Within the superhero franchise, one thing is almost always done: An origin story. Often both the heroes, and the villains they usually had a hand in creating, are given a chance to show they were normal once, just everyday people, but then they had one bad day. So comes The Killing Joke in which The Joker, a villain probably only second to Lucifer in media, we learn of his origins. Well, at least one of them.
Blood & Implied Rape
Characters Worth Noting
Batman (Kevin Conroy) | Joker (Mark Hamill) | Barbara (Tara Strong) | Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise)
Main Storyline (with Commentary)
For nearly half of the animated film, you wonder when is the Joker arriving? What we watch are the final days of Batgirl and learn of not only her romantic feelings for Batman, maybe Bruce in extension, but that the two had sex. All of which, due to me not reading the source material, seemed rather odd. Then again, Bruce Wayne is basically James Bond without government oversight so naturally, if he is going to have a movie, he has to have a love interest right?
But then that iconic moment happens. One which, honestly, even with all the time we spend with Barbara, I can’t say was built up to that well. Be it the animation, the dialog, or everything up to that point just seeming like another Saturday morning episode, when the moment comes when Barbara is shot, there are no tears or even feelings of being shocked. Well, at least until we see Joker unbutton her blouse and realize murder and robbery aren’t Joker’s only favorite crimes.
Yet you may wonder, what about his origins? Well, to sum it up, this go around it is about a failed comedian who was going to help the mob in a robbery. However, between security and Batman those plans got ruined. Add on Joker, whose real name is never said, ended up losing his wife and baby that day in a freak accident, you get what maybe in live-action could have been decent, but animated it never felt hard hitting at all.
Memories are what our reason is based on. If we deny them, we deny reason itself.
— Batman: The Killing Joke
Honestly, the sole highlight is the idea of the Batman property having an animated movie which was a bit mature. It had cursing, sexual situations, and while the overall product I wouldn’t say would be worth paying for, I’d say wait till it comes on TV or just read the source, at least there can never be an argument that Batman can’t be something rated R or even a hard PG-13.
To begin, this movie seems like something which would need a better build. Like, in my mind, I would have wished that on Toonami, Cartoon Network, or what have you, there would have been multiple seasons leading to this moment. A serious with the same tone and type of content. For while the Batman property, especially the shooting of Barbara Gordon, is known, even covered in one of the Arkham games, the importance of the moment I just didn’t feel translated well to this animated picture.
For one, going in you recognize Barbara is important as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter and as Batgirl, but it rarely feels that way. Granted, she does rescue Batman in one scene, but outside of that, she seems like a liability. Not only because of her ego when it comes to villains taunting her, but also because her admiration for Batman turns into either love or lust. Something touched on for the two have sex. Which, to me, seemed out of place for there was nothing coming from Batman, or Bruce, implying he had feelings for Barbara. It is just those two fighting over something, her pinning him down, and then sexy time. Almost like, being this is an action movie starring a man and woman, it is an obligation for the two to have sex.
Yet, the real issue comes from, as noted, no build or rather, the build being weak. One can argue that all the first half hour was supposed to do was make Barbara likable, but it didn’t. She was just like the rest of the Robins. They admired this man but with her being a girl, she took it to the next level. But what does this do really? We don’t get to learn about her, we don’t see her beginnings of Batgirl or her relationships with Batman. We come in at the tail end of their relationship and a week later she is shot, likely raped, and paralyzed.
Leading to the topic of The Joker’s part in this. Those flashbacks featuring his wife, in those scenes I begin to understand why a lot of these DC and Marvel properties went with live action adaptations instead of animated. There is just something that the same animation that DC/Marvel have been using since the 90s, with slight upgrades, can’t convey that a human face can. Which makes Joker’s origin lack sentiment, a hook which could inspire empathy, and with that, it makes his wife’s death and him going mad do nothing. Heck, even his whole point in shooting Barbara, that one bad day could change everything, feels weak even with him raping Gordon’s daughter, shooting her, and having Gordon spend a good portion of his day naked around characters who look straight out of American Horror Story: Freak Show.
I mean, the reason behind the Skip It label is because this film feels unworthy of being about The Joker. Yes, Mark Hamill is voicing the character even after once saying he would retire from doing so, but what is a voice without a good story and dialog? What is a voice amongst no real build to make it so when that iconic laugh comes out, you may not be in fear but you are excited or surprised by what he may do or did? In the end, something about this film seems botched in a way which shouldn’t easily be forgiven.