The Killing Joke Review

the-killing-joke

While DC is struggling to get critical approval with its live-action films, as the (partly) undeserved roasting of BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad demonstrate, they have an impressive record of success with their animated features. In my opinion, the quality of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies (DCUAOM) has declined in recent years with Justice League: War and Son of Batman. However, there have been some bright spots such as Gods and Monsters, Assault on Arkham and Batman vs. Robin. I was hoping that The Killing Joke would continue that trend. It isn’t a bad film, but as a whole, it does not measure up to some of the aforementioned bright spots.

As a spoiler- free summary, this story involves The Joker escaping from Arkham Asylum and kidnapping Barbara Gordon (Batgirl). There will be some relatively minor spoilers throughout this review. I haven’t read the graphic novel in years and I wanted to do so before seeing this film. However, I ended up rushing ahead and watching the film first. For that reason, I won’t be able to compare this film to the finer details of the comic.

I was told by friends that the film added a prelude that explained more of Barbara Gordon’s backstory, prior to her kidnapping. A little research online also showed that this section also resulted in most of the criticism for the film. I tried to ignore these critiques and form my own opinions so that I wouldn’t unfairly bash the film. I have to say that some of the criticism is justified.

The most valuable insights that come from this prelude are:

  • Barbara still views crime-fighting as a thrill, not an unhealthy obsession the way Batman does
  • Conflict over this issue is what led to Barbara ending her role as Batgirl

These two insights are valuable, but my issue is some of the execution. The Batgirl prelude centers around a single criminal, Paris Franz, who becomes obsessed with Batgirl. However, Franz’s obsession is more like a delusional and arrogant fanboy, as opposed to the twisted dependency we see with The Joker and Batman. Franz ends up being a very forgettable villain and the writing for his character is mainly what makes the prelude unwelcome.

batman-and-batgirl

Another issue, is the infamous sex scene. Sorry if it is a spoiler but it is a part of the story that I can’t review this film without mentioning. If I simply said there is a sex scene, then it would still be pretty easy to figure out which characters I am referring to. Although I am not personally a fan of a Batman/Batgirl relationship, I know it exists in some of the comics. What annoys me most about the sex scene isn’t the fact that a relationship I like to think of as father-daughter is changed; I just hated the fact that it was precipitated by a slap-slap-kiss trope. I didn’t even know that this was a trope until a year ago, but seeing it time after time led me to believe that other people must have noticed how often it pops up in romantic situations. Two people are fighting; they often start pushing or come to blows. Then they suddenly stop, stare into each other’s eyes, and kiss. It is hack writing at its best.

With that said, the rest of The Killing Joke is much better. Firstly, we have a better villain. Mark Hamill plays The Prince of Crime, and also plays The Joker in flashbacks that reveal how he became The Joker. The graphic novel is famous partly for introducing a tragic Joker origin story and the transformation from Jack Napier to the Prince of Crime is one of the film’s most haunting.

the-killing-joke-2

The Joker’s actions in this film make you hate him, but you also can’t deny his charisma and his skills as a wordsmith. I enjoyed John DiMaggio as The Joker in Under the Red Hood but it is great to have Hamill back for this role, alongside Kevin Conroy. One of my favourite parts of the film is a Batman monologue near the beginning. While Conroy is famous for portraying Batman’s menace, his ability to convey the character’s (often hidden) warmth was also a treat to watch.

Joker’s kidnapping of Barbara is the central crux of the story, and the scene is a tough one to watch. The animation, the music (or lack thereof) and the voice acting make it one of my favourite scenes among all the DC animated films. Hamill brings a blend of menace and humour to the role, while navigating his way through one of the most pivotal moments in Batman’s history.

mv5bmtc0ndy0mjy4mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmta5otq3ode-_v1_

The kidnapping also represents a high-point in the film, which is followed by the final showdown between Batman and The Joker. From what I remember, the kidnapping of Commissioner Gordon was more enthralling in the graphic novel. Here, the voice acting from Gordon and Joker’s gang of freaks brought this section of the film down.

Overall, I enjoyed The Killing Joke. However, the faults I’ve mentioned prevent it from being among the top-tier of the DCUAOM films. As it stands, it is a decent entry that had a lot of potential.

 

 

 

 

100 Bullets

Hello everyone,

My latest blog post for comicommand is up on their site and it is copied below.

100 Bullets

100 Bullets

Written By Cadeem Lalor

After reading the much hyped Joker by Brian Azzarello’s much hyped Joker, I found myself somewhat disappointed by it. The concept was great and since The Joker is my favourite villain, I was happy to explore his madness more, but the ending felt incomplete and the overall story wasn’t as engaging as I hoped. 100 Bullets was highly recommended and I figured that I would give it a shot. The entire series runs for 100 issues and I purchased the first volume, which includes issues 1-19.

Now I have a better idea of why Azzarello is a revered author. The concept was what motivated me to buy the comic, revolving around separate stories where people are given an opportunity to take revenge on someone who has wronged them, armed with irrefutable evidence and a gun with 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition. This revenge is facilitated by a man known only as Agent Graves.

While the concept is interesting, the comic could easily falter with poor execution. The toughest thing to initially accept was the artwork, which I felt paled in comparison to works like The Walking Dead or Transmetropolitan. Like Joker, some panels are amazingly detailed and well-rendered. Meanwhile, several others looked poorly done. I remember that I felt the same way about the art for the first few issues of The Walking Dead, and I wondered if I might get more used to the art as the story progressed. For the most part I did, but I still feel like the artwork is one of the weaker aspects of the comic.

100 Bullets #92

Another issue that seemed to carry over from Joker is the way that minority characters are generally depicted. Most of the characters we meet in 100 Bullets are poor ones, so I initially tried to dismiss the ebonics and the stereotypes as being indicative of class, since it also crosses racial lines. However, Killer Croc (who is black) also has similar lines in Joker. Maybe we can argue Croc also grew up poor but the dialogue ends up sounding stale and forced when the writer shoehorns slang into every other sentence. One of Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing is to use regional dialects and slang sparingly, but that isn’t the case here. Series like The Walking Dead handled such dialogue better with characters like Tyrese and Axel, making it flow more smoothly.

With the negatives out of the way, I can say that Azzarello still manages to craft a great story. As the issues continue, the different storylines and characters become more connected. We learn more about Graves, his allies, his enemies and it starts to become clear that the people getting their shot at revenge are likely pawns. Since each issue generally revolves around a different character, with appearances or references by others, one of the biggest challenges is to keep each story as engaging as the previous one. Azzarello accomplishes this well, introducing our new character and their predicament quickly. The stories then snowball from there, from a case study of one person, into a larger exploration of this world. The dialogue is well written when it’s not weighed down by slang. Azzarello also allows the plot’s full details to be revealed slowly. We know who our character is and why they want revenge. Everything else, such as Grave’s goal, is only hinted at piece by piece. We get the feeling we will know all at some point, but we also know that we won’t be learning until near the end of the tale.

The series isn’t perfect and since it won an Eisner award, my expectations are high. However, I am excited to see how the story wraps up.

Travis Clevenger