Alan Moore seems to have bad luck when it comes to film adaptations of his work. Watchmen brought in mixed reviews and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen made Sean Connery retire from acting. Moore’s material is very hard to adapt to screen and can either be very compelling or very dull. “The Killing Joke” is one of those graphic novels. It’s considered one of the best Batman stories because not only does it have the closest thing to a Joker origin story, but it also shows how similar Batman and Joker are. Writers Brian Azzarello and Bruce Timm tried their best to bring the 40 page novel to life. While they were able to pull off the actual story, their attempt to humanize Barbara Gordon puts a very bad taste in viewers’ mouths.
The graphic novel is also considered highly controversial due to the subject matter revolving about Barbara Gordon. After a surprise visit from The Joker, she’s shot and paralyzed from the neck. Then The Joker proceeds to undress her and take pictures of her naked body to drive her father, Jim Gordon, insane. This could be considered the lowest point of Batgirl’s existence because the only reason for her existence is to move Batman’s narrative along. So it seemed like Azzarello had good intentions when he announced that he would add a Batgirl narrative into the film as well, but he couldn’t have been further away from the mark.
The Killing Joke starts off with a 20 minute prologue in Barbara Gordon’s point of view. She and Batman are working on a case against a narcissistic mob boss named Paris Franz (yes, really). However, things seem to be tense between the two of them because Barbara has developed a schoolgirl crush on him. This sexual tension resolves in an awkward rooftop sex scene that’s supposed to be a romantic encounter between two emotionally weak people. In Batman’s history, he and Barbara Gordon have only been a romantic couple once (and even that got backlash). The rest of the time, they’ve literally been a family. Batman has always been Batgirl’s mentor, so to see her hook up with Bruce Wayne was like watching a teacher and his student get it on. And when she’s not fighting crime in the night time, she’s in the library talking about boys with her gossipy friend (who is a very offensive stereotype of a gay character). It completely diminishes Batgirl’s character and makes her seem like a lovesick puppy rather than the strong woman she’s always been. The film focuses more on her boobs and butt rather than her actual skills as a superhero.
Even though Azzarello plugged in that bit for us to feel something for Barbara when she meets her tragic fate, it didn’t even do that for us. The first half felt so uneven that it felt like an incomplete episode rather than a prologue. Once we get to the actual material, you completely forget about the first 20 minutes because they never address it again.
Fortunately, The Killing Joke starts to pick up the pace once they get to the actual comic book. It’s a close adaptation of the graphic novel with only a few slight changes here and there. It’s not the definitive Joker story that we all wanted, but it’s good enough to stay interested in.
Of course, that is all kept together by the iconic duo, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Thankfully, Hamill’s talents didn’t completely go to waste as he still was able to make the Joker completely his own and bring us back to the good ole days. It was a dream come true hearing Hamill recite the “One Bad Day” monologue in his classic, slimy voice. It feels like you are taking the journey of madness with him and don’t want to stop.
Even though Azzarello had good intentions in trying to give Barbara a story, he should have kept The Killing Joke strictly between Batman and The Joker. Yes, having Batgirl getting stuffed in the fridge is less than ideal, but completely sexualizing her for no reason feels even worse. However, make sure not to call him out on his bullshit or he’ll just call you a pussy. If Azzarello wanted to make a Batgirl film, he should adapt a Batgirl comic. On second thought, maybe he shouldn’t.