You’d Turn It Off Halfway: A Review of Batman: The Killing Joke Animated

Another mixed bag from DC/WB. I feel as I imagine I would if Zack Snyder had directed this. The parts that are right are exactly right. The parts that are wrong are dumbfounding.

People need to stop adding to and changing Alan Moore stories as if they’re smarter than he is. They aren’t. His stories are not unadaptable, as is sometimes said — they are impossible to alter. Every element depends on every other element. If you add things, the story becomes unbalanced. The additions shift the focus of the story so that this was not Batman: The Killing Joke, any longer. This was “Batgirl: The Difference Between Batman & Joker’s Fucking Techniques.”

I am a fan of Brian Azzarello. His Wonder Woman run was the only “New 52” book I truly loved.  That being said, almost no one, barring perhaps Grant Morrison, is either smart enough or qualified to add to or change a Moore narrative. This would appear to include Azzarello.

I have to assume the changes were studio-mandated because they make so little sense from a writing standpoint. The shape of the DC logo and amount of time it takes to animate indicates these additions are from the Batman v Superman decision-making era. In the wake of a controversy over a recent variant cover, DC/WB policy seems to have swung toward  the “Joker literally raped Barbara” misinterpretation. Let me not mince words: it is not in the text, plain and simple.

Joker metaphorically rapes Barbara with a bullet. The end. If Alan Moore writes a rape, he lets you know. If Joker raped Barbara to get to Gordon, guess what the photos in the carnival would’ve depicted? Otherwise, the Joker would not rape someone he’d already made sure couldn’t feel it.

If you have to alter the text to support your thesis by removing ambiguity, ambiguity was purposeful. There is no support in any continuity or any version of the Joker that he has either literal sexual intercourse or interest in such. The continual joke of he and Harley’s relationship is a marked lack of interest in her affections in favor of his relationship with Batman. It’s both a gay joke and a reference to both hero and villain’s Sherlock & Moriarty-style asexuality. Joker doesn’t fuck. You can add all the prostitute scenes implying he’s a regular poon hound you want. You can literally have him scream, “I swear, I love the pussy!” But the idea that TKJ‘s Joker is a regular with prostitutes that he doesn’t kill shortly thereafter is laughable. Even Caesar Romero’s Joker would’ve killed those girls. Joker kills. Joker maims. That is how he “gets off.”

The Joker and Batman have a sadomasochistic, homoerotic relationship, one of several in Batman. Warner and DC’s newfound conservatism seems intent on overcompensating for this interpretation. Their prevailing technique is to have him screw each female cast member on a rooftop. It won’t work, though. Also, Batgirl is more of his niece, and it was gross. Leave the Elektra complexes to Daredevil, please. (As an addendum to this, see this article. I believe Harley’s over-sexualization is part and parcel of a campaign to “de-gayify” the entire Batman mythos in the New 52 era of DC/WB.)

“Well, Doug, what did you want them to do? They had to flesh out Batgirl and make a feminist message and add to the runtime.”

Twenty minutes of thought gave me: Batgirl fights Harley in the opening. Flashing back to Harley’s origins, we parallel the “one bad day” theme. Since Harley’s bad day is when Joker drives her mad, it reinforces all the primary themes. Batgirl vs. Harley also mirrors the Batman vs. Joker plot. This gives Barbara a glimpse into her own future. In the end, she quits rather than letting it consume her. “It’ll never end,” she says to Bruce, “until one of us dies.” Her resignation sets up Batman rethinking his own approach with Joker. Cue rain. If you insist, let them have sex. But even for faithfulness, this should be older Barbara, in her late thirties. It’s two adult equals who’ve worked together a long time. She’s arriving at the moment where she needs to decide whether this is gonna be the rest of her life. Writing Batman into a mansplaining, misogynist role that Barbara overcomes only forces the actual Killing Joke to undermine and reverse that message later in the film.

Each addition took away from the whole. The positives, however, are that unlike The Hobbit films, when all the additions are cut out, it leaves a near perfect Killing Joke adaptation with tour de force swan song performances by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy.