REVIEW: “Batman: The Killing Joke”


The 1988 graphic novel “The Killing Joke” has been heralded as one of the very best Batman stories ever told. I tend agree with that. Writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland’s award-winning work shook the Batman universe to its core and the ripple effect is still being felt.

With such widely held appreciation and popularity, I’m surprised it took until 2016 to get an animated adaptation. It is material that seems ripe for the Warner Brothers Animation treatment especially in light of the popularity of “Batman: The Animated Series” and its feature film one-shots. Then again an argument could be made that it would have been best left alone.

Veteran Batman writer Brian Azzarello handles the screenplay duties and the results are bizarrely uneven. This is namely due to a jarringly out of tune prologue that is completely new to the “Killing Joke” story. In it Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong) becomes the object of a young mobster’s affections. As the thug draws Barbara deeper into his obsession, Batman (Kevin Conroy – the quintessential voice of Batman) grows concerned and demands she backs off.


It seems the entire point of the prologue is to develop the relationship between Barbara and Batman. But there is an added twist that is completely out of left field. It weirdly sexualizes the Barbara Gordon character in a way that feels terribly unnecessary. Even worse it doesn’t connect well with the rest of the movie which turns out to be a pretty faithful representation of the graphic novel. This relationship Azzarello concocts between the two is essentially rendered mute and ineffective.

Once it gets away from its puzzling prologue the movie hits its stride. The Joker (Mark Hamill) finally appears providing a much needed jolt of energy. As expected the animation is spot-on and the voice acting, particularly from “Animated Series” veterans Conroy and Hamill, is one of biggest highlights. Fans of both the novel and “Batman: The Animated Series” will certainly appreciate what the movie eventually becomes. But getting to that point makes for a puzzling ride.




10 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Batman: The Killing Joke”

  1. You’re not the first to point out that the first part of this movie is very weak and not necessary… But I haven’t found the time tonsee it, yet! Sooner or later, I’ll do it!

    • It’s such a weird and meaningless addition to the story. It’s unfortunate because once it gets into telling The Killing Joke story it’s pretty impressive.

  2. Thank you for what you said about Barbara. I’ll go a step further and say that The Killing Joke is wildly sexist for the way it handles her. She’s literally a plot device that is there to be sexually assaulted, seriously injured, and motivate Batman into action. I hate this.

    • I love the Barbara Gordon character. Even after she is paralyzed her role as Oracle is inspiring (especially as the brother of someone handicapped). But I really didn’t care for how this movie depicts her specifically in that first half. It’s completely unnecessary.

  3. I think I saw a bit of it on HBO and I don’t know. I didn’t click with it despite Mark Hamill’s voice performance as the Joker which I love a lot as I don’t think he gets enough credit for his work as the Joker in some of the animated films he does.

  4. Unfortunately, they also fail to get the Joker’s ‘Killing Joke’ in the original! The Joker’s triumph is that he manages to prove that he and the Dark Knight are of the same kind in the end. He provokes genuine laughter from the toughest audience possible, even though the cruel joke is on them. Poetic injustice at its finest.

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