Based on the acclaimed graphic novel of the same name, Batman: The Killing Joke takes a journey into the dark psyche of the Clown Prince of Crime – from his humble beginnings as a struggling comedian to his fateful encounter with Batman that changes both of their lives forever. Years later, and now escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker devises a plan to prove that one bad day can make anyone as insane as he is – setting his sights on Commissioner Gordon. It’s up to the Dark Knight to put a stop to The Joker’s latest scheme and save one of Gotham City’s finest. Following a gripping prologue introducing Barbara Gordon’s heroic adventures alongside Batman as Batgirl, Batman: The Killing Joke stays true to the authentic tale that has held fans’ imaginations for nearly three decades – spotlighting the birth of a Super-Villain, the fortitude of a Super Hero and the punchline that will leave you speechless.
This animated film is meant to be an adaptation of the one shot graphic novel of the same name. The length of the graphic novel is only 64 pages so barely 3 traditional comics worth of material. Now the graphic novel. I mention this because I think this gave the animators a slight issue because if it was just a straight adaptation of the material, the animation would have been noticeably shorter than its current hour and 16 minute run time. My theory is they needed to stretch out the length of the “movie” to make it more commercially viable. Traditionally a movie is viewed to be about and 1hr and half at minimum so to make their short be a “movie” they had to make it a tad bit longer. I even wonder if the count included Mark Hamill’s interview about him playing the Joker.
I mention all of that above to address the overall issue with the Killing Joke. The added a Batgirl plot to the story, but at the same time they didn’t change the Killing Joke to really weave the two pieces together. The Batgirl plot is like an addition to the house that is the Killing Joke. You can clearly see the original and something was added on after the fact. So the two separate piece remain separate and never really come together to make a complete story. The animators should have been more brave and adjusted Killing Joke more to work better with the Batgirl plot or they should have left it as a short complied with several other of Batman’s shorter stories.
Now I’m not going to get into discussion about how badly Batgirl is treated in the Killing Joke because that is a different conversation as a whole about superhero comics and its relationship with women. What I will address is that the Killing Joke is a Joker story, and all other characters in the story are there to serve that story. Both Barbara and Jim Gordon are abused in this story to service the plotline of the madness of the Joker. Even the Batman is out of a character a bit too again serve the discussion of insanity of his Arch Nemesis. This in of itself doesn’t make it a bad story, but it does have to be viewed in the proper context to fully appreciate what the story is about. If you’re looking for a more traditional story of Batman fighting crime and winning over the villains, you are going to be a tad confused. And actually at the end of Killing Joke when Batman and Joker were laughing over a joke, several people in the audience were literally saying out loud “What!?!” because the ending didn’t make much sense. Again I’ll reiterate Killing Joke would have been better served collected with several other Batman shorts that varied in tones and themes, like the great anime anthology Gotham Knights that have 6 different Batman stories.
So overall I enjoyed the movie but I can see where for a lot of Batman fans it wouldn’t be the best fit for them. And I just blame that on poor execution of the material.