Alan Moore’s one-shot comic The Killing Joke redefined Batman’s arch-nemesis: The Joker. What in the 1960s had been a goofy prankster, The Joker (in the 80s) was redefined as a impulsive homicidal maniac, unable to control his base actions. The real genius though of Alan Moore was to add a level of pathos just beneath the crazy. Moore re-contextualized Bill Finger’s Joker origin, turning the master criminal of yore into a sad sack comedian with the worst luck imaginable.
Adapting such a seminal comic seems like a herculean task – but directors Bruce Timm & Sam Liu have done just that, bringing the perennial Batman and Joker (Kevin Conroy & Mark Hamill) to the story that defined their relationship for decades to come. At Comic Con, the cast and filmmakers screened Batman: The Killing Joke and discussed bringing the comic to the screen. For highlights from the panel and thoughts on the film, read below.
- Director Bruce Timm stated there wasn’t enough material in the graphic novel to make up a full feature. “The original story is so tight. It would only be thirty minutes.” To make The Killing Joke feature-length, Timm & co-director Sam Liu added a number of insert scenes to give the film time to breathe. They also added an extended prologue with Barbara Gordon. “We gave Barbara Gordon her own mini-movie,” Timm revealed.
- Tara Strong (Barbara Gordon) confided this was the darkest Batman film she’s ever appeared in. “We go really dark and emotional in this one. More so than ever before…”
- Kevin Conroy said the key to performing Batman over all these years is to “find a consistency and keep him true.” The fans know more about the Batman legacy than anyone else and Conroy said he would “hear in a second if his performance was inauthentic.”
- Per Conroy: The Killing Joke unlike previous Batman animated films is “a psycho-drama.” It’s not just action and Batman punching people – this film focuses instead on more internal and verbal confrontations.
- Ray Wise, as the neophyte of the group, started fresh with his Commissioner Gordon. Wise had been a Batman fan since he was eight year olds. “I just loves bats period,” the actor joked. Wise said his Commissioner Gordon goes right to the edge. “I had to make a lot of grunts and groans and screams. It was a wonderful time.”
Writer Brian Azzarello praised Mark Hamill’s performance. “Mark’s performance is so chilling” he stated, “All The Joker stuff that he’s done before has been leading up to this.” Bruce Timm echoed Azzarello’s sentiments, stating that when they were piecing the movie together – they would just stop and watch Hamill’s performance.
- Bruce Timm and Brian Azzarello confided that they had a lot of difficulty figuring out how to adapt The Killing Joke’s controversial ending. Everyone they talked to had a different interpretation of just what happens in those final panels. Azzarello needed to figure out a way to keep the ending ambiguous but still make it still feel like an ending. He wanted to be sure the ending held true for whatever interpretation of the graphic novel you had.
Thoughts on The Killing Joke
Half of The Killing Joke – the half that’s super faithful, sometimes word-for-word panel-by-panel, to Alan Moore’s original comic – terrifically builds on its source material, turning The Joker into a tragic movie-monster and its hero Batman into, well, just a monster. This simple inversion feels just as fresh and shocking now as it did in 1988 – and when the film is just Batman (Kevin Conroy) & The Joker (Mark Hamill), talking, arguing and, most surprisingly, confiding in one another – it’s the best DC animated film yet. The last fifteen minutes, in particular, are probably the best work Hamill’s ever done as The Clown Prince of Crime.
However there’s not enough material in The Killing Joke to make a feature – so directors Bruce Timm & Sam Liu have added an extended prologue focusing almost exclusively on Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong). The prologue never quite gels with the rest of the film. It feels tacked on like a short before the actual feature. Thematically the prologue feels off, too light and silly for the heavy profundity of what follows. There’s some lip service given to Batman’s darker inclinations, but a majority of the first thirty-minutes focus on the will-they-won’t-they romance of Batman & Batgirl. So there’s endless scenes of Barbara confiding to her gay civilian best friend about the ‘guy at yoga’ and an awkward ‘the night after’ that feels lifted directly from a romantic-comedy. This could be subversive in its own right – turning The Dark Knight into a Sandra-Bullock rom-com – but it feels tonally jarring tacked on haphazardly to The Killing Joke.
Ultimately – you’re better off turning the movie on thirty to forty minutes in and just watching the actual Killing Joke portion of the animated feature.
The Killing Joke premieres in select cinemas Monday.