At this point to say there are nearly as many origin stories for The Joker as there are for Batman is a gross understatement. Mainly those stories are hidden away in the pages of comic books rather than popularised on the big screen. None of those comics, however, receive nearly as much praise as The Killing Joke, and few garner such polarised responses.
As a result, The Killing Joke is the Joker origin story exception, it’s found its way off the pages and onto the screen. The movie adaptation of The Killing Joke was screened at San Diego Comic Con, and it was met with some pretty strong reactions- mainly though with a near-universal disapproval from fans, for a multitude of reasons…
Transforming a comic or a graphic novel into a feature-length film is obviously no small task, and some padding is often needed to help add to the run-time of the movie. This is a large part of where The Killing Joke found its real failings as far as fans are concerned. A solid half an hour of time was spent establishing Batgirl’s strong attraction—both romantic and sexual—to Batman, culminating in the most unnecessary and unwanted sex scene since the Lannister siblings. Batgirl is effectively reduced to a two-dimensional character whose existence is only validated by Batman, which is a far cry from the direction the entire comics industry is trying to move in. It’s baffling.
The Joker seems to be a go-to for writers seeking shock value…
More to the point, and at the risk of drawing some ire: it is arguably that the The Killing Joke isn’t a particularly great comic to begin with. The Joker is a strong character with enormous potential when used right, as a foil to the structured moral justice dealt out by Batman. Alternatively, The Joker seems to be a go-to for writers seeking shock value. The Killing Joke achieved this much with its treatment of Batgirl well before it became a full-length film, which is why it’s so surprising that this misjudged disappointment found its way on screen. Moreover, its status as an R-rated film just smacks of a shameless desire to try and recapture the magic Deadpool, a superhero very much in vogue.
The film’s producers didn’t take criticism well but it remains pertinent. The insensitive treatment of Batgirl and the fumbled treatment of the origin story itself left a lot to be desired. Check out other Joker origin stories, or enjoy the other villains in Batman’s gallery of rogues. There certainly are enough of them spread across the Caped Crusader’s history that make it easy to find one just as attention-grabbing as The Joker, without the Clown Prince of Crime’s capacity to draw in mediocre writing and overly violent, unsettling, and generally mediocre storytelling.
By Phil Gorski
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