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Tag Archive: Batman: The Killing Joke


Review by C.J. Bunce

Probably the second best-known work writer Alan Moore is known for in the U.S. outside of his Watchmen series, Batman: The Killing Joke was both a retelling of the origin story of The Joker and the story of his using a physical assault on Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl to attempt to torture and ruin Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon.  The book is one of the 1980s big four revolutionary comics (along with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Watchmen) that caused a shift in how superhero stories are told (and it was the only comic director Tim Burton had ever read, setting the tone for the dark 1989 Batman movie featuring Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker that Burton would begin filming only weeks later).  It’s a controversial graphic novel–the sexual assault and gunshot that resulted in Barbara Gordon losing the use of her legs and resulting in her change of persona to the deskbound computer whiz called Oracle angered many readers, and the ending is ambiguous and perplexing–why is Batman laughing at the end of the story?  Following the lead of the Marvel Comics new library of novelized adaptations of comic books and graphic novels, Batman: The Killing Joke is now the first of at least three new hardcover novel adaptations of DC Comics stories (to be followed by Batman: The Court of Owls on November 13, 2018, and Harley Quinn: Mad Love on February 12, 2019) published by Titan Books (also the publisher of the Marvel paperback novels).  Written by Christa Faust (Peepland, Fringe, Supernatural) and Gary Phillips (Violent Spring, Peepshow), their adaptation is a straightforward, faithful take on the graphic novel with a few updates.

The impact of the graphic novel cannot be overstated.  A key draw was the prestige format and the fact the book was a one-shot story, not like the three big predecessor books mentioned above that were monthly single issues compiled into a trade comic.  At the time we didn’t think the story would be absorbed into the regular continuity of DC Comics, but it slowly became a reference point even beyond its impact on Batgirl stories for the next 30 years.  (The book was so popular we couldn’t wait a minute to read it–one of my oldest friends was reading his copy on his music stand during our high school band practice, prompting the band director to throw it across the room, to our horror).

So how is the new novel adaptation?

You can’t really come up with enough synonyms for vile and despicable to describe The Joker in the original story and in this adaptation.  Before this story–and only about nine months before DC Comics would use fans to allow The Joker to kill Batman’s sidekick Robin with a tire iron in the pages of the Batman monthly comic book–The Joker was a bit of a silly villain.  Sure, he was always dastardly and Batman’s age-old key foe, but readers never saw him in such “true crime” acts so explicitly.  This is commonplace in the Batman stories now, but before you wouldn’t find a character shot, stripped naked, and photographed and another one stripped naked and tortured, both as plot devices ultimately used by The Joker to get Batman to show-up for the battle.  Authors Faust and Phillips do the most justice to Commissioner Gordon’s character, whose focus during his torture in a revived old amusement park is only the thoughts of his daughter’s safety and survival.  By the end of the book readers have learned that they couldn’t blame Gordon were he to walk away from these events as a destroyed pool of a man.  On the flipside, Barbara Gordon’s attack is handled partially from her viewpoint trying to understand what happened to her in real time, and partially from the view of one of The Joker’s stooges.  Barbara plays a more active role here in saving her father (and surviving), and instead of seeing herself as the victim she uses the bystander stooge to help further her superhero self into a new persona in a smartly conceived update via a coda to the story.

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Batman Killing Joke movie poster

The first ever DC Comics animated movie to be rated “R” is coming to a theater near you next month in advance of its home edition release.  Batman: The Killing Joke will be screened Monday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. local time at select theaters across the country.  Fathom Events has teamed up with Warner Bros., and DC Entertainment for this rare opportunity to see the adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.

Batman: The Killing Joke reunites Batman: The Animated Series executive producer Bruce Timm and voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker.  It co-stars Tara Strong (Teen Titans, Batman: Arkham games) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, RoboCop) as Commissioner Gordon.

killing joke clip

Experience a special introduction from Mark Hamill plus a never-before-seen documentary about how Hamill was cast in this project and what the role means to him as an actor and a fan. The event will conclude with a special behind-the-scenes look at how the Joker’s memorable, yet disturbing song and dance number was recreated for the film.  Based on the acclaimed DC graphic novel of the same name, Batman: The Killing Joke takes a journey into the dark psyche of the Clown Prince of Crime – from his humble beginnings as a struggling comedian to his fateful encounter with Batman that changes both of their lives forever.  Years later, and now escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker devises a plan to prove that one bad day can make anyone as insane as he is – setting his sights on Commissioner Gordon.  It’s up to the Dark Knight to put a stop to The Joker’s latest scheme and save one of Gotham City’s finest. Following a gripping prologue introducing Barbara Gordon’s heroic adventures alongside Batman as Batgirl, Batman: The Killing Joke stays true to the authentic tale that has held fans’ imaginations for nearly three decades – spotlighting the birth of a Super-Villain, the fortitude of a Super Hero and the punchline that will leave you speechless.

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Killing Joke animated film clip

If you’re talking about animated adaptations of classic DC Comics Batman comic books, three book series and movies should come to mind.  First there was the well-made adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which we reviewed here at borg.com back in 2012.  Then there was the faithful, two-part adaptation of Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with Part 1 reviewed here in 2012 and Part 2 released in 2013 reviewed here.  The animated Batman adaptations will soon be complete with the third key classic Batman book of the modern era coming to animated video.

This year Warner Bros. is releasing an adaptation of the 1988 controversial story Batman: The Killing Joke.  Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, and John Higgins teamed up to create the definitive origin story of the sadistic villain The Joker in a shiny and colorful prestige format never before seen by comic readers.  The cover sold the book, but inside the darkest story of Gotham ever told was born in only a way Alan Moore could concoct.  As with his original story that became Watchmen, Moore took beloved characters, specifically Commissioner Gordon and daughter Barbara aka Batgirl, and made them victims.  The origin of Oracle was born here, and Moore for the following decades has defended his handling of the story and treatment of Barbara.

original Killing Joke cover

Most appropriately, the animated movie will receive an R rating–a must if the film is loyal at all to the original source material.  Then there’s the solid cast list.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the climax of Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls, a battered Batman looks up and utters “…I am sick… to death… of owls!”  Me, too, I thought, after seven chapters of the first released hardcover of the New 52, written by Scott Snyder with pencils by Greg Capullo.  Hardly a page of the first seven issues of the rebooted Batman series does not include an owl, worked into the background or architecture or elsewhere.   There’s not a lot of subtlety to be found here.

Although I’d put David Peterson’s owl renderings in Mouse Guard up against Capullo’s any day, Capullo does a nice job of working owls into the story.  In fact his art and the overall look of this hardcover puts it in the camp of prior trade compilations like Batman: The Cult.  It certainly surpasses Grant Morrison and David McKean’s equally dark Arkham Asylum in both story and art.  That said, it fails to achieve the excitement, fun, and energy of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush or Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke, or the mythology of Batman found in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.  If you like your Batman not only dark but flawed, making as many bad decisions as good, and you’re tired of the recycled pantheon of Bat-villains, this book may be for you.  Unfortunately, the twists and excellent execution of story found in Issue #1 of this Batman series didn’t hold out, the owl-villainy doesn’t match the classic bat-villains, and so the series became monotonous and tired by Issue #7 for this reader.

I haven’t seen a lot of continuity of story presentation across the New 52 titles.  But of all the titles I’d hoped for more origin of Batman than is peppered in flashback through the first seven chapters of this compilation.  Had The Court of Owls been a story arc in a normal year of Batman stories, I may have actually appreciated it more.  But as part of a launch that was to allow new readers to enter and understand the series, I think this series doesn’t make any headway.  That said, what’s there really to understand?  It’s just Batman, right?  As the leading title of DC Comics, I think despite its great sales, the story doesn’t have broad appeal.  Why is everyone reading it then?  With all the Bat-titles in the reboot, this series started out as the best and is probably considered the best, but we’re all not just waiting for another good Batman story, we want another great Batman story and we’re willing to keep coming back until we get it.

The hook of the owl as a creature of night who eats bats as a visual or storytelling concept would have worked for me for an issue or two.  Today DC Comics have The Court of Owls – Night of the Owls story permeating throughout the DC New 52 titles as a crossover event.  What is the Court of Owls?  It’s a bit like an evil version of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, mixed with the Masons as revealed in the National Treasure series, and a chemical reaction that allows humans to be immortal.  Despite all the years of Bruce Wayne exploring and building out a batcave, and his long understanding of Gotham City as his city, suddenly we readers are introduced to a concept never before even hinted at, and a mention that… oh, yeah, Bruce Wayne tried to hunt down the Court of Owls as a kid and ultimately came to the realization they did not exist.  The problem is, unlike the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword’s noble cause, we are given no motivation for the Court’s evil doings.  They’re just bad guys.  If you had this much power, would you live like these masked ghouls under Gotham or would you live the high life?

That said, there is a lot to like in this series.  Snyder’s use of modern technology to assist Batman is well placed. Dick Grayson’s Nightwing has hardly been better as Batman’s sidekick, including a brilliant turn as Joker to fool the inmates of Arkham Asylum.  The entire supporting cast, although hardly used, have nice moments, including Tim Drake, Commissioner Gordon and even Alfred.   Capullo’s art is as good as any of Jim Lee’s best Batman work.  Capullo and Snyder both are obviously passionate about creating a complex Bat-tale, and for that, the book is worth a second read.  With that second read, more plotted foreshadowing can be found.  The Court of Owls was clearly not an easy tale to construct, both from a story concept or visually.  And as a starting point, Issue #1 is one of the best issues of Batman you’ll ever read.  If you like Batman in a chamber of horrors, Snyder and Capullo’s vision has the feel of the crazy masked club of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide ShutUnfortunately I just didn’t find the arc compelling enough to keep me hooked for all seven issues.

Batman: The Court of Owlsseems to borrow a bit from Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson’s Batman: The Cult in story and look.  Capullo’s depictions of a tortured Batman are equal to the horror and drama depicted in Bernie Wrightson’s panels in The Cult.  That’s high praise for Capullo as Wrightson’s work on The Cult was nicely done.  But I was never fond of Batman being duped and sucked into the villain’s world, or portrayed as less than genius, and even allowed to be beaten to a pulp.  All that happened in both Batman: The Cult and Batman: The Court of Owls This is why I found myself on the side of Nightwing in the sparring between the two–and I am not typically a fan of Nightwing.  I prefer my Bat-story to show Batman in the shadows more, as the detective who doesn’t become emotional or fall for the villains’ traps like the Batman of the camp 1960s TV series.  Finally, I was distracted by how much the Court’s henchman Talon looked like Watchmen’s cool hero Nite Owl.

Nite Owl from Watchmen.

A big plus of this hardcover edition can be found at the back of the book.  Snyder’s script for issues #1 and Capullo’s pencil roughs that accompany that story reveal some of their creative process, which I always love to see.  And along with Greg Capullo’s superb cover art (it’s great when a publisher allows the interior penciller to also create the cover art!), the appendix also includes full page color images of the alternate, incentive covers.

If you want to give Batman: The Court of Owls a try, it is now available at local comic book stores and online.  Editors Note:  Check out my review of the hardcover of Night of the Owls–all the crossover issues compiled–at this link.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Three years ago Barbara Gordon was shot and sustained spinal damage by the Joker.  The crime was detailed in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s controversial Batman: The Killing Joke, the first slick prestige-formatted comic book and one of the best looking comic books of all time.  Since then Barbara Gordon has been in a wheelchair. During the past three years Barbara had dropped her Batgirl costume for a computer and became the brains behind the Birds of Prey as the character Oracle, along with Dinah Lance/Black Canary, and Helena Bertinelli/Huntress.  She’s been living with her father, Commissioner Gordon, all the while.  And a miracle happens–she can walk again.  Now she wants to “spread her wings” and move out on her own.  That is where we meet Batgirl in the new DC Comics “New 52” Batgirl series.

It is only fitting that Gail Simone, who in recent years has spent more time creating Barbara Gordon’s voice than anyone, scripted the first new universe Batgirl story.  She understands the character and is my argument for why writers should stick with characters longer than they seem to be allowed at DC and Marvel.  Especially when the writer gets it right.  If you invest a lot of time in a character, you get in his/her skin and begin to think the character’s thoughts.  You get that feeling with Batgirl.

Obviously the “three years” in the wheelchair as Oracle is in DC universe time, since Batman: The Killing Joke was published 23 years ago, back in 1988.

The new Barbara is funny and endearing.  She shares her inner voice with us to contrast with her Batgirl exterior.  We don’t know what will come of it, but she finds a new roommate and a place she can afford to rent.  Her inner voice is determined, and she forces herself to be confident, even though we sense a lot of doubt in her about her abilities.  She’s young, but not too young.  She is a straight arrow, not gritty and also thankfully not vapid.  In the first story we see her crash a home crime, similar to what Gordon faced with the Joker.  She hasn’t been in the superhero business physically for years now.  She is successful, but she’s nervous.  Simone shares that the shooting will never leave this character, although we get the vibe that this series will be about moving on.  The art is clean, Batgirl looks good in her costume and the panels and design are creative.  Nice work all around by artists Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes.

Fans have asked numerous questions: Why pull her from the wheelchair?  As a model for disabled people, what is DC saying about people with disabilities–to be heroes do you need to be able to walk?  All these are fair questions and Simone has attempted to answer them this summer.  Ultimately this is a character and maybe DC thought every piece of her story as Oracle had been written.  And where else but comic books can a character live a dream that may not be able to be fulfilled with a person in an actual, similar circumstance?  It is difficult to say anyone but Simone could have handled this transition with the same level of grace and alacrity.  But it shows that no fan is free from the change in this new set of series.  The risk with so much change at once is simply human nature–humans don’t like change.  So everywhere you look in the new titles, something will be off-putting to everyone at some point.  What Issue #1 of Batgirl does successfully is wade right through those questions and deliver a new, fresh story that has promise.

The new Batgirl could be the lead in Veronica Mars. She could be a character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or the writers will create someone who makes her own mark.  Not the Batgirl from the TV show, or the Batgirl from the Batman and Robin movie, but someone with the same energy and optimism.

First off she will need to encounter a new villain called the Mirror, who she meets at the end of Issue #1.  And her first big encounter is brief–and a failure.  Luckily for us readers, Batgirl Issue #1 is not.  Looking forward to Issue #2 next month!