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Take a journey into the dark psyche of the Clown Prince of Crime – from his humble beginnings as a struggling comedian to a fateful encounter with Batman that changes both of their lives forever. Years later, and now escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker devises a plan to prove that one bad day can make anyone as insane as he is and sets his sights on Commissioner Gordon. It’s up to the Dark Knight to put a stop to The Joker’s latest scheme and save one of Gotham City’s finest. (From DC’s official synopsis)

 Batman: The Killing Joke
Given that Sam Liu’s DC Animated Universe adaptation of Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke has already been released in a limited theatrical capacity and for digital download, I don’t suppose I have a whole lot to add to the torrent of post-San Diego Comic Con reviews and think-pieces (yes, I realize this is the same excuse I dropped at the top of my  Batman v Superman review). The original comic is still inspiring fervent discussion all its own, from The Joker’s fate at the end of the story to its part in the proliferation of the misogynistic ”fridging” trope and Moore’s general apathy for the final product. I come down on the side of remembering The Killing Joke as a significant product of its era that isn’t particularly relevant in the current superhero climate. That isn’t to say it won’t be relevant again in the future – its ‘dark ‘80s’ counterparts, Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, each became more compelling during the first decade of the new millennium – it’s just that I don’t really see a lot of purpose in revisiting it right now, especially not as an animated, (mostly) straight-to-video movie.

In this adaptation’s defense, I would like to remind/inform readers that this isn’t the first time Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon have indulged in carnal desires for a cartoon story. In the 1999 series Batman Beyond (which ties into the same canon as Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Static Shock, and The Zeta Project), an older Commissioner Barbara Gordon tells the new Batman, Terry McGinnis, that she and Bruce had in an ill-fated affair. This relationship drives a wedge between the two of them, as well as Bruce and the original Robin, Dick Grayson, who dated Barbara while they were in college. It seems to me that producers Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett were merely building on their own mythology. This only sets precedent, though – it doesn’t excuse the fact that the Batman/Batgirl relationship ends up magnifying the more ‘problematic’ elements of Moore’s story by further objectifying Barbara and even implying sexual assault. Apparently, the creative team were actually trying to mitigate the objectionable elements by expanding Batgirl’s character and their instincts backfired. Even separated from the controversy, the material added to lengthen the scant story treads old ground, doesn’t really connect to the original story, and paints Batgirl as kind of a mopey, love-sick failure of a crime fighter.

 Batman: The Killing Joke

Video


Batman: The Killing Joke is a typical DCAU movie in terms of its animation quality. The character designs are loosely based on Bolland’s pen & ink work, minus the crosshatching details and shadows that makes the art so evocative. The comic-inspired framing works nicely, but the animation itself cuts corners with lowish frame rates and minimal camera movement. It is about as dynamic as any of DC/WB’s television cartoons, but without the big action scenes that help hide their static narrative sequences. This 1.78:1, 1080p transfer looks a lot like the studio’s other STV movies in terms of crisp details and clean black outlines. There’s a hint of edge enhancement and banding effects throughout some of the softer gradations, but this is a minor issue, since most of the cell animation is filled with solid colours and a single shadow hue. The computer painted backgrounds feature more complex textures and tightly-knit highlights. These show off the HD clarity a bit better than the flatly coloured cell frames. The palette is, unfortunately, not based on John Higgins’ original psychedelic colour schemes, but Bolland’s 2008 Deluxe Edition recolouring. The desaturated and naturalistic hues are disappointing, but also consistent and relatively clean, aside from some slight blocking noise in the neutral grays.

 Batman: The Killing Joke

Audio


The Killing Joke is presented in a reasonably busy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The sound design can’t quite compete with big-budget animated feature counterparts, but it keeps busy during the non-action scenes with appropriate environmental ambience. In turn, those action beats have plenty of whooshing fists, spinning Batarangs, and ricocheting bullets throughout the stereo and surround channels. Explosions and booming Batmobile engines rumble-up the LFE, as well. The driving symphonic music is credited to Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, and Lolita Ritmanis. There aren’t any memorable themes, but the three composers manage to create a coherent score and the nearly constant stream of music – including a short musical number – sets a nice mood.

 Batman: The Killing Joke

Extras


  • Madness Set to Music (11:54, HD) – The composing and production teams discuss the film’s symphonic soundtrack and recasting the original Animated Series voice actors. It includes behind-the-scenes footage of the voice and symphonic recording processes.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke – The Many Shades of The Joker (17:43, HD) – A look at the original comic book. The cast, crew, and various genre culture experts/insiders discuss its influence on various Joker stories in the decades since its release and the challenges of adapting it to animation.
  • From the DC Comics Vault:
    • Batman: The Animated Series – Christmas with The Joker (22:26, SD)
    • The New Batman Adventures – Old Wounds (21:11, SD)
  • Sneak Peek at Justice League Dark (8:14, HD)
  • Sneak Peek at The Dark Knight Returns: Part One (12:36, HD) and Part Two (6:52, HD)
  • Sneak Peek at Batman: Assault on Arkham (7:29, HD)
  • Trailers


 Batman: The Killing Joke

Overall


When it sticks to the source material, Batman: The Killing Joke is decent, but the ineffective supplementary plot, surprisingly bland performances (minus Mark Hamill, who stretches his skills between back-story Joker and supervillain Joker), and underwhelming animation probably aren’t going to impress fans of the comic, either. It’s also possible that, because other Batman properties (including Tim Burton’s original movie, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Bruce Timm & Eric Radomski’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm) already pilfered Alan Moore’s original story, the material just feels dry and antiquated. I certainly didn’t expect to be bored. Those still interested in the movie have a slightly compressed, decent sounding Blu-ray to look forward to. The extras don’t take up a whole lot of time, but are well-produced and informative.

 Batman: The Killing Joke
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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