The Killing Joke is one of my all time favorite Batman stories. A one-shot from the late 80’s it was meant to give a bit of a back story for the otherwise mysterious Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker but what it did was so much greater than that. For the first time since the character was introduced in the 1940’s as a remorseless psychotic murderer, something strange and never before attempted was done. For the first time in the character’s history, a writer tried to make him more human. Let’s think about this for a second. Deep down inside, this insane, violent monster is actually a man who suffered some unbelievable tragedy that made him what he is.
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland created a backstory, purposefully vague in places due to the Joker’s utter insanity, that painted the character in an entirely new light. An intelligent man with a dream of show business is struggling to support himself and his pregnant wife living in a squalid little apartment on the wrong side of Gotham. After failing to get another job as a funnyman at a club, he takes up an offer from gangsters to guide them through the local chemical plant so they can break in to a business. His wife dies tragically and unexpectedly in a house fire and, though he tries to back out of the job he’s been hired to do, the thugs he’s working for refuse to let him out of his obligations just so he can grieve. Using the gang’s calling card, he disguises himself as the Red Hood and tries to sneak them through the chemical plant only to be set on by armed guards and a mysterious new vigilante known as Batman. He falls into a vat of chemicals, physically altering him and finally snaps, become the psychotic super villain we know and love today.
Now, if you haven’t read the story or seen the movie, don’t worry, I don’t intend to spoil anything for you here. I would suggest reading the comic before seeing the new animated movie though. Give yourself the full appreciation of the story.
What I will say is that I loved the film and had very few complaints. To all the rabid Batfans out there, please understand that I am not saying this as a fan or a newcomer might, rather I’m speaking from the perspective of a writer. An excellent story brought to life on the screen requires, unfortunately, some tweaks and changes to make it flow as a feature length film. In the case of The Killing Joke, it meant a back story added involving Batgirl/Barbara Gordon that helped us get a bit more familiar with the concepts and complexities of the story being told to us. This addition made the film accessible to people who might otherwise have not been introduced to this amazing world.
Also, I have to compliment the animators for their devotion in capturing the atmosphere of the comic book.
Taking an image from a page and recreating it so masterfully in animation is beautiful.
As a fan of cartoons, especially the early 1990’s Batman The Animated Series, which introduced me to the characters for the very first time, I was thrilled by what I saw on the screen. But don’t take my word for it. Read the book. Watch the movie. See for yourself.