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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review - Batman: The Killing Joke

I've blogged before about how I've grown bored with the DC/Warner Brothers straight-to-DVD animated films.  So much of the same old Batman and Superman, that I'm longing for something new.  I've skipped the last three or so (although, seeing Starfire's Sailor Moon-inspired transformation from Justice League vs. Teen Titan makes me want to check that out.)  But, their most recent one has been one of the most demanded ever since DC and Warner Brothers launched this project.  So it's time to check out...

Batman: The Killing Joke Blu-Ray cover

Batman: The Killing Joke

Directed by Sam Liu

Starring the voices of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise, Robin Atkin Downes, John DiMaggio, Brian George, and Nolan North


Batman: The Killing Joke is considered to be one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.  Alongside Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, it's one of the book that brought Batman back to his "dark avenger of the night" roots, and ushered in the "grim, gritty, and realistic" attitude in comics that persists to this very day.  Which is why I'm kinda sad to say I've never read it.  Read about it, read many summaries online, flipped through it in bookstores several times.  But never actually read it.  So I may be the wrong guy to offer up some thoughts on it.  
As to it's popularity, this is already one of the highest-selling Blu-Rays in the DC/WB series.  It was sold out at all my usual haunts, which is why it took me three weeks to get my hands on a copy.  But, here we are.


Batman makes one last valiant attempt to reach out to the Joker...to bring him back to sanity, only to discover that the Joker has escaped from Arkham once again.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Commissioner Gordon and his daughter Barbara are settling in for some daddy/daughter time, when the Joker busts in, shoots Barbara in the stomach, paralyzing her from the waist down, and then kidnaps Commissioner Gordon.  As Batman goes on the hunt for the Joker, the Joker begins a day of psychological torture on the Commissioner.  In flashbacks, we're told the tale of a struggling stand-up comic who turns to a life of crime to support his pregnant wife.  And it's all so the Joker can prove that the fine line between sanity and madness can be crossed in the course of one bad day. 

Plot #2:  The Controversial Addition

Someone a long time ago decided that these things need to be 75 minutes long.  And, despite all its critical acclaim, The Killing Joke is still just a single issue story.  Padding was needed.  So we're treated to a prologue, detailing Batgirl's final case.  Batman and Batgirl are tracking down a crime lord who goes by Paris Franz, but things take a turn for the creepy when Franz starts developing an interest in Batgirl and gets all stalkery.  While this goes on, Batgirl begins to question the nature of her relationship with Batman and where it's all headed.  Is it just a professional partnership?  Is it romantic?  And how will it all end? 

What I Liked 

As always, the voice acting is amazing.  I dare you to read a Batman comic these days and not hear Kevin Conroy's voice.  He is Batman through and through.  Mark Hamill, again, is fine as the Joker.  He's more reigned in, making the Joker more sinister.  And Tara Strong is still forever my Batgirl.  Animation is good across the board, as it always has been for these films.  The music is good, even reuniting the team that did the music for Batman: The Animated Series back in the day. 

What I Didn't Like

Well, a lot of my problems have to do with the padding...the Batgirl story.  It really does feel like two separate films, as there is a very clear separation between the two.  Don't get me wrong, I love Batgirl, and most adaptation of Batman, there's very little exploration of his relationship with Batgirl.  So I was looking forward to it.  I know, a lot of people don't like it when they hint at a romantic relationship between Batman and Batgirl, but Bruce Timm (the guy in charge of these films) always liked going in that direction, going all the way back to an episode of Batman: The Animated Series where Batgirl had a sexy dream about Batman.  And when Batman and Batgirl had sex, it didn't strike me as something romantic.  It struck me as two friends who got a little too heated one night, wound up in bed together, and then shit got weird between them.  We've seen it in dozens of sitcoms and rom-coms.  So, yeah.  What could have been a good exploration of Batgirl's character just wound up being too cliched. 

Final Verdict

A very fine adaptation of a legendary comic.  But you can skip the first 20 minutes and go straight into The Killing Joke proper. 

3 Nibs

Bonus Features

On the Blu-Ray, you get the usual stuff.  A couple of bonus episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, a featurette on the history of the Joker in comics, a few trailers plugging other DC animated films, and a sneak preview of the next one, Justice League Dark

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