Alan Moore is the closest thing to a god when it comes to comic book writers. He has had a hand in so many great titles that it goes without saying that he is the most celebrated mind in comics. If you claim to be a comic book enthusiast and don’t have a copy of Watchmen on your shelf, prepare for the scrutiny. It’s just how it is.
Many of Moore’s best titles have been given the Hollywood treatment. Some of them have been very good films – V for Vendetta remains one of my favorite flicks – while others have been panned – League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, sorry, that’s for you. From Hell and the aforementioned Watchmen had mixed reviews – I enjoyed them both – but regardless of what film critics thought, Alan Moore had the same reaction for every adaptation of his works: a big raspberry.
After Watchmen, Moore’s most celebrated work is in the form of Batman: The Killing Joke. Much like Watchmen, a true comic book bibliophile would raise an eyebrow of a fellow reader that didn’t already own this series. It’s considered the defining Batman and Joker story, and was so celebrated that aspects of this series became canon for Barbara Gordon, changing her from Batgirl into the Oracle.
That last bit led has to a bit of controversy, especially in recent years, where rampant over-analyzing regarding anything towards women has become a sort of hobby for the Twitterverse. In short, a lot of loud, outrage-addicted people with nothing better to do with their time claim that Moore chose to glamorize the assault and rape of Barbara Gordon. Defenders of the comic argue that this despicable act carried out by the Joker was used to help the Joker achieve his goal: breaking Commissioner Gordon’s mind.
When filmmakers decided to make The Killing Joke, they spoke about remaining faithful to the work while also revisiting the way in which Barbara Gordon was handled. It was intended to assuage everyone, a tactic that so many have attempted with futile results.
So, did The Killing Joke make good on its promise?
1. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill
Look, no matter how many major cinematic features you watch, it’s hard to argue against either of these guys in their respective roles. Conroy channels the Batman so well. His delivery is authentic and consistent: Batman is no-nonsense and determined to make wrongs right. He speaks with coldness that brokers no chance for an argument. It’s fantastic. There’s a blandness to Batman, but in many ways that’s what works so well against a gallery of rogues that are so colorful.
Mark Hamill is the Joker. It’s amazing that while we will be debating the effectiveness of the newest Joker next weekend with the release of Suicide Squad, we get an early treat for the guy that’s been Joker way more than anyone else…and that he again nails it. Every delivery dances a tightrope between lunacy and malevolence. The viewer isn’t sure what the hell Joker will do next. And it’s because of Hamill that it works so well.
2. The second half of the story
We will get to the first half…oh trust me.
The second half of the story is the source material, where Joker does his damnedest to break down Jim Gordon with funhouse mirrors, weirdness, and images of the degradation of Barbara. It’s cold and horrifying when the viewer attempts to sit in Gordon’s shoes. Such a psychological attack is brutal in its effectiveness.
We get the battle of the minds, followed by Batman’s arrival to set things straight. We even get the finale, pulled straight from the panels to give us that oh-so ambiguous ending. It’s solid work, and pays great homage to Moore’s work.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK:
2. The first half
These two things go hand-in-hand, so I didn’t see the point of being redundant.
In the source material, Barbara Gordon is critically wounded by the Joker, and is then molested by him. There is rape implied. It’s a dark part of the story. It made a lot of people mad. It’s caused a lot of controversy.
But, in my opinion, it’s that anger that proves it works as part of the story. This evil, twisted man does this reprehensible thing: is that so hard to believe? Our culture suddenly makes rape a point of outrage when it is used in any media: even Game of Thrones has been blasted for “glamorizing” rape. Never mind that that rape of Sansa was meant to show that Ramsay was just the most awful human being…because rape is terrible. Rape is the worst thing a person can do. And while it should be handled carefully in fiction, to cry foul whenever it is used seems a bit over the top.
So, what did filmmakers do in order to try and fix this?
They gave Batgirl the first half. They showed her in action against a creep named “Paris Franz”. They illustrated her strength and capability as a crime fighter. They made her infatuated with Batman and gave her a sex scene with Batman….wait, what?!
That last bit was…uncomfortable. I’ve always viewed Batman as a father figure to the rest of the Bat family. The various Robins are his sons. Batgirl is his daughter. So having Batman and Batgirl have rooftop sex is, well, weird. I mean, Batgirl having unrequited love for her mentor is fine. It happens. But to have him give in and bone her? Eww. Just…just no.
It almost completely wrecked their plan altogether, because now not only does Barbara get shot and possibly raped…but she’s also a lovelorn woman that just can’t live without Batman. Not sure how that leads to female empowerment.
The first half works without the Batman fixation and especially without the sex scene. Batgirl is a badass when you eliminate those parts. For everyone crying foul about Moore’s work, it topples the effort and makes it all a little worse.
Then again, for someone like me, it didn’t really hurt the story. Except Batman shouldn’t be boning Batgirl. Just no.
It’s a solid effort, with great performances overshadowing some really weird story decisions. It’s not so good to call it a “must see,” but it is definitely worth a viewing.
All opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deck Ape...or anyone else. Arrr!