After enduring a rather financially successful two-day theatrical run – amid much controversy pertaining to its content – Batman: The Killing Joke has arrived on Blu-Ray for the viewing pleasure of adult Batman fans everywhere. I say that because the film is R-rated, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me or anyone else who is already familiar with the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, of which it is based on.
Before I discuss the various bells and whistles included on the home video release, allow me to discuss the film itself for a bit, as you are no doubt curious as to what I thought of it. Although my analysis will be somewhat non-linear in nature, I feel it’s the best way to talk about the material and you will certainly see why.
First, let’s go over what was adapted from comic book to screen. In that regard, The Killing Joke is an animated triumph. Much like previous adaptations such as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, it’s extremely faithful to its source material, while adding a few flourishes to spice things up for viewers. What differs those two works from The Killing Joke is that this offering sees the return of stalwart fan favorites Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and The Joker, respectively.
While the other two films I mentioned included some fine voice actors, I feel that it’s for the best Conroy and Hamill were involved in this project due to it being such an intensive psychological look at their respective characters. In a way, it’s almost a culmination of a quarter century (!) of lending their pipes to these pop culture icons. Every single emotional nuance is captured by these two men, especially Hamill, who had to flesh out The Joker’s background – even if it’s preferred to be multiple choice.
Regardless of whether you’ve been a fan of Moore and Bolland’s seminal work since 1988 or are a newbie, you have an adapted work of The Killing Joke to forever hold onto. If you don’t like the prologue, you can simply go straight to the adaptation itself via the sorcery that is known as scene selection.
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As for the prologue that sparked a veritable internet brushfire, I’m of the ilk that didn’t mind it at all. In my view, it, along with the mid-credits scene, really fleshed out the character of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and didn’t diminish her as a superhero or woman in the slightest.
I’m fully aware that not everyone sees eye to eye when it comes to pairing Batman and Batgirl in a sexual manner, but in the context of this film it totally worked. It’s not uncommon for people who work together in the field to become romantically involved, regardless of whether it leads to an actual relationship or a mere tryst. The fact that the two vigilantes got caught up in the moment was entirely believable and doesn’t portray anyone in a negative light. I think many people misinterpreted Batman’s handling of the situation by overlooking the fact that he’s a troubled and emotionally distant person. If anything, the prologue makes the events of The Killing Joke proper even more personal when he sees his would be lover paralyzed by a psychopath.
Although the added material would have been strengthened had it had something to do with The Joker, what it does do is create a connective thread asking what happens when a person is standing at the edge of the abyss and what choice they will ultimately make. We know after The Joker had a bad day, he went “loonyyyy.” Barbara stood on a precipice as she nearly beat Paris Franz to death before having to take a step back and discover the vigilante life wasn’t for her. It had nothing to do with her forfeiting her identity as some interpreted.
Her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, was taken to the edge as he was forced to endure things no father should have to. And, like his daughter, he didn’t crack and wanted to bring in Joker by the book. It’s entirely debatable as to what Batman did at the end. For years, many have theorized that Batman actually finally snaps and kills his nemesis. This notion may not have been lost on the filmmakers because when viewing the movie with subtitles on, they blatantly point out that Joker stops laughing while Batman continues to cackle manically as the screen fades to black.
The Blu-Ray release presents this experience with great sound and picture quality. The colors pop and you’ll find yourself lost in the universe that is Gotham City. I used to question how cartoons can look any better on Blu-Ray, but believe me, they can. You may not see blemishes on characters’ faces as you would with a live action film, but the visuals are certainly more astonishing.
As for the bonus features, we’re not exactly given an onslaught of them, but what’s there is entertaining. My favorites of the bunch had to be “Batman: The Killing Joke: The Many Shades of The Joker,” which delves into the psychological underpinnings of the film, with the other being a sneak peek at Justice League Dark, the next DC Universe animated movie.
Once again, two bonus cartoons from the WB Vault are included: “Christmas with The Joker” from Batman: The Animated Series and “Old Wounds” from The New Batman Adventures. While I think there were episodes more relevant to the source material they could have chosen, I understand why they went with what they did after giving it some thought. The former includes the Laffco toy factory, which was given reference via the Batcomputer screen in the feature. The latter, while focusing largely on Nightwing, chronicles yet another sidekick of Batman disagreeing with his methods and breaking out on their own.
Overall, I certainly think that the shelves of Batman fans are incomplete until one adorns them with Batman: The Killing Joke. Controversy aside, superhero character pieces rarely become so probing as this.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a triumph in superhero animation and is a must own for any fan over the age of 18.