We can never get enough of Batman, can we? Our favorite caped character has crusaded his way into our hearts, and onto our screens. Not only content with facing off against Superman in Dawn of Justice, he’s also set to wrangle with his foes in a Suicide Squad cameo. However, while he will no doubt meet up with Jared Leto’s incarnation of the Joker, 2016 also sees them clash elsewhere.
Where? I hear you ask? Why, in the animated adaptation of one of their most famous of comics, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke! And to discuss its release this summer, co-director and producer Bruce Timm chatted to Empire Magazine about the process of transferring such a famous book to our screens, as well as what did, and didn’t, make the cut.
Keen to hear more? Then read on to see what he had to say!
'I’m crazy for it!'
In the Bat-fan camp, the hype is real. After all, it’s not every day that a famous, Joker-centric comic is made into an animated movie, especially one which is, in Timm’s words:
The 1988 story notoriously sees one of the Joker’s most personal confrontations with Batman. After he kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, The Clown Prince of Crime attempts to drive Gordon insane, while he reflects on his earlier life, before he became a murderer — but did those events really happen?
The Killing Joke is not only highly anticipated due to the dark comic book that it is based on, but because it also reunites Timm, Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (The Joker) who all worked on the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series of the '90s. However, as ever, there are fans who are nervous about the prospect of seeing such a beloved story on screen.
Films and TV shows of our favorite books are funny things, and we as fans often have polarizing opinions of them due to their similarities and differences to what we read on the page and see on screen. However, Timm’s comments are sure to put the wary ones at ease:
As we know, changes can occur when filmmakers want to embellish the story, put a stamp on the work, because of budget reasons, or due to the fact that certain things won't transfer well. That doesn’t seem to have happened in The Killing Joke — apart from a bit of light enhancement, which all in all, sounds highly promising.
“Brian Azzarello [came] up with a couple of sequences here and there [...] when Jim Gordon is being tormented by The Joker. He came up with [an] interesting kind of trial sequence, which [...] is so of a piece with the source material that a lot of times I forget that it's not in the comic. It feels like it is.”
More Joker madness? I’m sure that everyone is down for that, especially if it is in some form of mock trial. We’ve seen something similar in the brilliant Animated Series episode entitled "Trial" (funnily enough) so this sort of addition can only be a welcome one.
As we see in "Trial," The Joker has always had a demented view on reality, right and wrong, and his relationship with Batman, so this new inclusion definitely sounds like it is going to help replicate the insanity of its original classic comic:
“Even though we had issues with certain things that happened, it's, like, 'Well, this is one of those classic stories.' Love it or not, we felt we just needed to kind of do a straight-up adaptation of it...So we didn't deliberately tone anything down. We didn't deliberately change anything. We didn't look at anything and say, 'It's just too disturbing, we can't do that.' If we were going to do it, we were going to do it."
'You see, she thinks she's a coffee table edition.'
Ah yes. The expression “certain things” may refer to some of the Joker’s more controversial decisions, whereby he shoots and paralyses Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara, the original Batgirl. The Joker then takes photos of her naked and wounded body to show her father, as he attempts to destabilize his mind.
There has been a lot of criticism for these scenes over the years, from readers who believe that the vicious sequence victimizes women just to develop both the plot and the male characters. Some even suggest that Barbara was sexually assaulted by the Joker between the panels of the story. Due to the fact that outside these scenes she barely features into the plot, debate still rages over her fridging, and even the comic book's writer Alan Moore said:
“I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon [...]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.”
It’s a fact that it isn’t just men who like superheroes and comic book movies, so the trope of de-powering female characters is definitely a cause for concern, if we are all going to enjoy the stories. But while the shocking story isn’t going to be changed immensely, Timm says that some effort has been made to correct Batgirl’s part in the proceedings:
“...we decided early on we weren't going to try to 'fix' [it]...we left basically all of our tinkering to the Barbara Gordon/Batgirl prologue.”
The Batgirl issue is certainly a dilemma, and one that can’t be easily resolved. Simply replicating the tale of The Killing Joke without acknowledging its offensiveness is obviously no good, but altering the story would earn the ire of many fans that are keen to see such an influential tale in Batman lore adapted correctly. Having said that, bolstering Barbara’s role and prominence so that she isn’t just a plot feature, can only be a good thing for everyone.
'The Hero That Gotham Deserves'
Reading through his interview, it’s clear that Bruce Timm is an enthusiastic fan, since he approves of going for an R rating in comic book adaptations , but only if it suits the character and story. He shares many common views on all things to do with the Dark Knight's comic books and ironically, he agrees with a popular assumption about the character himself, even though he’s just adapted the Joker’s origins:
As a big Batman fan, I can’t help it but feel tremendously excited for this! Even though they have made changes, they all sound appropriate, intriguing and above all, cool! I’m excited to see more of Batgirl onscreen (the big screen), and I'm looking forward to coming back to this iconic tale set in the dark and mean streets of Gotham City with a fresh outlook.