Read or Watch? The Killing Joke

Because this is already such a large post, I will give it a simple introduction. Ladies and gentleman… it is my pleasure to write a Read or Watch post on one of the most iconic Batman stories ever written: The Killing Joke.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

Batman is pretty dark on a good day, but I have to say that The Killing Joke is probably one of the darker comics in the Batman universe. According to the back, all it takes is one. bad. day.

batman-the-killing-jokeThe Joker breaks out of Arkham (not a huge surprise), but then he goes on one of his darkest and more vicious sprees with a goal to prove that the difference between sanity and insanity is simply one bad day. If you haven’t read The Killing Joke (what are you waiting for?!), I won’t spoil how he attempts to prove his point, but just know that it involves many of the main characters in the Batman universe and it changes their world forever. It is violent, disturbing and nightmarish. It is the psychotic Joker that people flock to see but cringe at when he makes such an appearance. This is the Joker on a mission, and that is always the scariest thing of all.

Art-wise, it is glorious. It is beautiful and so well planned out. The colours are bright and vivid. If you pick up a copy, please pick up The Deluxe Edition, coloured by Brian Bolland as he originally wanted it to be coloured. It adds to the atmosphere of the story and makes the images all the more vivid and shocking. This story is definitely not for the faint of heart. In fact, I wouldn’t say that this is a bad day. I’d say that it is one of the worst days that an individual can experience.

I’ve read this graphic novel three times, and each time it cuts me to the core. As Booklist states, it is “a genuinely chilling portrayal of Batman’s greatest foe.”

To say that this is an iconic story is an understatement. Alan Moore, whether he wanted to or not, cemented certain story lines into the Batman lore. Whether you want to accept the background of the Joker’s beginning as truth or a fevered untrustworthy memory, it is certainly used quite often in writers’ attempts to explain how the Joker came to be. And certainly, I think it is one of the most original and yet, ironic of backstories for the character. He was made this way, because of one bad day. Other characters are irrevocably changed and Moore, possibly unwittingly, created new story lines for them. The effect on the Batman universe was on par with that of A Death in the Family.

The ambiguous ending is probably my absolute favourite. I love not knowing and each time I read it, my mind goes a different way as to what happened once things pan away from the characters.

The Killing Joke is a powerful portrayal of, in my opinion, the greatest villain in comic book history. It illustrates the dark nature of the relationship between Batman and the Joker, and it shows how close to the abyss Batman is, and how hard he tries not to simply jump in.

Batman: The Killing Joke Animated Movie starring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill

Batman: The Killing Joke, Animated Movie gave me the opportunity to see the amazing force of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Bruce Timm on the big screen for the first time. I became a fan of Batman: The Animated Series during my high school years. I never watched it on the television, but through my DVD box sets. By far, my favourite Joker is the animated version voiced by Mark Hamill. In my opinion, Hamill is the voice of the Joker.

The Killing Joke is pretty iconic and considered canon in the Batman universe, despite Alan Moore apparently despising his own work after it was published. It’s dark, violent and unapologetic. I really didn’t expect anything less from the movie.

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To all the people that want it to be an exact representation of the graphic novel, I will say that it is darn close. Nothing is taken away, only added to. It is almost panel for panel, represented on the big screen. And before there is an angry reaction, I will also say that I can understand why. The graphic novel, although considered a standalone, has the entire Batman universe as a background. As a graphic novel reader, writers expect that you have read something beforehand and that they can jump right into the story. With the animated series, it has to be understood that people have, possibly, just watched the animated series and nothing else. Maybe they haven’t read any Batman graphic novels. This is normal. I was one of them. Before I started to read graphic novels a few years ago, my Batman fandom was created because of the movies and television shows. I didn’t have the background stories of the universe as created by the comics and graphic novels. Because of this, I can understand that The Killing Joke would need to be fleshed out and expanded upon.

Before I get into a semi-rant over the anger over the ‘fleshed out’ story line, I will simply talk about the voices and animation. It was a great pleasure to hear the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker, respectively, again on the big screen. When it comes to cartoons, I always give DC a thumbs up. Simply put, they know what they’re doing and the voice actors are always prime and amazing. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are an all-star team and put so much life and character into the rolls they are playing. Animation-wise, it was reminiscent of the Batman: The Animated Series and so I truly enjoyed seeing it on the big screen. It was nostalgic and a pleasure to see again after so many years. I truly enjoyed The Killing Joke and it was a great throw-back to the original, award-winning series that started it all.

I also enjoyed the fact that there were nods to different shows and actors within the movie. American Horror Story was featured as one of the Joker’s henchmen looked startlingly like an actor that frequents that show. Christian Bale was given a nod, as one of his lines that he says in his Batman trilogy was said in The Killing Joke. I particularly liked this nod, because Christian Bale was one of the first actors to try and do in a live movie, what Kevin Conroy does in the animated series, which was to change the voice of Batman and Bruce Wayne. That’s at least how I interpreted the nods, and I enjoyed them greatly.

So, read or watch?

I will put my determination here, and if you want to continue to my rant, you may. So read or watch? From the reviews above, I’m sure you can tell that I enjoyed both versions immensely. I will certainly be purchasing the DVD version of the animated movie.

My ultimate determination is to do both. Read and watch. They are two great mediums and when it comes to DC, you cannot miss out on their cartoons. BUT, please read the graphic novel first. Experience the iconic story as it was meant to be experienced. Experience the art of Brian Bolland and the story of Alan Moore together. It is truly breathtaking. And if the graphic novel is too graphic for you … than maybe the cartoon will be as well. It is the first rated R animated movie for the Batman series.

OKAY… NOW IT’S RANT TIME… APOLOGIES. (There are minor spoilers as to the added story)

Immediately after watching the movie, I went on the internet and saw a review from a website that I follow. I read the first little bit and then skimmed because I began to get angry. Yes, The Killing Joke is fleshed out and a backstory for the movie was created in order to give a little more to the character of Batgirl. Yes, it’s not too kind to Batgirl and people can say that she is objectified at points. Yes, she and Batman have relations. People have a right to be upset, but to pick it apart as if DC is purposely objectifying women and treating them like second-rate individuals in their movies, to me, in my opinion, is a bit too far. I shall do my issues in points so I don’t go completely uncontrolled in a rant.

  1. Batgirl is shown as roaming Gotham City and fighting battles on her own and alongside Batman. Often times, they don’t end successfully and she either loses track of the culprit or gets overpowered. Batman is at times, there to save the day or bring her a coffee afterwards. It’s been said that this shows that Batgirl is second rate to Batman. My feelings, as a woman, are that she’s not second rate, but she certainly isn’t level with the skills of Batman. If we look at the universe of Batman, he has been training and building his body and skills since he was a young man. He’s gone to many countries and learned numerous different ways of fighting; that being said, Batman has also been broken and beaten. He gets shot; he builds up different suits to make him stronger so that he can better deal with his opponents. Shall we all look at what happened when he battled Bane?? His back was broken. So do I feel that Batgirl was treated as a second rate fighter because she was a woman? No. Do I feel that she is equal to the fighting abilities of Batman, though? No. She is a young woman that is strong enough to fight criminals. The fact that she sometimes loses but gets back up shouldn’t make it seem like she’s being portrayed negatively. She simply needs help sometimes. But so does Batman. He wouldn’t have sidekicks if he was able to do it all on his own.
  2. Regarding the relations between Batgirl and Batman. The comment of objectification has been stated again, and my response is: it takes two to tango. Batman doesn’t undress but she does. Ummm, that happens multiple times with Batman. He never takes off his cowl! The same happens with Catwoman in The New 52 series! It happened. Also, it’s Batgirl’s choice to undress and during an impromptu meeting where passion takes over and sense is lost, different states of undress occur. Also, the next day it’s portrayed as a mistake and Batman’s avoidance of her is discussed as disgusting. Once again, Batman isn’t known for his lovey-dovey personality and if you want to analyze them as if they are real people, please allow that as real people, they make mistakes. As real adult people, those mistakes certainly happen between friends and are of a more serious nature. Give them that. Batgirl/Barbara Gordon throughout the cartoons has always had a crush on Batman/Bruce Wayne and so it certainly makes sense to me that they’ve crossed that line when both of them were not thinking. I’d be more accepting of an argument that it was daddy issues because of their age gap.
  3. Last but not least: Batman is discussed as dictatorial and emotionless. Ummm, once again, have we met Batman?? See above about lovey-dovey personality. But let’s examine him as a real person. He’s witnessed the murder of his mother and father as a young child. He lost a Robin to a brutal murder. He’s goes out every night to deal with the worst of the worst types of criminals and psychopaths. Who wouldn’t be dictatorial and emotionless?? In my opinion, he’s lucky he doesn’t have more issues. So once again, if we are going to analyze Batman as a real person, give him at least a little bit of credit that his personality issues are not worse for what he has seen and experienced. He is ‘dictatorial’ to all of his sidekicks and ‘emotionless’ for a reason. A real person probably wouldn’t fair as well; so if we want to criticize Batman for something, let us criticize that it’s not like reality, but then, isn’t that why we read about him and other superheroes?

I like Batman for a reason. In my opinion, he is more real than most superheroes because he is simply a man trying to fight his own form of justice. As he has stated, he comes very close to dropping into the abyss. His universe is dark, gritty and disturbing. Each character is a psychological study and as such, they have flaws. I’ve talked to people that do not like Batman for his lack of super powers, but I like Batman because he is human. And as a human, he is just as imperfect as everyone else. When watching or reading Batman, one has to remember that. The Killing Joke was a cartoon. It was meant to be enjoyed and give homage to a graphic novel that became canon in the Batman universe. In my opinion, I think it did a great job.

When thinking of Batman I always go back to the Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

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