[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Directed By: Sam Liu
Written By: Brian Azzarello
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise
Original Release Date: July 25, 2016
Prologue: The criminal known as Paris Franz becomes obsessed with Batgirl, and will do whatever it takes to get her. Batgirl, still young and naive, believes she can handle this herself, causing problems between her and her mentor, Batman.
Main Story: As Batman hunts for the escaped Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime attacks the Gordon family to prove a diabolical point mirroring his own fall into madness. Now, Batman must save Commissioner Gordon from this madman’s twisted quest to drive him insane.
This story, “The Killing Joke”, is one of my absolute favorite Batman tales ever written. It’s so dark and messed up, and unlike most of his stories, leaves you wondering what actually happened. But before I talk about the ending, let’s talk about the beginning.
Batgirl’s prologue was something that I had heard so many people bash, so when I finally sat down to watch it, I somewhat assumed I would be disappointed with the first 30 minutes of this film. But I wasn’t. The first 2/3 of the prologue were actually really good, showcasing Batgirl in a way we don’t normally get to see. She’s young and naive, yet strong and determined. She hasn’t been through or seen the things that Batman has, so her view of the world hasn’t quite yet been tainted. She allowed an obsessed bad guy push her to the limit, to a place where she looked into the abyss, and the abyss looked back at her. This message was the perfect setup for the actual “Killing Joke” part of the film. Barbara, after giving up the cape and cowl, tells Batman that she looked into the abyss, and it was very tempting, and that it’s humanly impossible to resist it forever. This is where the ending comes into play for me.
For years, the ending of “The Killing Joke” has been debated – did Batman kill the Joker or not? Well, here’s my interpretation: I believe that Batman DID kill the Joker here. Now, hear me out. Batman can deal with crazy, he does it on a nightly basis, but the Joker is something else, something more. When Batman goes to him, offers him the help he needs, the Joker spells it out for him — he’s never going to stop. He will continue to escape, just like he always does, and he will continue to hurt people. He doesn’t want to kill Batman, just like Batman doesn’t want to kill him. It’s a game, and Joker loves playing it. But at the end of this story, Batman finally sees that there is no end to his madness…and he cracks. He sees the abyss staring back at him and he knows there’s only one way to end it. So, after Joker tells his joke and begins laughing, Batman too begins to laugh, placing his hands up near Joker’s neck. As they laugh together, Joker’s laughing stops, but Batman’s continues. It’s all off screen, but the way I see it, Batman snapped here, and strangled the Joker to death. He looked into the abyss, and the abyss swallowed him whole.
I really enjoyed the rest of the film as well. It was super creepy, like the graphic novel. And the darkness was heightened by the fantastic score, which played perfectly with the events taking place. I think the R-rating serviced this story well, too. Just because they aren’t dropping F-bombs, and flashing nudity all over, doesn’t mean it didn’t use the rating to it’s potential. The sheer darkness of this story is R-rated, and shouldn’t be shown to children, and having the animated film gain this rating helped with that, and allowed them to do what they needed to do to properly tell this story. It also managed to integrate the amazingly haunting imagery of the graphic novel in a great way.
Oh, and I wanted to mention another great piece of imagery in this film. At the beginning of the “Killing Joke” portion, we see Batman on a roof top next to a sign for GOTHAM STORAGE, however, the “T” and the “O” in STORAGE are blinking in and out, causing the sight to read “GOTHAMS RAGE”, a perfect description of the Dark Knight.
It was wonderful to hear Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong all reprise their roles as Batman, The Joker, and Batgirl, respectively, from my favorite animated comic book show, Batman: The Animated Series. This allowed me to instantly connect to these characters, and care about their stories. And speaking of Batgirl, as I said, I really enjoyed the prologue. I understand why people didn’t like the fact that her and Batman had sex (even though this isn’t the first time it’s happened, as this was used in Batman Beyond as well, just not shown), but it was literally only 10 SECONDS of a 30 MINUTE prologue. 10 SECONDS!! And because of that, people claimed that the “entire prologue was garbage”, or that there was “nothing worth saving about the first half hour of the film”. This is ridiculous. If you can’t get over a 10 second scene, and see the story for what it is, then I feel sorry for you. This was an evolution for Batgirl. It allowed her to grow up as a character, forced her to stop seeing what she was doing as just a thrill, and understand that emotions in that line of work can get you killed or worse. Now, would I have personally had these two characters have sex? No, but I also don’t feel that it ruined anything.
I also loved the little mid-credit epilogue for Batgirl, which introduced her as Oracle. This got me pretty excited and I hoped we get to see some more of her as this character soon, perhaps in a Birds of Prey animated film? That would be awesome!!
There are definite things about the prologue that didn’t work for me. One such part was Barbara’s gay friend. This character felt a bit shoehorned in just to have that diversity in there. His character seemed a bit over the top at times, and may have been less distracting had it just been another girl. And if they were looking for diversity, make it a woman of color, but this just felt a little like diversity for diversity sake.
The prologue, as a whole, was good, however, it felt like a completely different film from the “Killing Joke” portion. The tones were so wildly different that it was hard at times to be fully invested, as I had just came out of one tone and shot straight into another one. And even though I enjoyed the prologue, I kind of wish it had been a story about Batman and Batgirl taking on the Joker with the help of Commissioner Gordon. Maybe putting him in Arkham, which could then have led to him breaking out in the main story. That way we have more of a solid reasoning for why these events took place, and a prologue that would’ve fit much better.
The only other negative I noticed has to do with the actual animation during one of the scenes. In the scene with the carousel, the actual carousel looks completely CGI. I’m not sure if it actually was, or if it just looked that way for some reason, but it took me completely out of the film, as I was too focused on the animation.
Overall, I really enjoyed this adaptation, and it has made me want to go back and reread the graphic novel. If you are a fan of this book, or of Batman himself, definitely give this a watch, but please, try not to get too hung up on the events of the prologue and just enjoy the story.