The Killing Joke: A Film That Will Please No One?

Michael Whitlatch ComiConverse
July 26th, 2016

A Super Empowered Community.

Batman: The Killing Joke has made its debut at Comic-Con (SDCC) 2016, and the aftermath is a total mess. Our ComiConverse editorial page is here to break down the carnage.

(Inevitably, Spoilers For Batman: The Killing Joke Lie Ahead - Beware!)

Bruce Timm, Brian Azzarello, what have you done?

ComiConverse was among the first outlets to report that Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy were making one final return to their classic characters in Batman: The Killing Joke.

Back then, there seemed to be plenty of reason for optimism.

True, The Killing Joke had always enjoyed a bit of an infamous reputation in comics circles, as a story that pushed boundaries in terms of violence and in regards to its questionable treatment of women. Yet the graphic novel also had a reputation as being one of the most important stories for defining the character of the The Joker; one the most iconic villains in all of comics. It was with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, therefore, that fans and pundits alike looked forward to the film's debut at SDCC 2016.

The proceedings did not start well.

The Killing Joke: A Film That Will Please No One?

Comics fans always knew that additional story was going to have to be inserted into the plot, in order to adapt the graphic novel to a full length animated feature. Given the options available, few would have thought that task would prove a challenge.

Yet, here we are.

Even before the final promotional moments at SDCC 2016, controversial leaked footage began circulating online.

The SDCC Killing Joke panel was then disrupted badly by a series of questions and direct challenges that confronted the film's creators and talent with the choices made in the film.

According to numerous reports, the panel began smoothly enough, but things became tense when a Joker cosplayer asked the creators about why they were emphasizing the men in Batgirl's life, instead of Barbara Gordon's strength. When the writers replied that they felt she was still a strong character, Bleeding Cool reporter Jeremy Konrad, who'd already seen the film and didn't agree, shouted, "Yeah, by using sex and then pining for Bruce."

Co-screenwriter Brian Azzarello's immediate reply was , "Wanna say that again? Pussy?".

So, following on moments like these, fans tentatively walked into screenings of Batman: The Killing Joke, either at SDCC 2016, or at various North American theatres where it was making a one-time-only screening.


The Killing Joke

Credit: DC Entertainment

In order to meet run-time requirements, the creators have altered Batgirl's story to include a sexual tryst with Batman. It is implied that Barbara dresses up, in part, to seduce Batman. The age gap between the two characters and Batman's traditional role as a mentor, create a backdrop that is just plain creepy. As if that weren't bad enough, Batman spurns Barbara in the immediate aftermath of their sexual encounter, leaving her emotionally crippled.

Those who know the plot line for The Killing Joke, don't need to be told what comes next.  So traumatizing were the injuries to Batgirl in the original comic story, that there have been attempts (as in the 2010 comic Ladies Night) to give us a glimpse of a happy and content Barbara Gordon, prior to her experiences in The Killing Joke.

This new narrative goes directly against the spirit of those efforts, and instead sends her into the traumatic events of the film as a spurned and emotionally fragile young woman.

These changes will not only trouble those who were fierce backers of the original story, and who wanted a faithful retelling, but the revised plot is certain to enrage fans who see the original Killing Joke story as a low-point for women in comics.

Here we see a Batgirl who is naive, who needs the attention of powerful men and whose mistakes lead to tragic consequences.

Where in all of this is the powerful Batgirl character the writers spoke about at Comic-Con?

Bruce Timm and his staff had a number of options when adapting The Killing Joke to be an animated feature. They could have attempted to trust in the source material and sought a retelling that was as close as possible to the original. They could have sought to repair some of the stereotypes, for which the original story came under attack.

Instead, we are left with this.

A film that is likely to have scorn heaped upon it from all corners of the fandom universe.

A film that is guilty of, perhaps, one of the worst sins a comics creator can labeled with.

Bad writing.

Batman: The Killing Joke has an ugly feell that is truly unworthy of the talented actors in its stable.

The rampant criticism will leave fans unable to appreciate it as a seminal Joker story. Instead, the narrative will be that the male creators doubled down on their tone deaf approach to Batgirl's character.

Its a just criticism, and one that brings our editorial page no pleasure to be making.

From such a talented stable of creators, we expected so much more.


The release date for Batman: The Killing Joke was July 25th, 2016.


ComiConverse is a Super Empowered Community. This is its editorial voice. Follow us on Twitter: @ComiConverse

Source: io9

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