Thursday, November 24, 2016

On DVD: Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

In 1987, DC Comics made an editorial decision to have Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, retire her costumed alter-ego. A few months later, Alan Moore & Brian Bolland's graphic novel, The Killing Joke, appeared to have changed Barbara's life forever. Paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by the Joker, who subsequently abducted her father, Commissioner James Gordon, Barbara would later adopt the alias of Oracle as a information broker to her brothers-&-sisters-in-arms.

The Killing Joke also offered what could've been construed as the origin of the Joker, a simple, nameless engineer-turned-aspiring comic struggling to make ends meet for his wife and unborn child. Desperate, he volunteers to help some small-time crooks rob a factory next to his former employers. However, that robbery is thwarted by the Batman, and the Red Hood takes the fatal plunge into a chemical bath. We know the rest of the story, of course.

Warner Bros. Animation adapted the graphic novel into its first R-rated DTV, but with some slight alterations.

For starters, the film begins with a prologue, narrated by Barbara (Tara Strong), chronicling an otherwise untold case she and Batman (Kevin Conroy) had been working on. What this ultimately leads to has also been considered controversial in some corners of fandom. Allow me to explain.

The vision of writer-producers-animators Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, beginning sometime around Batman Beyond at the turn of the century, suggested that there was more than a student-teacher relationship between Batgirl & Batman, which ran contrary to what was being written in DC books off-&-on since 1976. DC editors thought it might add some spice to some Batgirl-Robin team-ups by having the Teen Wonder flirt with the Dominoed Dare-Doll, who, if you do the math, would actually be at least 6-10 years Robin's senior. What Dini & Timm were doing was taking a minor plot thread from the final season of the live-action Batman, as the producers of that series sought to pair Bruce Wayne with Barbara as a couple. It didn't take for a variety of reasons.

Of course, there is the camp that would rather buy into the belief that DC editors have already decided that Catwoman is meant to be Batman's true love, which of course explains the puppy love between their younger selves on Gotham, and that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish all by itself.

If you've read The Killing Joke, and chances are some of you have in the nearly 30 years since its release, you know how this plays. Yes, the Joker (Mark Hamill) kidnaps James Gordon (Ray Wise, Fresh Off The Boat), and paralyzes Barbara, unaware of her now-former guise of Batgirl. Yes, Batman tracks his prey to a carnival that the Clown Prince of Crime recently acquired. And, yes, there is that ending that had a lot of people talking back in 1988.

Bolland's original artwork leaps from the printed page to the screen in all of its magnificent glory. Moore has long disassociated himself from DC and Marvel, due to the former fumbling the ball, if you will, on an earlier adaptation of one of his works. Comics fans know that, 5 years ago, someone at DC decided to give Barbara back the use of her legs and the cape & cowl of Batgirl after 23 years as a female Ironside. One wonders how long it would take to remold that into a sequel to The Killing Joke, if they even think of it.

Here's a trailer.

Hamill plays the pre-Joker schlub as well, and you tend to forget that his range as an actor is more than Joker and Luke Skywalker. Some will look at the movie and wonder why, aside from the violence, the movie is rated R, when the love scene between Batgirl and Batman was actually rather tame in comparison to how a similar scene between Batman & Catwoman was depicted in the latter's mag 5 years ago. Language isn't too salty, either, and the graphic photos of Barbara taken by the Joker are actually downplayed and go by very quickly.

Rating: A.

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