Alan Moore's graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke quickly established itself as one of the most critically acclaimed, but also controversial, comic book stories out there.
The 1988 one-shot novel showed a much darker origin to The Joker, with Moore developing him as a tragic character who could not handle the mind-rendering events of "one bad day." With this in mind, it's not surprising The Killing Joke could be getting an R-rated adaptation.
At last Friday's Batman: Bad Blood First Look Panel at 2015 New York Comic Con, director James Tucker responded to a question regarding DC Animated films' shift from adapting famous comic book stories to creating original works. Along with his answer to that question, he also hinted that The Killing Joke could be the 'hardest' animated superhero movie we've seen in some time. He stated:
"At first, we were pretty much told that was what we were going to do, is to do a new universe thing coming off the New 52. But having said that, I actually really enjoy what we’re doing. And also we do three movies a year, two of them are in continuity and one is an adaptation, or an original, or whatever we want it to be. So we still do adaptations. Killing Joke is next year. So you’re kind of getting the best of both worlds, because there’s a finite amount of adaptations really. So doing one a year as opposed to three a year is probably going to make them last a little longer. And you know, they said we could make it an R. Not saying that’s what it will be, but we’ll see."
Of course, anyone familiar with The Killing Joke will know it is ripe for an R-rated adaptation. As well as its generally violent imagery, the graphic novel is also known for showing a controversial scene in which Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Batgirl) is shot, paralyzed, stripped naked, and then paraded in front of her imprisoned father, Commissioner Gordon. This was all part of Joker's plan to try and drive Gordon insane to illustrate that anyone can be driven mad by "one bad day."
The initial reaction to the 'The Killing Joke' was so powerful, DC decided to canonize some of its story elements, including Batgirl's paralysis and the Joker's origin. It has also been cited as an inspiration for various superhero directors, most notably Christopher Nolan. Despite this, others have suggested the animated adaptation should censor and limit the violent imagery of the novel.
In fact, one of the biggest critics of 'The Killing Game' is Alan Moore himself. The English author, who is well-known for his slightly left-field approach to traditional superheroes (he also wrote Watchmen after all), has previously stated that he feels 'The Killing Joke' is, in fact, rather shallow. In 2000, he said, "I don't think it's a very good book. It's not saying anything very interesting," while he added in 2003:
"The Killing Joke is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn't about anything that you're ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived. So there's no important human information being imparted ... Yeah, it was something that I thought was clumsy, misjudged and had no real human importance. It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn't really relate to the real world in any way."
Listen to Alan Moore discuss "one of the worst things he's ever written" in the interview clip below:
He has also suggested the paralysis of Barbara Gordon was an area that DC probably should have "reined him in" on. He stated:
"I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon - who was Batgirl at the time - and if I remember, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project ... [He] said, 'Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.' It was probably one of the areas where they should've reined me in, but they didn't."
Despite this, I'm sure there will many fans of the graphic novel who will be outraged if the animated feature retreats from its hard-hitting and sometimes unsavory content. However, one person who will not be concerned is Moore himself. He famously preemptively disowns any adaptations based on his work and has nothing to do with them.