The idea of a graphic novel is just a fancy way to say that this is a comic book that has mature themes and ideas…in essence an “R” rated comic book. DC Comics over the years has been at the forefront of issuing graphic novels. “The Watchmen”, “Dark Knight Returns”, “All Star Superman”, “V for Vendetta”, & “Preacher” are just a few from DC and now the “Killing Joke” is the latest to go from comic strip to animated cartoon.
The graphic novel “Killing Joke,” written by Alan Moore, was created to provide insight into the origins and motivations to one of the greatest villains ever created… “The Joker” as well as to showcase the assertion that Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin and “one bad day” is the reason why they became, what they are. In theory, Batman and the Joker really aren’t that different from each other and perhaps… maybe from us, which is why they are the most beloved hero/villain tandem ever in comics.
That is why the animated telling of the “Killing Joke” was the most anticipated graphic novel adaptation being developed, so much so that DC Comics decided to show the movie, one night only in theaters… garnering a big success. But the question remains … is the “Killing Joke,” a good movie and/or adaptation?
Because this graphic novel is a short story, the ability for it become a feature animated cartoon meant that they had to add more story to flesh out the time, putting the overall movie content in the hands of others not named Alan Moore.
As a retelling of the Killing Joke, the film does a very good job at recreating the novel, at times panel for panel. The insanity of the Joker shines through as he rains down hell upon the Gordon (Commissioner Jim and Barbara) family. It was the Joker’s intention to show Batman how a sane man can go insane… if they experience “one bad day.” So if the film would have focused upon just the Joker’s antics from the novel, then it would have been a truly crazy film, but that is just one half of the movie.
The writers decided to flesh out the beginning of the film by creating a pathos for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle with a relationship between her and Batman so that we care about her more when the Joker descends upon and changes her life. Now some have balked at the relationship vibes and its execution between Batman and Batgirl, but I didn’t have a problem with this exposition. From the Batgirl created storyline, what I didn’t like was the villain (basic Gotham mob figure) that becomes the lighting rod that ignites their passion. As fans, since we were expecting this epic Joker back story, this bad guy is a true let down and bogs down the first half of the film.
The only other problem at times was the actual animation. Maybe because they were trying to stay consistent with the novel, but some of the animation in the film was jittery and slow, which is below the standard we are used to from DC Comics animation. But what saves the movie is the voice-over talent because we are treated to the voices that made us fall in love with Batman animation, as Kevin Conroy (Batman) & Mark Hamill (Joker) reprise their roles as these beloved characters… for one last go around.
In the end, the “Killing Joke” is a pretty good adaptation from the graphic novel that gets held down by the added on storyline of Batgirl – that dominates the first half of the movie – but once it gets into the storyline from the comics the film becomes worthy. So push through the first half and appreciate what they were trying to accomplish by setting up Batgirl and then this movie will satisfy you. And then just like Batman and the Joker… you will have the last laugh!
“Batman: The Killing Joke” was released digitally on Tuesday and will go to DVD and Blu-ray on Aug. 2. Get additional info at official DC Comics website here.
Darryl King is a video director, film writer and avid Marvel/DC comic book/movie lover. Check out his reviews of Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, and his primer guide to Captain America: Civil War right here on MMT.