While it might be known as one of the more important stories in the rich history of the character, Batman: The Killing Joke can be a dicey topic for some fans. While it does give us a closer look at one of the more important villains in the past 100 years of fiction, it also shows just how little an other character can appear and still be used as a plot device.
So when the story was adapted into a DC Animated Film, the team wanted to add some more to the short story and make Batgirl have more narrative weight. But maybe they didn’t go about it the right way…
Batman: The Killing Joke runs at 76 minutes long, and a third of that is spent in a prologue featuring Batman’s female side-kick Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl. While the character was a part of the original story, her part is small making her feel less like a flushed out character and more of a plot device like Lenny’s Wife from Of Mice and Men. But with the film, the writer Brian Azzarello attempted to create a more rounded character;
A young hero looking to get approval from her mentor, Batman.
This isn’t a new story for the Batman family. One could look back at the adventures of any Robin (yes even Stephane Brown) and see that he’s more of a judge then a mentor at times. He demands perfection and discipline from his followers and this makes him an easy foil against the younger characters he works with. While they rebel he’s there to help them mature.
Taking it one step forward, the film plays more upon the excitement that comes from working with someone you admire, in both a emotional and sexual way. While the creation Batgirl and Batwoman was done with the soul purpose of eliminating the homosexual subtext between Batman and Robin, the movie plays with that and puts Barbara as a star eyed admirer of Batman.
However, her admiration is then brought into question when she is controlled by Batman and told to stay away from a criminal who (to be blunt) gives off some rapey vibes. This lack of control leads to Batgirl trying to take it back by fighting with Batman. The fight ends with her getting the upper hand and starting sexual encounter that both end up regretting. This “moment of weakness” drives the two apart as Barbara quits their partnership and being Batgirl.
With this plot point and even a gif hitting the web it seemed to spell out trouble for most fans, who either saw it as offensive to the character of Batgirl (which is a reasonable thought) or just as an annoyance added to the plot of a loved comic (also reasonable). But I can see what the filmmakers were going for.
In the short graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, Batgirl appears briefly. Her injury and father’s kidnapping is used more as a reason for Batman and Joker to face-off rather then a well rounded character arc. So the inclusion of more Batgirl would try make her more important to the overall plot. In the end, it ended up feeling more like it was an interesting idea trapped in a Joker character piece.
After the 28 minutes of the prologue, the relationship isn’t brought up again as both parties seemed to move on in the week that passed. But with this scene or rather the whole section holding little to no importance to the plot it brings up the question; why bother?
In my opinion this addition could have worked if the writer and director wanted to examine the relationship at all, but the decision was seemingly not made for story reasons.
So the prologue ends up serving two masters; one to extend movie from 48 minutes to a near feature length 76 minutes, and two to give Barbara more screen time. Sadly, this was made at the expense of two different ideas and stories that could have been flushed out.
On it’s own, the opening section isn’t terrible. It plays with the ideas of idolization and getting too close to someone in an impossible situation. But after it’s done, the classic Moore story feels like a different animal…
Batman: The Killing Joke was directed by Sam Liu and based upon the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. The film was produced by DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation and published by Warner Bros. Pictures.