Batman: The Killing Joke Review
The Greatest Joker Story Ever Told... Badly
Alan Moore’s 28 year old one-shot, The Killing Joke, is arguably the best Joker-centric graphic novel ever published, but it was never long enough to be adapted into a feature film.The Killing Joke’s backstory to the Joker fuelled the same in Tim Burton’s original Batman film and inspired Heath Ledger’s defining depiction in The Dark Knight, but as a tale in its own right, the 48 page one-shot was simply not long enough to make for an entire story; not without padding. Telling the story chronologically might have worked, but the trouble was that the flashback element involving The Joker’s ill-fated tour under the Red Hood would have likely trodden too closely to that seen in the aforementioned first Burton Batman outing.It would have undoubtedly been preferable to the approach that they did take, which was to spend almost half of the runtime telling a disjointed and poorly conceived tale of Batman’s interaction with his latest partner, Batgirl (here depicted in a post-Jason Todd universe, where The Joker has already dispatched Batman's last partner); the burgeoning chemistry between the two spilling over into an unnecessarily realised romantic interaction which changes the dynamic not only to their relationship but to the entire story itself.
Many have suggested that the best approach to take is to skip right to the Killing Joke adaptation proper, over 35 minutes into the runtime. It’s a faithful, often frame-for-frame, retelling of the source material, charting The Joker’s quest to show that all it takes is one bad day to turn even the sanest individual into a raving madman, and deciding that the person he wants to drive insane is none other than Commissioner Gordon.
After the fantastic job they did with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, it's a shame this went so awry
It’s a legendary story, bringing back together the definitive Batman and Joker voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and they do their best with the material but it’s so tainted by the new prelude that the end result seems abortive and anticlimactic, and is certainly not assisted by the somewhat lazy animation style (or lack thereof) which appears to be a quick-and-dirty way to visually realise the comic book panels with little thought towards giving the feature a more atmospheric look, as opposed to the excellent adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The Killing Joke is still a great Joker tale – and a great Batman one too – but it deserved better than this.