It’s no secret that, while Marvel dominates the box office and comic sales, DC rules when it comes to animated features. Everything from the classic Batman: The Animated Series to the new Justice League and Flashpoint features shows that DC understands, at least on the animation front, that staying as true as possible to the source material along with the use of great voice actors is the best kind of fan service. Their most recent release, Batman: The Killing Joke, may have started off a little rocky but it eventually proves to be a wonderful addition to the animated lineup.
Using the same actors and animation as the 1992 animated series, The Killing Joke is essentially split into two “episodes” that form a single feature film. This has been a recurring thing in the animated films and usually helps to establish the characters before delving into a more serious storyline. In this film, the first half spends time establishing the character of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and the relationship she has with her crime fighting mentor, Batman. For those who don’t know these characters very well, it was important for the film makers to give the audience an understanding of Barbara Gordon as the events of The Killing Joke involve a very important, and terrible, character development for Batgirl.
The second half of the movie is a panel-for-panel and almost word-for-word recreation of the graphic novel from 1988. As such, it is an amazing story with fantastic voice work from both Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. There really is no point in talking about it critically as I am both a huge fan of the book and the animated film. What I can be more critical of is the prologue episode. Tara Strong brings the character of Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, back from the days of the cartoon in a story about her relationship with Batman and how difficult being a hero can be.
There are some wonderful themes in this episode that I think are overshadowed by its faults. The idea of a thin line between being a hero and a murderer and that your mental state can be your worst villain are just a few that are explored throughout this 30 minute period. They even explore a small time villain for Batgirl that begins to go after her personally, much like the Joker does with Batman, and how she has to overcome the urge to just eliminate him rather than apprehend him. All of this is unfortunately negated by one five minute period towards the end of the endeavor that jars you loose from the entrancement of the movie. The screen writers made a decision to make Batgirl and Batman’s relationship less of a father and daughter relationship and instead create a romantic attachment for reasons, I can only imagine, have to do with creating controversy.
Well, in this case, they definitely succeeded as movie and news outlets everywhere began talking about how the film takes a strong female character and reduces her to a normal girl depending on a guy. I kid you not, there is even a part of the scene where she is staring at her communicator essentially waiting for Batman to call her after their one night stand. While many outlets have greatly exaggerated how much of the story this break from the norm takes, it was definitely a jarring and totally unnecessary part of the movie. I’m not even talking from a sexist standpoint, it was literally just a bad part of the movie that didn’t fit at all.
In any case, out of the hour and sixteen minute runtime, there was a five minute period of terrible. But as a whole, and especially the part of the film that covered the source material, the movie was fantastic. From the wonderfully delivered speeches by Mark Hamill to a truly amazing score by Kristopher Carter and Lolita Ritmanis, this movie is worth seeing for old and new fans.