One bad day… That’s all it took Alan Moore and Brian Bolland to turn an average Joe into one of comic books’ greatest and most psychotic villains. The Joker has had multiple incarnations in print, video game and on screen but very few have attempted to reveal his undoubtedly twisted origin story. The Killing Joke, whether you agree with giving the Joker an origin story or not, is one of the definitive Batman and Joker comics to date. It still resonates with audiences new and old, even as it enters its 28th year in print. And this summer, some of the cast and crew of Batman: The Animated Series are getting the band back together to bring Moore and Bolland’s iconic graphic novel to life.
But what can we expect from the animated version after the release of Warner Bros. ten minute preview of their upcoming adaptation? Every time a new manifestation of Batman appears questions always arise as to who will play the key characters and let’s be honest, you can’t please everyone. Throw as many names in the proverbial pot as you like and fans will always find issue; Nicholson, Keaton, Bale, Ledger, Hardy, Affleck and Leto have all been met with initial criticism. So what would be the most sensible thing to do? Cast tried and tested actors to play the Caped Crusader and the players that shape Gotham. And that is exactly what Warner Bros. have done with The Killing Joke. Kevin Conroy returns for yet another outing in his 22 year career as Bruce Wayne, while Tara Strong voices Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. Both of which have had huge successes in the animated and video game versions of Batman. There is one name however that needs no introduction. Mark Hamill, the man who has created a Joker like no other will enjoy another stint as the clown prince of crime. This is undoubtedly a huge selling point for The Killing Joke, Hamill’s Joker is the right balance of psychotic and unpredictable that is needed in the centre of this adaptation.
Tara Strong’s Batgirl plays the pivotal tool the Joker uses in his crusade against Commissioner Gordon and Batman but her role in the plot is cut short when the Joker *SPOILERS* places a bullet in her spine and leaves her paralyzed. The production team of The Killing Joke decided to include more of Batgirl’s story in a prologue. The likelihood is this won’t be an origin story but more of Barbara Gordon in action as Batgirl, protecting Gotham alongside Batman. This gives the audience a rare opportunity to build a relationship with Batgirl before her unfortunate “accident” with a man in makeup and a Hawaiian shirt. Batgirl will hopefully prove to be less of a narrative tool and more of an in-depth character that the audience can engage with.
Moore and Bolland didn’t just shock readers with their warped story and little people dressed as gimps, looking more like a scene from American Horror Story than a Batman graphic novel… The gritty and realistic artwork brought the story and characters to life. This was pushed further in 2008 when the novel was reprinted with new colouring from Bolland. This lends an expectation to the animated adaptation. The fact of the matter is, it would be impossible to directly translate the artwork in the novel directly to the screen but this won’t stop the team behind The Killing Joke from trying. From the ten minute preview provided by Warner Bros. the audience is teased to the uncompromising image of The Joker’s unsuspecting victim in the fairground, an image that will resound in even the sternest of minds. Along with graphic imagery, TKJ preview is laden with stunning and iconic scenery, beautifully detailed characters and flowing action. In the short snippets of animation, it is clear that the team have attempted to keep in with the novel’s aesthetic.
Something that will undoubtedly please fans of the graphic novel. Spiderman boasted of great responsibility and Silence of the Lambs offered us some liver, fava beans and a nice chianti (insert classic Lecter noise here!) Any novel to screen adaptation needs its key moments and The Killing Joke is not without them. There are lines of dialogue in the graphic novel that stand out to every reader and had to be in the adaptation for it to feel like a direct adaptation and not a cheap knock off and judging by the preview TKJ will deliver on those expectations. Mark Hamill can be seen recording the line “And do be careful, he’s topping the bill!” in the preview… A line that resonates not just with the audience but with Barbara Gordon in what must feel like her dying moments.
The preview is an excellent setup for the screen adaptation of a graphic novel that is widely renowned as one of the most original and rousing of Batman’s outings with the Joker. With constant questions of Joker’s real identity being revealed to the consistent criticism of Jared Leto’s forced method acting in the role for Suicide Squad, it is about time the Joker was revived for who he really is! An in depth, paradox of a man. And if there is a story to do that it is The Killing Joke. Of course the preview is not without its questions….
How will the adaptation show the transformation from struggling, average Joe to comic books most chaotic villain? How will the flashback scenes be dealt with? Will there be any more additions on top of Batgirl’s prologue to the story? And will there be an inclusion of An Innocent Guy? Only time will tell!
The movie, from Bruce Timm, will premiere at this Summer’s Comic-Con.