Warning: This article may contain spoilers from Batman: The Killing Joke. If you haven't see the film yet, then I'd advise you to stop reading now.
Batman: The Killing Joke may have debuted to mixed critical reception, but the film was entertaining, upsetting and mostly true to the source material. However, what you may not have known is that the film is rife with Batman Easter eggs and several nods to previous adaptations of the Caped Crusader.
Breaking Down That Screen Shot
There are many Batman Easter eggs in The Killing Joke, but there is one moment in the film that includes several — Batman's computer brings up a series of photographs of his arch-nemesis the Joker. At first this screen may just seem like snapshots of the Joker's previous criminal acts. Look closer. If you're an avid Batman fan then you've probably already picked out a few things. Apart from the second to last image on the bottom row, every other image is a direct nod to a previous Batman story. Let's break this down for you by going through the images one by one.
The first image across is a nod to The Dark Knight Returns. A famous scene from the previous animated film sees the Joker release flying baby robots over a talk show audience. The robots release laughing gas, killing them all.
As The Killing Joke is one of the more famous comic books, so it's only fair that the film gives a nod to another beloved comic.
The second image across is one of my favorites — it's a nod to Tim Burton's 1989 live-action Batman. Perched in the same position as Jack Nicholson's chaotic Joker, there is no doubt that this is an homage to the classic film.
For many, Nicholson's stint as Joker still defines the character and it was the first sinister live-action performance of the character — Nicholson's Joker was a genuine threat to Gotham City, killing all who would not conform to this ideas. It was the first time we saw on-screen contempt between Batman and Joker with the irony behind the fact that they were responsible for creating each other.
The third image is another favorite — it's an homage to the classic '60s Batman TV series. In the fifth episode of the show, the Joker — played by Caesar Romero — dressed up as a clown to perform the Italian opera Pagliacci moments before confronting Batman and Robin.
The scene has become one of the most recognizable moments not only from the series, but of Batman mythology in general. There is also evidence to suggest that the bank robbery masks from The Dark Knight were inspired by this scene. As you can see, The Killing Joke is paying tribute to this moment.
The fourth image was instantly recognizable to me — the Joker is emulating a rather famous image. The pose is reminiscent of a famous promo shot that Heath Ledger did in character as the Joker for The Dark Knight.
This photo is arguably one of most renowned images among not only Batman fans, but film goers all around the world. Ledger's Joker sits in his jail cell and awaits his chaotic plan to take form. Ledger's performance as the Joker is, for many people, the greatest incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime and is the only actor to ever win an Academy Award for portraying a comic book character.
- Image #5
The fourth image is a nod to a cover from the infamous comic book storyline "A Death In The Family" where Joker kills Jason Todd's Robin with a crowbar. One of the more famous — and more graphic — Batman comic books in memory, it's more than fitting that it would at least be referenced in Batman's first ever Rated R animated adventure.
The sixth image refers to the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn. What is perhaps revolutionary about this image is that when The Killing Joke was first released in comics, Harley Quinn had not been invented yet. Harley Quinn was first brought to life in the legendary Batman: The Animated Series — the classic '90s show that to this day still defines Batman for many people.
Harley Quinn and the Joker have had a troubled relationship over the years through various adaptations — next to be seen in Suicide Squad — but it's a relationship worth mentioning and that is clearly why it is referenced in The Killing Joke.
The image of smiling fish is a reference to a well-known 1978 Detective Comics issue entitled "The Laughing Fish," in which several fish turn up at the Gotham docks with Joker faces. The plot was later adapted and used in the Emmy winning Batman: The Animated Series. The episode — also entitled "The Laughing Fish" — is one of the most beloved episodes of the entire series.
The deranged fish have become a trademark of the Joker's and have continued to appear in different Batman adaptations — including a follow up episode of The Animated Series as well as Batman: The Brave and The Bold.
This image is most definitely a nod to the infamous cover of the comic The Man Who Laughs. The Man Who Laughs is one of more famous Batman comics — not to mention that its over has become closely linked to the Joker character. Conduct a google search, I bet you this image will show up!
The final image on the screen is again another reference to Batman: The Animated Series. The second episode of the series — entitled "Christmas With The joker," saw Batman hunt The Joker on Christmas Eve, which culminated in a battle with robotic Joker toys in the Laffco factory.
As you can see, the animation is also exactly the same, which is no surprise considering both The Animated Series and The Killing Joke are works of Bruce Timm.
Batgirl is one of those comic book characters that have had so many different outfits over the years that it's hard to keep track — from Yvonne Craig's unforgettable purple outfit that started it all to Alicia Silverstone's unique take on the character in Batman & Robin. However, the moment I laid eyes on Batgirl in The Killing Joke it became evident that this is a tribute to the Batgirl seen in Batman: The Animated Series.
Not only the outfit, but her poses and tone of voice (she was voiced by Tara Strong, who actually voiced Batgirl in TAS) are extremely similar.
Barbara Gordon: The Librarian
In Batman: The Killing Joke, Barbara is a librarian by day. This is a direct nod to Yvonne Craig's Barbara from the Batman TV series. Craig, who first originated the role of Barbara Gordon and Batgirl, was often seen during the series run working in the library by day and then kicking butt by night.
There is nothing better than when an animated film does their best at re-creating one of the more famous scenes from the comic that it's based on. This is exactly whats going on in the image above. The infamous comic shot of the Joker looking more insane than ever, dipping wet, clutching his hair has become synonymous with the character of the Joker.
In the film version of The Killing Joke, the shot is cleverly inserted during a flashback when we see the birth of the character — the newly created Joker stares at himself before laughing maniacally.
The Batmobile seen at the end the film is almost identical to the Animated Series' Batmobile. In the shot above, even Batman resembles his Animated Series counterpart. Not much to be said here — again Bruce Timm giving several nods to his previous beloved animated series.
The Newspaper Clipping
In the film, Gordon has a scrapbook where he keeps newspaper clippings. He leaves the book open at an old clipping of Batman apprehending the Joker. What's noticeable about the image is that it is based directly on Batman's first-ever appearance in Detective Comics back in 1939 — take a look, the poses are exactly the same.
It's also interesting to note that the newspaper refers to Batman as a vigilante, meaning that at the time he was unknown to the cops at the time — he was starting out. If Batman was relatively new to the crime-fighting scene, then what better image to use for inspiration than his first appearance in the comics.
Only you can make your own judgment on The Killing Joke, but it's definitely a thrill ride of epic proportions. It's nice to see Timm pay tribute to so many Batman incarnations — it just goes to show that the age old relationship between Batman and Joker has never lost its charm and it probably never will.
Did you notice anything else during Batman: The Killing Joke? Tell us in the comment section below.