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The Not-So-Funny Killing Joke

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Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the most celebrated stories of the Dark Knight and his ultimate nemesis. It’s possible we’ll see an adaptation from the team behind Batman: The Animated Series. But should there be a “Killing Joke” movie, and if we get one what happens then?Written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland in 1988 , the book was an instant hit considered by many the definitive tale of the Joker’s origin. For all its accolades, its not without problems.

For one thing, Alan Moore has dismissed it as a poor story. ” I mean, Brian [Bolland] did a wonderful job on the art but I don’t think it’s a very good book. It’s not saying anything very interesting.“

For the second point, this is the book that literally crippled Barbara Gordon. Pre-TKJ, Barbara was balancing her time as Batgirl and a member of the House of Representatives. At the time she was at a status above almost any other female character in mainstream comics. Then Alan Moore had her shot and molested by the Joker, all so he could drive her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, crazy. It’s in the top three of the Women in Refrigerators tropes, no question.

To make matters worse, editors and writers loved the out-of-continuity story so much they retroactively made it in-continuity. This put Barbara Gordon in a dark place that she’s never recovered from, not even when writers tried to refit her as handicapable hacker Oracle.

It may be a fitting allegory for survivors of sexual abuse, in how it mars someone’ life for years. Unfortunately, the comics community has neither the maturity nor time to deal with these implications.

Fast forward to today. It’s 20 years after the critically and fan acclaimed “Batman: The Animated Series”, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill cementing themselves as the voices for Batman and the Joker respectively. The Rocksteady “Arkhamverse” games reunited them and gave Hamill his “drop-the-mic” exit as the Joker. The only thing that could tempt him back into the role is to play Joker in some adaptation of “The Killing Joke”, which may soon come to fruition.

Not everyone is psyched about this.
Many people have a problem with Alan Moore’s writing, they like it well enough, but its not always kind to female characters. If you don’t believe me, think hard and count the number of times rape comes up in his stories. So where does that leave “The Killing Joke” movie?

There’s was a long conversation on Twitter between fans trying to rewrite the story so its “fixed”. Maybe Harly Quinn tells Batman the story to mess with him, maybe its all a dream sequence, maybe Jason Todd gets shot instead of Barbara. All of these are fine ideas, on their own. They don’t convince me though of the merit of rewriting “The Killing Joke”.

If “The Killing Joke” is such an awful story, if its story is so repulsive, maybe the movie shouldn’t be made. With how effective fan campaigns are these days, I’m sure one could stop production on the film. The fact that its adaptation is canceled can be used as a lesson for future generations on why the story is problematic. On the flip side, if “The Killing Joke” is this brilliant story that needs to be a film, then does it really need to be rewritten? We’ve seen what happens when you try to rewrite Alan Moore, and it almost never works out. Besides “From Hell” and maybe “V for Vendetta”, are his other adaptations successful or even liked? Maybe its better to have a faithful adaptation, since its been so long when it was first released and unlikely to harm Barbara’s existence in the comics.

For my money, I’d rather Batman: The Killing Joke not be adapted as a film. I can think of 20 other Batman stories I’d rather see (Batman: The Long Halloween for one), and that I’m sure others would as well. It’s something that could make alot of money for the DC Animated Films division temporarily, but I worry about it alienating fans and costing them and DC Comics money in the long term.

Is it worth the pride, the vanity, and the ambition to film Batman: The Killing Joke if it sets back what the comic industry has been trying to do for the last 5-10 years?