Batman: The Killing Joke - One Bad Day


This is it, folks. The whole enchilada. An adaptation of one of the most famous Batman stories in history. The definitive telling of Batman and Joker's rivalry. One bad day. Oh yeah, and also Batgirl has a hole in her spine that only Bruce Wayne can fill. 


Alan Moore's one-shot graphic novel is only 64 pages. I've never taken a film class in my life, but I know that a flimsy trade paperback is not nearly long enough to fill out a feature length film. DC could have topped this out at around 45 minutes or so, but they had a wonderful idea: create an original story centered around Batgirl. She's the centerpiece (well, sort of) in this classic story, but at the same time she kind of exists just to get paralyzed and sexually assaulted. Because comic books. The least they could do is flesh her out (pun sort of intended) and develop an emotional connection with the viewer so you're just as hurt as Bruce and Gordon are when she's ambushed by Joker. Alright sounds good. 

I'm sure you've heard by now that it does not sound good. Not at all. But before we get there we'll go backwards and cover the second half first. Why? You're gonna have to trust me. Just take a look, it's in this book.

The second half is a straight up adaptation. That's about all there is to say. It's nearly frame for frame with a lot of dialogue taken straight off the page. It's a story you already know. There's no padding or fleshing out of any details. As soon as The Killing Joke comic story begins it's a mad dash to the credits. It's a direct lift of a piece of comic history and pretty much unnecessary to be completely honest. Well, it would be if it wasn't for the cast. I'm not a huge fan of these re-tellings for the most part because I can read at a 3rd grade level. Year One, while good, is pretty much a motion comic with better VO work. The only reason this needs to exist is to hear Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, and Tara Strong. If it was the same cast as Under the Red Hood (not a knock on them, that's easily a top 3 DC animated movie for me) there would be no point in watching this. 

Ok, formalities are done. Let's get to it. 

The Batgirl segment is thirty fucking minutes. I shit you not. This movie doesn't even crack 80 minutes and 30 of them are occupied by a very special episode of Batgirl and the gang. In this tangled web we weave, Batman and Batgirl are in pursuit of the dreaded Some Italian Mobster. Yeah, I'm serious. It's the Citizen Kane of Batman stories and we're gonna spend almost half the runtime on a fuckin' nobody. This is sub-Sewer King. Dino Spumoni over here has a thing for Batsy. Girl, that is. Batman keeps telling her she's off the case because it's getting too personal, and when it gets personal shit gets weird at Wayne Manor. Ooooh, foreshadowing. Fuck you. 

In her attempts to foil Rigatoni Vercetti, she loses him in a chase because she's distracted by his looks. Yes, the strong female role model little girls can look up to lets the bad guys get away because she's flustered by his smile. The longer the segment goes, the worse it gets. She is portrayed as a scorned lover desperately vying for Batman's attention. When she's not staring into space thinking of how he won't open up to her, she's gossiping with her gay friend about guy trouble. Look folks, it hurts me to type it as much as it hurts you to read it. She's not a badass member of the iconic Bat Family. She's not an inspiration. She's missing a piece of herself because she doesn't have a man in her life. She lets Racist Italian Joke Name escape twice and Batman has to clean up after her both times. She's not a hero, she's an incompetent mess because she needs that good vigilante dick. You laugh, but read on my sweet summer child. She fails to capture him yet again, is easily overpowered, gets hit with a knockout drug that implies possible sexual assault (because there wasn't enough of that in this story already hahahahajesuschrist) - and then Batman saves her. Isn't that awesome? This is embarrassing even by comic book standards, and that's a community that will flip cars if you cast a black Johnny Storm. 

Bruce and Barb have a rock talk sesh on the rooftop, and then it happens.


Even when I knew it was coming it was still bad. Jesus Christ. Bruce Timm you creepy fuck. He's been pushing this gross relationship since Batman Beyond and I guess DC has enough on their plate between keeping their tire fire of a cinematic universe afloat and rebooting their entire comic universe (again) that they assumed the guy who helmed the nearly perfect Batman: The Animated Series wouldn't fuck everything to pieces. They're called the Bat Family for a reason. Barbara Gordon's dad is Commissioner Gordon. Batgirl's dad is Batman. There's no way to interpret this other than she just fucked her metaphorical dad. It's such a complete failure to understand the dynamic that I honestly can't believe nobody stepped asked why. Why him, why this story, why any of it. Batman is the patriarchal figure to Batgirl and the Robins (dead or alive). Always has been, always will be. It's not just the fact that it goes against my precious comics, it's just fucking gross. 

Am I done ranting? Nope, because it gets better. After that na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-nut busting, Batman refuses to let her back on the case and is cold and distant. A diabolical pump and dump. So it turns into their familial relationship being affected by sex. Same here, girl. I fucked my dad and now he's being a total goober about the whole sitch. She's lamenting to her friend about how it was a mistake and he's not calling her anymore. She contacts him and begs for things to go back to normal. After all it's just sex, it doesn't have to mean anything. Seriously.

Bats tells her she's still off the case because apparently he's as grossed out about this whole thing as I am. She goes against his wishes, they stop the bad guy, and she pummels Matza Angelhair mercilessly while yelling at him that he ruined everything between her and Batman. Then he makes a period joke. I'm deadly serious. I was expecting a gut punch from this movie, but I couldn't even conceive of how it would happen. What's the icing on the cake, you ask? What could possibly eclipse this hurricane of water trash? She gives up the Batgirl mantle because she was doing it for the wrong reasons - she's protecting Batman, not Gotham City. I'll let you re-read that and let it sink in. Here's your emotional bond to an iconic character: she has sex with her bat dad then gives up her cape and cowl because she was only in it to be around him. Just like those wacky females always are, am I right? Greetings, I'm Bruce Timm, and I have a strong grasp on females and female culture as seen in my creation of a sexy and subservient cartoon woman.

Hope you liked that send off, next time you see her she'll be paralyzed and sexually assaulted by a clown monster. Fade to black, fade in to The Killing Joke.

28 fucking minutes. It's embarrassing. Every single decision made by the writers in that half hour makes what happens in the rest of the movie even worse. They retroactively fucked up every aspect of one of the most iconic stories in the history of comics. She went from being a non-character to being a character who exists solely to want to be with a big, strong man. The way it's done it almost feels like what the Joker does to her is punishment for her lust - slasher movie style. I came into this knowing about the bat-sex and hoping to laugh at the ridiculousness, but I left feeling gross. This is in stark contrast to the toe curling ecstasy I feel from allusions to Batman and Robin having gay sex with their butts. The stuff with Joker was gross enough on its own, but it's 20 years old and what's done is done. They could have completely removed the rape aspect and it wouldn't lessen the impact of the story any. But they're being faithful, and although I don't really like the subject I can respect that. I don't respect them doubling down on the sexual assault with Tony Digiorno, but I'm not paid to write this garbage so what do I know? 

Every single other frame of the comic is lifted, so I'm not surprised they went all the way with the sexual overtones. The issue is everything in the first act turns her into an object only to be thought of as sexual bargaining chips. Guy who is obsessed with her knocks her unconscious and who knows what would have happened if Batman hadn't saved her. Joker undoes her shirt while she lies on the floor paralyzed in a puddle of blood, scared and defenseless. When a horrific sexual assault isn't being used as a plot point so the dudes can fight, she's incompetent, ineffectual, and waiting for a man to fix her. Is she a strong woman?


Oh. 

It alters the entire dynamic of the story. I mean not if you listen to Batgirl, because as she said it's just sex. That's why she quit being a superhero and saying innocent lives from clay monsters and ventriloquists. They sabotage and sexualize her character to such an alarming degree and then throw her into a frame by frame remake where everyone else stays exactly the same as they were on the page. Well, maybe not everyone. You could argue Batman fucking his metaphorical daughter is a worse bastardization of his character than literally murdering people in BvS and I wouldn't tell you you're wrong. Batman isn't avenging a member of his family as well as his closest and most trusted confidant. He's going to get revenge for the girl he was porking. Jim, nude, broken and beaten, telling Batman he has to do it by the book to prove they're better than him loses it's punch when Batman is thinking "I fucked your daughter" the entire time. Bats put his hands up for a solid high five but the commish left him hanging. Gordon is such a crucial character and the entire dynamic is fucked. Their entire relationship is based on trust. Trust that he's giving your daughter that good dick. Fair's fair, he's gonna make it square by letting Gordon give Nightwing a deep cavity search. A Grey Dick for Dick Grayson. 

I'm sorry.

"Let him know that our way works"
"I told your daughter the same thing"
"...what?"
"Ji-"
"Did you fuck my fucking daughter?"

I don't think it's a shock that I'm going to tell you that the prologue (if you could call it that) is a detriment in every way to the movie as a whole. So let's play a mental game. What if you chop it out? When I said "fade to black, fade in to The Killing Joke" I wasn't joking. It's so disjointed that you'd think even they knew it didn't fit and shined a spotlight right on the real starting point. So pretend the Batgirl prologue is an animated short that came with the DVD and disregard it, can I recommend The Killing Joke story as a standalone film? 

Well...I guess.

That's the most support I can put behind it, because if this movie didn't have this VO cast it would be a fairly easy "no." It should come to no surprise to you that Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, and Tara Strong are very, very good at this whole voice acting thing. Chances are their attachment to the project is what got you interested in seeking it out in the first place. The problem for me is that cast is good for one viewing. I saw it, it was what it was, but I'll never watch it again. I don't know about you guys and gals, but when I pop a squat in my comfy chair and spend a rainy afternoon thumbing through Batman comics, I read the characters in their voices anyways. Kevin Conroy will always be Batman and Mark Hamill will always be Joker. So as cool as it was to hear Hamill's laugh accompany a recreation of the classic panel of him in flashback mentally breaking and becoming what we know as The Joker, I've been hearing that laugh in my head since I first read the story and every time since. This is such a direct adaptation that there's nothing to gain that you can't get from just reading the short one-shot picture book for big dumb babies.

With that being said, there's an argument for the case that just because it's a straight adaptation doesn't mean it should diminish the movie as its own thing. You're absolutely right. Looking at the movie as it is, the cast is great. The animation itself is absolute dog shit. I didn't expect them to compare to Brian Bolland's art. I mean shit, even the creators said they weren't going to be able to. That begs the question as to why you even take on this project, but I digress. 


Spoilers: not a god damned frame of this movie looks anything like these panels

Ok then, do your own thing. When I think DC Animated there's an explicit style in my head, specifically Batman related. Black and grey, film noir. This story would be dope with that. If you're not going to replicate Bolland's use of vibrant colors then have Hamill's last hurrah as The Joker be a throwback to the original se-


Oh. Oh no. That's just. Just awful. Could Warner fucking Bros. really not find the money to make this look better than a Sega CD FMV game? I'd rather play Dark Knight Trap than look at that gif for another second. The nerve to do such a huge promo push with this film to the point of putting it in theaters - link fathom biggest event - when this is the visual quality is almost as insulting as everything else they've put in theaters in the last five years. 

***

I don't think of myself as some kind of radical feminist, I just think that maybe - just maybe - it's in poor taste to explore Batgirl's sexuality in a story where she's sexually exploited solely as a tool to get two dudes real mad at a man with green hair and silly makeup in a carnival of doll parts and monster people. The story itself, while lauded as this essential piece of Batman history, has always read as out of date to me. Influential, but a product of its time with things that jump out in a bad way. What I'm trying to say is Barbara Gordon's arc in the comic is the same as watching Bill and Ted and then they drop a hard F bomb. And not the good kind of F bomb like you want. Even perennially furious wizard Alan Moore has said he "never really liked [his] story in The Killing Joke," but to be fair he is ageless and survives solely on the sustenance of tepid rage when someone adapts his work. With that being said, I was still all for this. Not that I have any particular reverence for The Killing Joke, but Mark Hamill does. He oficially retired The Joker after Arkham Knight because the strain was just too much on his vocal cords and went on record stating the only way he'd ever do it again is if this story got adapted. If Luke Fucking Skywalker wants it then who am I to say no? I mean sure you could wait an extra year and make it good or crowd pleasing or entertaining or 

In reality, it's just unnecessary. There's no reason it couldn't have just been 45 minutes long. Throw that on the BvS Ultimate Super Edition. I'd buy it. I've given like 8 different interpretations and caveats to give this more chances than any ex girlfriend has ever given me. The movie as a whole - as it's presented? It's not really good, and I probably wouldn't recommend it to most people.


But let's be honest for a second here. The second you saw Hamill and Conroy were doing voices for The Killing Joke you were on board. Then they announced it was going to be rated R (a rating that's complete horseshit, just like the BvS Ultimate Cut) and you began sweating profusely as you thought of the possibilities. Then you saw the trailer and you lost most interest because it looked like it was made in Paint Shop Pro and they only had 30 days to bang this movie out before their free trial expired. But just when it seemed like we were headed for blackest night, you remembered that it's always darkest before dawn. Between the Bat-sex leaked scene and the animator calling that guy in the audience a pussy, Comic Con made you want it. Made you need it. 

If that didn't get you, the leaked scene of the Bat-sex made you want to see it for yourself because you believed that it wasn't real and your brain was going into self defense mode to prevent from overheating and shutting down. You're going to see it. It doesn't matter how much bad stuff I say. The more I tell you had bad they fuck it up and how it doesn't really serve any purpose besides putting money in execs' pockets, you're going to see it. You have to know for yourself. You have to know firsthand, in front of God and everyone, how they fucked up the unfuckable. I get it. I was the same way. 

You know it's going to be bad. You know it's going to make you stare longingly out the window and what happened to the prestige that used to come with animated DC. The unheralded acclaim for Batman TAS. You'll wonder how we got here. You'll wonder what the fuck DC is doing and if they'll ever stop tripping over their own dick. But you'll watch it. It's less than 90 minutes. Keep rewarding them for making bad things. I know because that's what I did. I keep giving them money, I keep buying extended cuts, I keep buying cash grab animated films, I keep buying comic reboot after comic reboot. I deserve this. 



One bad day indeed. 



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