Nobody’s Laughing: Why The Killing Joke Animated Movie is a Recipe for Disaster

Comics fans, let out a cheer! At this year’s Comic-Con we learned that Bruce Timm and the fine folks at DC are working on an animated adaptation of one of the most iconic Batman stories, The Killing Joke! You know, the one that explores Batman and Joker’s yin and yang relationship; where Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and paralyses Barbara Gordon via a bullet to the spine? No? It’s the one that was critiqued for glorifying violence against women in comics, and sparked an entirely new controversy last March when a variant Batgirl cover paid homage to it? Yep, that all stems from The Killing Joke, and…hmm, maybe we shouldn’t cheer just yet.

Don’t get me wrong, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke is one of, if not the definitive Joker story. It’s right up there with the likes of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns as an example of the darker, more adult oriented rebirth of comics in the mid-to-late eighties. It’s also a horribly controversial story that’s only asking to be criticized should it return in 2015.

Many view the handling of Barbara Gordon within the story as a textbook example of how poorly female characters were written and handled in the early days of comics, and in some cases even today. DC later made the best of Barb’s paralysis by having her return as Oracle, Batman’s computer and hacking expert stationed behind the scenes of all of Bruce’s bamming, bopping, and powing. But to many, the fact remains that Barbara was brutally crippled in The Killing Joke solely to get the ball rolling for the guys’ side of the story.

The concern with adapting this iconic Joker story into a modern, animated flick is that one of two things will happen: Either DC will tone down and censor the treatment of Barbara – leaving diehard Bat-fans outraged that the original story was tampered with, or that the scene plays out shot for shot – disturbing feminist superhero fans and newcomers to the world of Batman. Whichever they decide to go with, DC loses.

Of course, censorship is always a dangerous road to go down, and artists deserve the freedom to have their work respected. But in a case like this where Alan Moore has openly admitted to regretting his treatment of poor Babs, you know something is off.

The Killing Joke is a clear product of the eighties’ wave of dark and gritty comics re-imaginings and ultimately deserves to stay there. By all means, DC, adapt the story – I’d love to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill deliver some of those classic lines, should they sign on to the project – but know that whatever route you take with it, one angry group or another will be knocking at your door. Okay, more likely they’ll be tweeting at you, but you get the point.

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