Batman is arguably a top two superhero of all time. Where you place him in that top two is up to you, but you will be hard pressed to find two superheroes above him in terms of popularity and longevity. Of course, while Batman lands in the top level of superheroes, his most deviant nemesis ranks right up there in popularity among villains. Outside of Darth Vader, is there any villain more popular than the Joker?
Fans have long petitioned for the most acclaimed and controversial Batman stories ever to get the animated treatment. Marvel may have a strong grip in leading live-action, but no one does animated comic book films (or shows) like WB/DC. It’s funny, because when I mention Darth Vader, the connection between Star Wars and the Joker actually falls in place in that for many fans, the definitive Joker voice is that of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker). Batman the Animated Series is a staple in any fans life. Fans have been wanting Hamill to reprise his role, but his one desire was The Killing Joke. And after so many years, fans finally get, and so does Hamill, what they wished for.
If you’ve never read the story, I will warn you that there are spoilers that follow, so read the story first or watch the film. If you’ve read the story, there is an added piece that I will not spoil.
The Killing Joke is one of the few origin type stories for the Joker. We see flashbacks of what led him to become who he is. Is this really his history? It is hard to really know. To the Joker, it might be, or it might not be. He’s such a complex and disturbed individual, that his origin in my opinion is better off left a mystery. However, in Killing Joke, his story would make one actually feel somewhat sorry for him. A husband trying to do all he can for his pregnant wife but just can’t seem to make ends meet. Most of us husbands have been there. And then he has that one bad day, that day where his world is changed forever. He makes a decision to turn to crime as a means to get paid. It was supposed to be one time, and he would have enough money to give his wife all she ever wants and needs. Then the news about the accident came. What is the point now, he has nothing. But he’s forced to take the job anyway, and his first encounter with Batman leaves him a pool of toxic chemicals and thus, the Joker is born.
So that’s his origin within the story, but the story deals with the modern day as well. Joker has broken out of Arkham again. And this time, it is different. He’s not on a mission to cause major chaos, he’s out to prove a point. He visits the home of Commissioner Gordon, and the biggest controversy in the history of Batgirl happens. After shooting Barbara Gordon in the stomach point blank, rendering her paralyzed, his men kidnap the Commissioner. However, Joker stays behind, with his camera, and undresses her and rapes her. In the comic, this was always open ended with the possibility that he made it seem like he did, but the film leaves no doubt when Harvey tells Batman.
If you’ve read the book, you know what the rest of the story entails. I’m going to highlight two things in this film that really stood out. First was the addition of a Batgirl narration and story before the actual story. There are some controversial things that happens, and although the screen writer and director feel that they helped make Batgirl stronger, I definitely disagree. I feel as if what was presented degraded the character. She may have come out of everything stronger, but we all know she did that anyway without this added element. I won’t spoil it, but what happened left me with an upset stomach. To me, it didn’t match the characters.
With that out of the way, we can see where it ties in to the backend of the story. But this story was the Joker’s attempt to prove that one bad day can make a normal person crazy, just like it did to him. Joker thought he broke Gordon. He humiliated him, and on top of that, showed him what he did to his daughter. Any dad would go crazy, I know I would. I’d want to kill him for it. But when Batman arrived and got Gordon out, pursuing the Joker was Gordon’s idea. But he told Batman to do it by the book. Joker thought he broke him, but he didn’t. The resolve was strong and it shows us that one bad day shouldn’t take away who we have made ourselves to be. Evil is strong, sin is strong and at times it will knock us into a deep pit and attempt to break us to the point of no return. The Devil tried that with Job, but his faith and resolve allowed him to come out unbroken and stronger. The Joker was so sure of himself that anyone can be broken until he was confronted with the one man that cannot.
Batman is a great hero, but I wonder sometimes if he’s the hero we really want to model. He’s gone to that dark bottom, and it has changed him. He’s a flawed hero who has been broken many times and in this film he comes to a realization that the song and dance with the Joker will eventually come to an end. We all have to choose how long we want to dance with sin. Batman could lock the Joker up, but he knows he’ll get out again. We sometimes try to suppress the evil and think we can keep it in check. We ask ourselves maybe we can reconcile it, but it’s too late for that. So we have to come to the point of complete separation. We have to kill the evil so that good can prevail. Batman had more than just the ongoing song and dance, or the humiliation of Gordon. What happened to Batgirl confirmed to Batman what he needed to do, and he did it.
Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the few comic book adaptations that is spot on straight from the book. Although I don’t like what was done with the Batgirl arc of the story, the actual Killing Joke story is strong, disturbing, and shows us that we have a choice to either let evil prevail or look at it straight on and tell it “that was your best shot, but I’m still not broken”
You can purchase the film July 26 on digital HD or on Blu-Ray August 2.