When it was announced that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were reprising their respective roles of Batman and the Joker for the upcoming animated DC feature adaptation of ‘The Killing Joke‘, fans everywhere went crazy. The fact that these two actors who, to many (including myself), were the definitive voices for these characters were returning to create a cinematic adaptation of what is arguably THE definitive Joker story was amazing. Add to that the reveal that Fathom Events would be showing the movie in theaters across the country before the film came out on Bluray and DVD…. it was like Christmas in July! For the 1st time since the 1993 release of ‘Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm‘, I’d be able to go to the movie theater and see an animated Batman feature on the big screen. SIGN. ME. UP!!!
Tim Burton’s ‘Batman‘ film is what got me started into collecting comic books. Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s ‘The Killing Joke’ had been released over a year earlier and when I went back and read it, I could clearly see where Burton borrowed from the graphic novel for the origin of Jack Nicholson‘s Joker. ‘The Killing Joke’ would remain as the centerpiece of Joker’s history as much as his first appearance in Batman #1 from 1940 would be. It was even the first book that Heath Ledger was said to have read for preparation of his role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ in 2008. Now to see the actual story brought to life by Warner Bros Animation (which have, in my opinion, turned out masterpiece after masterpiece) was most certainly something about which we all should be excited.
‘The Killing Joke’ opens with a story about Batman and Batgirl (voiced again by the one-and-only Tara Strong) tracking and taking down a narcissistic, sadistic criminal named Paris Franz who becomes obsessed with Batgirl. The events that occur as a result of this story lead to Barbara Gordon giving up the role of Batgirl a few weeks prior to the beginning of the actual graphic novel story we all know. This opening was provided not just to pad the movie but to help cement the role Babs / Batgirl has in the DC Universe. In my opinion it stood quite well on it’s own as a solo Batgirl adventure. However, it also added a bit of controversy at SDCC this year when it was screened for attendees. Be that as it may, you can never please everyone no matter what you do. I think that the opening added a new (if already assumed, in some cases) layer to the relationship between Batgirl and Batman and it also helped strike a certain tone while setting up the audience with a new perspective going into ‘The Killing Joke’ itself.
To sum it up quickly: the movie was phenomenal! The direction by Sam Liu and the writing by Brian Azzarello was pitch-perfect. Scenes from the film were carefully done so it looked as if they were plucked right from the pages of the original graphic novel. The fun house scene where Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon (voiced by Ray Wise) insane features a musical number gleefully performed by Mark Hamill. In reading the story, I always wondered about the tune and I’m sure everyone heard different music for the words provided by Alan Moore’s writing. But the music (all composed by Michael McCuistion, Kristopher Carter and Lolita Ritmanis) throughout the film in general and with “I Go Looney” in particular help push the film to an extra level of amazing. P.S. The soundtrack is currently available for digital download with a physical copy to follow soon.
Not to take away anything from any of the other voice actors who have portrayed Batman and Joker over the years, but had anyone besides Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill been picked for this project, I doubt that it would have had the same impact. Bruce Timm essentially got the band back together to create the perfect storm that comes from everything being in place at the same time. For this cast to take on this iconic, cult-classic story with such an amazing animation department and writing team behind it and then paired with possibly the best film score of any movie since ‘The Crow‘, you have lightning in a bottle. Whether you are a Batman fan in particular, a comic book fan in general, if you’ve read the original source material or if you have never read it but heard about it: you’ll want to see ‘The Killing Joke’ either tonight in theaters (yes, they added an extra day) or on Bluray and DVD on August 2nd!!