After a lot of hype and controversy, the animated of Alan Moore–sorry, The Original Writer and Brian Bolland’s legendary Batman story, The Killing Joke, was finally released. Featuring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in their iconic roles as Batman and The Joker, the voice cast is rounded up by the ever-versatile Tara Strong reprising her role as Batgirl and onetime Swamp Thing, Ray Wise, as Jim Gordon.
As far as first impressions go, the animated version of The Killing Joke doesn’t leave an especially strong one. Roughly the first thirty minutes is (to my knowledge) an original subplot about the capture of Paris Franz, a mobster, and the building of a romance between *cue collective fan sigh* Bruce and Barbara. While I understand this is used to give Barbara Gordon a little bit more screentime and pad out the already short approximately 78 minute runtime, this whole sequence feels like it could be cut out entirely and the story wouldn’t suffer much because of it. I honestly wouldn’t mind watching a 40ish minute The Killing Joke adaptation.
After the rocky half hour, we get into the Killing Joke adaptation proper. And here is where the whole thing shines. As far as I can remember, this is almost a beat-for-beat adaptation of Moore and Bolland’s story. The overall sense of unease and creepiness is present almost the whole way, and the funhouse sequence is almost as disturbing as it was in the comics, though it could stand to be made a LOT more disturbing. Some of the comic’s most iconic shots were also recreated to amazing effect in the movie.
For such a disturbing story, the art style is horrifyingly beautiful. It feels like the best of Timmverse and the best of Bolland’s art had a drunken night together and had a lovely child. The contrast between the man who would be Joker and Joker as he is now is especially jarring and made all the better because of it. Bonus points for using the Batmobile from the animated series.
The voice performances are all very strong, but Conroy and Hamill managed to give out their best performances in this. After all these years, Batman laughing is still creepy as hell. And Hamill’s Joker musical number? A thing of beauty.
Despite the rough start that I suspect will have a lot of us complaining dragging down the early half hour, the rest of The Killing Joke is an amazing adaptation in both style and spirit, bringing one of comics’ most disturbing and legendary arcs to life.