By Will Barber Taylor
Batman tries to unravel the mystery behind the Joker’s past as the villain’s latest actions affects the former’s closest allies Commissioner James Gordon and his daughter Barbara Gordon. As The Joker’s rampage escalates, can The Dark Knight save his friends, Gotham and ultimately his soul?
The Killing Joke is one of the most famous Batman stories of all times. It is considered a classic by many fans of the Bat of Gotham because it perfectly depicts the twisted relationship between The Dark Knight and the Crown Prince of Crime.
It is also infamous for its depiction of the crippling of Barbara Gordon at the hands of the Joker. Whilst this did lead to Barbara taking on the role of Oracle, it did lead to criticism that she was not an independent character and merely emotional leverage for the Joker to use against Batman. Whilst Moore, the writer of the story, may feel bad about this particular plot element it did lead to the character getting greater development. She also became a figure synonymous with disabled people continuing to be active in the world no matter what their disability was.
However, the film’s main problem is in trying to please those people who found the crippling of Barbara a problem. Before the beginning of the main story we have twenty minutes of Barbara acting as Batgirl. Yet it doesn’t elicit the sympathy Brian Azzarello might have hoped. Yes, it shows Barbara as a strong and independent female character but we already knew this. The main thrust of this twenty minutes doesn’t connect with the rest of the plot and the disputed sexual relationship between Batman and Batgirl just comes off as somewhat… tacky. Rather than making us care more about Barbara, it makes us wonder what was the point of those twenty minutes.
Once we get into the main bulk of the film, however, things pick up. As the plot is beautifully simple and allows us to see the cracked mirror relationship of Batman and the Joker, the films builds momentum. Rather than the awkward first twenty minutes, the majority of the film plays out excellently. Swift, sharp cuts keeps things looking cinematic and the emphasis on doom and despair make The Killing Joke darkly delightful.
However, again the problems creep up from piece inserted by Azzarello; a line that seems to imply that the Joker raped the crippled Barbara is tasteless and the climactic finale is ruined by Azzarello’s desire to please everyone. In short, the script should have attempted to follow the path of the story more and not try to quench every individual Bat fans thirst.
Kevin Conroy returns again to dazzle as Batman. His dark, gruff performance of The Dark Knight has become legendary and Conroy epitomises the character’s heart and soul. His final confrontation with The Joker is a particular highlight and demonstrates his empathetic side. Equally, Mark Hamill’s Joker is on top form – his diatribe against “normality” is a masterclass is the nuances one should give to an acting performance.
In conclusion, The Killing Joke is like a newly found diamond. It is beautiful to behold, could become something truly astonishing but is rough around the edges.