Review: Batman: The Killing Joke

Killing JokeStarring the voices of Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong and Mark Hamill

Warner Bros., out now

 “Smile!”

Having already animated The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, it was inevitable that the equally popular and influential The Killing Joke would receive the same treatment from DC Animation. Originally published as a slim 48-page one-shot in 1988, the graphic novel has continually been cited by the likes of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan as a major influence on their work. And while writer Alan Moore has subsequently played down its value and artist Brian Bolland (possibly best known for his work on Judge Dredd) subsequently recoloured the comic 20 years later for the 2008 hardback re-issue, this is a major Batman work, carrying a lot of anticipation.

Add the fact that Batman: The Animated Series’ Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong and Mark Hamill all agreed to reprise their respective roles of Batman, Batgirl and The Joker and this made the prospect even tastier, but the problem was this – how do you turn 48 pages into a feature-length product? The answer is… not that well.

Batman: Year One was based on a four-issue mini-series, The Dark Knight Rises was afforded two films to give it the right running time, but filmed as written, The Killing Joke would have been 35 to 40 minutes at most. I guess this made it an uneconomical proposition and as such the story has gained a new first half. Whereas Batgirl is not shown in The Killing Game comic (except in her ‘street clothes’ guise as Barbara Gordon) the animated prologue focuses on her and dealing with her own case and a misjudged physical relationship with Batman. While it’s probably fair to guess that most people know how Barbara’s story progresses in the comic, I won’t spoil it here; suffice to say that the prologue tries to give Batman some added incentive to act as he eventually does, and yet none was really needed.

The Killing Joke properly kicks in at the half-hour mark as Batman makes his way to Arkham Asylum to interview the Joker. Bolland’s artwork has understandably been stylised for animation, though it does lose something in the process. A number of the iconic panels from the comic are recreated in motion, but they are missing many of the subtleties of the artist’s work. I hope they don’t even try to animate Dave McKean’s artwork from Arkham Asylum – what would that look like?

The 15 rating for the UK (R in the US) is well-earned; kudos to DC for not softening the material to a more child-friendly rating. But voice cast aside, this is a case of ‘why bother’? The original is a near-perfect self-contained story of Joker Begins, illustrating how the after effects of ‘one bad day’ caused ripples that led to the creation of the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’. Moore’s text, coupled with Bolland’s clean artwork have, for this reviewer, never been beaten as a single Batman story. And while the intentions of the animated project were no doubt sincere, the prologue is unnecessary, distracting and throws a different light on the story it precedes.

The BluRay contains a feature on the creation of the music of the film, a short spotlight on the Joker as well as ‘sneak peeks’ on previous and upcoming animated releases. Some copies are also boxed with a plastic figurine of Mr J, which makes the release a fair purchase at its RRP.

Verdict: If you’re going to watch it, skip the first 30 minutes and enjoy the final 40 without the clumsy add-on. Better still, dust-off your dog-eared copy of the graphic novel and remind yourself just how good it is. 6/10

Nick Joy

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