Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the definitive stories from Batman’s lengthy reign across pop culture. Written by Alan Moore and with art by Brian Bolland, the original 1988 graphic novel looks at the relationship between The Dark Knight and The Joker, while adding some strong back story to the Clown Prince of Crime. It is seen as one of the go-to texts for those wanting to bring The Joker to life and the book inspired a lot of elements in Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
The Killing Joke sees The Joker (Mark Hamill) escape from Arkham Asylum only to seriously injury Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) and kidnap Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise). Batman (Kevin Conroy) takes the attacks personally and sets out to bring The Joker to Justice – no matter what the end result is.
Sam Liu’s adaptation gets a lot of the right in the straight-up adaptation of the Moore-Bolland book, almost delivering a panel for panel, shot for shot adaptation. However, in an attempt to add an extra layer to the story, they add a 30 minute prologue to the story that feels out of place. The purpose is to give Barbara Gordon some character development before she’s attacked by The Joker and it’s a noble aim, but it feels (and is) totally unconnected to the rest of the plot. It’s obvious that the two are unconnected, and it will only irritate fans who have come to watch an adaptation of the seminal comic book story. I don’t mind additions to a plot, but make it feel organic, rather than a tack-on.
Animation-wise, the film looks great – and a lot like Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series (a Movies In Focus favourite from back in the day). However, as great as the film looks, it’s just not as good looking as Brian Bolland’s beautiful artwork. The Animated Series vibe is furthered by the sterling voice work by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (the best thing here). There’s greatness itching to get out.
Batman: The Killing Joke is well made and enjoyable, however the film should have just focused on the plot of the book rather than trying to expand on it. It’s not a disaster – but this should have been an animated classic!
The blu-ray of Batman: The Killing Joke comes with an impressive section of bonus material. You get episodes of The New Batman Adventures and Batman: The Animated Series, documentaries Madness Set To Music and Many Shades Of The Joker and a selection of trailers. All good stuff.