Warner Bros. Animation and the DC Animated Universe have a relatively sterling record adapting their superhero comic storylines to the screen under the guidance of animator/producer Bruce Timm. To challenge themselves, Timm, director Sam Liu, and writer Brian Azzarello, have taken on the unenviable task of adapting famed/reclusive Watchmen writer Alan Moore’s controversial 1988 Joker origin one-shot tale illustrated by Brian Bolland, Batman: The Killing Joker, with mixed results.
Killing Joke is a relatively compact, standalone comic novella acting more as a self-contained arc with flashbacks than an epic narrative in the mould of many Batman stories. To fill things out to feature length, Azzarello created a sort of prologue Batgirl story before the rather faithful adaptation of Moore’s story. Those familiar with the storyline know it involves a violent tangle between Batman, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, and the Joker. Added to this by the filmmakers is an uncomfortable sexual relationship/element involving Batman and Batgirl acting as a prologue to the feature story that is not entirely welcome.
The R-rated feature is a mixture of styles, both faithful and departing of its source material, while familiar voices from the Batman: The Animated Series cast in Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong revisit their roles superbly as Batman, Joker, and Batgirl, respectively.
The animated feature is polished and straightforward, but it's hard to get past the troubling sexual and gender dynamics of the now 28-year-old comic. Batgirl is essentially sacrificed to build the characters of Batman and the Joker as Timm and company have done an admirable yet still highly problematic adaptation of an already infamous story.
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