joker – Featurette“, “Madness Set to Music – Featurette“, “From the DC Comics Vault – 2 Bonus Cartoons” & “A Sneak Peek at DC Universes’ Next Animated Movie“. 

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Whilst it is nice – as I said in the opening paragraph – to have such a joyous reunion of Timm, Strong, Hamill & Conroy, I do find myself thinking “Did this really need to be made?” and “Could they have done something else here?” but ultimately it was only a matter of time before one of the most famous Batman yarns was to be animated.

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Functionally, this is a commendable release, and I can enthusiastically endorse it, It’s a joy to watch “The Killing Joke” come to life with a particularly evocative performance from Mark Hamill, but also a well anchored take on Batgirl from Tara Strong ; It serves as a perfect introduction to two of the biggest characters in comic history as a frank discussion on the importance the two hold in each others existence. As a person with an already established cursory knowledge of the two though, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, save for a very awkwardly tacked on segment at the start that needlessly changed character relationships to play emotional hardball with viewers, which will grate with some.

7/10

You can Pre-order “Batman: The Killing Joke” here

Joe Crouch is a crusty mollusc with delusions of grandeur and pretensions of artistic endeavour. His tea is served between two and four. He tweets, infrequently @Grost and Instagrams his food @Sourcrouch.

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