‘The Killing Joke’: Witnessing History

I like to keep people guessing.
Movies Comic-Con
Movies Comic-Con Batman Comics

When it comes to animated comic adaptations, The Killing Joke has long been at the top of the most-anticipated list. The project has had some ups and downs over the years, leaving fans skeptical when word hit there would be another attempt. But with a strong cast including Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, and Tara Strong as well as Bruce Timm returning to the animated feature fold, confidence in the project was building among fans. Fast forward to premiere night at San Diego Comic-Con and the excitement for The Killing Joke was palpable.

The Panel Discussion

Batman The Animated Series

Mark Hamill’s appearance was the most anticipated, what with the Star Wars hype and all. He’s been fighting for a Killing Joke adaptation for years, so it came as an unwelcome surprise that his schedule kept him from attending.

On the floor, Mark Hamill was joined by co-screenwriter Brian Azzarello and voice actor Ray Wise. Organizers made the questionable decision to discuss the movie prior to the screening. Having the panel beforehand was a potential misstep as they revealed a lot in their discussion of the film before the audience could watch.

First and foremost, they added an arc for Batgirl more than just being paralyzed. It’s amazing, they assured. Mark Hamill goes to places he’s never gone before. The music, the composition, the detail–Blah blah blah, can we watch the movie now? Subjectively, many people like going into films blind. Everyone knew they’d make changes to a story and many wanted to enjoy it without the high bar of standard its makers hung over it, looming ominously, ready to disappoint. You want to hear about these “changes,” but it’s better to find out once you have a solid point of reference.

Let’s Meet the New Killing Joke


The room darkened, everyone applauded as the classic Warner Bros. logo faded in, and the voice of Batgirl‘s narration comes in. We are in a place unfamiliar for readers. This is a prologue, of sorts, finding Batgirl as a rambunctious crime fighter who comes face-to-face with a mobster who has a sick attraction to her. This is an attraction the much more experienced and weary Batman knows all too well. To keep her from this toxic relationship reminiscent of his own with the Joker, he boots her off the case they are working on.

This doesn’t sit well with her. ‘You never treat me like a partner.’ ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ It may not have been nearly as bad, but this did remind me of Chris O’Donnell’s Robin in many ways. Except in this instance, the endgame of the frustration for Batman’s protectiveness culminates in a drastically different way. There is a struggle, Batgirl lashes out, they end up on the ground…and she kisses him. Batgirl kissed Batman, and he kisses back. The camera pans back up just as Barbara slips off her shirt and the audience is going “Ooooh” like children. Cut to black.

The sequence ends with Barbara catching that mobster and beating him within an inch of his life. She finally realizes how far such a relationship can drive one to the point of almost crossing the line that Bruce warned her about. So, she quits the cape. Then we’re at the beginning of The Killing Joke. What follows plays out exactly as written. Batgirl serves as the filler to make this feature length. She creates the reason (sort of) for Bruce to visit the Joker in prison. This allows Barbara’s attack to pack more of a punch, so to speak.

How The Killing Joke Succeeds

The Joker plays The Joker card

Every scene from here on in is absolutely enthralling, especially the flashback scenes due to a noticeable decision on Mark’s part. Pre-Joker sounds almost like regular Mark with a hint of the Joker’s cackling future persona. It helps facilitate how drastic a change is made during his dark turn and how sad his view of the world is.

The action ramps up when Joker gives his famous “Why aren’t you laughing?” monologue. It’s not a quiet rumination before Batman bursts in, he’s trying to beat it through his thick skull. It gives the impression that Batman’s neglect of his philosophy truly angers him and makes him feel alone, which in turn, makes me feel almost sorry for him. The movie ends with Barbara’s hopeful narration and her becoming the Oracle.

An Eventful Q-and-A Session

killing joke-joker-with-glass

That’s when the real fun began: The QAs.

These were what would probably make up most of the panel headlines. One ornery audience member felt that Barbara’s added arc was sexist, that it reduced her character to nothing but a sex-seeking stereotype. Azzarello responded by calling that audience member a “p*ssy.” This is why the panel discussion prior to screening the film was a bad idea. Raising the hopes and expectations of the audience will only lead to disappointment. There will always be something someone will rag on.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Articles covering the comments of those who were there call the panel and movie a disaster. However, these are all based on one dude’s opinion. Admittedly, Azzarello firing back at the commenter may have made it worse, but people shouldn’t base their opinion on the film because of one scrap. This movie was everything it needed to be. It hit the right notes and the changes did not detract. While some people are going to be put off, there is always the skip button!

For the sake of die-hard fan-ishness, it is definitely worth a look. If anything, do it for the laughs.

I like to keep people guessing.
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