Bat Sex and Bullet Wounds – Thoughts on The Killing Joke

Contains Spoilers

I’d like to start by saying I’m not opposed to people writing characters different to themselves – i.e men writing for women, women writing for men, writing as a different race, nationality, sexuality or disability than yourself – as long as it’s done well. Also, when you like something, you’re keen to see it be awesome. This is why I’m now going to give you a bit of a critical appraisal of this film – it is meant with sincere love.

The Killing Joke is, in my opinion, a great comic. The story is gripping and dark, and the art work is haunting. But it is almost a museum piece in terms of female characterisation in comics now. Alan Moore’s Barbara Gordon bears little to no resemblance to the powerhouse written by Gail Simone. (Full disclosure, I am a HUGE Gail Simone fan and think that her Batgirl is the definitive.)
Batgirl in The Killing Joke serves as a tool to move Batman and Commissioner Gordon’s stories along, not as a well rounded, 3D character.

“It is almost a museum piece in terms of female characterisation in comics now.”

Skip forward 28 years, and DC has released an animated movie of the infamous graphic novel. The fans were ecstatic – Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy were hired to reprise the roles of The Joker and Batman respectively; Tara Strong (you know her- she’s every female voice in super hero cartoons – you wouldn’t realise though because she’s that versatile. IMDB her!) was up for voicing Batgirl; and most excitingly, there was going to be a new prologue giving Batgirl more of a part to play.
Sadly, the writing in this part was as stuck in the 80s as the source material.

“The sex scene between the Bat folk was cringy”

I didn’t dislike it, it just wasn’t as progressive as I would have liked it to be. We saw a slightly offensive gay stereotype in Babs’ best friend (I assume he was her best friend – we literally learned nothing about him except he was gay and WAY too interested in BG’s sex life); speaking of which… The sex scene between the Bat folk was cringy, leading to Babs being unnecessarily aggressive to a random dickhead outside the library and then having the mother of all hissy fits on a rooftop. The violence throughout was graphic and disturbing, but weirdly, the language was oddly tame. Like, hearing a gangster say “eff yourself” seemed disjointed and weird. There could have been a way round it that didn’t sound so odd, I’m sure.

Barbara being flattered by the affection of villain (Paris) and the use of a throwaway “time of the month” line made it seem lazy and dated. I half expected him to suggest she cook him a roast and fetch his slippers.

All the way through this first 45 min, Batgirl was treated like a sexual pawn – everything was about who she was effing, who wanted to eff her, and if she wasn’t effing anyone, why was she not effing anyone? (See- it’s weird!) I have never seen so much interest in a character’s sex life since Jessica Rabbit!

So then we get to the body of the piece. It follows a lot of the book – Babs is shot; and the Joker makes a huge number of disability/librarian jokes. Like a lot. Now, while I didn’t find them funny, I thought that it helped show the Joker’s true colours, and were therefore not jarring with the context. And then BG ends up in hospital, no feeling in her legs, and she nobly sends Bats off to save her dad, who is now naked and being tortured.

“Spoiler alert: she’s pregnant, she dies…”

We also see a flash back to the Joker’s past, where yet another woman is sacrificed to further a dude’s story. Spoiler alert: she’s pregnant, she dies, he’s had “one bad day” and ends up falling into chemicals and becomes the Joker. You see her in one scene and throughout the scene you think “uh oh lady – don’t make any future plans! Your days are numbered!”

There’s a rather jaunty song featuring a kind of plasma screen hall of mirrors. Kev and I wondered afterwards whether instead of the chemicals, they should have suggested that the Joker lost his mind trying to accurately hang hundreds of flat screen TVs. “Bearded lady!” He could yell “I’ve bought the wrong screws from B&Q again! And the little bubble in the spirit level won’t stay in the middle!! ARGHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!” I would certainly consider a life in Arkham after hanging our 2 kitchen cupboards, so his fun house must have been a nightmare!

In the final moments, Bats tries to redeem the Joker. He offers them the opportunity to work together – the Joker could save himself. But, slightly bitterly, he turns him down, saying “he’s gone too far”.

Too bloody right!

My question to Batman is this: what role did you see the Clown Prince of Crime playing in your organisation exactly? The new Robin? Will he be donning some sort of skimpy green shorts (like the Boy Wonder) – bringing to mind the scene in the Simpsons where Micky Rooney takes over from Millhouse as Fall Out Boy. Surely the first time he makes a “Holy Batgirl, Batman” gag, someone would have to call him out on it.

“What role did you see the Clown Prince of Crime playing in your organisation exactly?”

And speaking of Babs Gordon, who is, we are told, a fully rounded character with a backstory and feelings outside of a few claret-soaked panels, isn’t she supposed to be mates with Batman? Isn’t her dad? I know they’re both fairly tolerant people, but I’m not sure if I would be so forgiving of the man who had paralysed me, made a load of disability jokes over my body, stripped me naked and (depending on how you interpret the source material) potentially raped me, was now the new bosom bud of the man my dad turns to in a crisis. In EVERY crisis. He even has a special light to call him! I just don’t think their already confusing working/ mentoring/friending/sexy (I still can’t stomach it, sorry) relationship could stretch to her being Oracle for this joker (sorry!) if he was willing to take on the guy who took so much away from her.

All that said, I don’t regret seeing it. It was an interesting piece of comic history and I was engaged throughout. Let’s hope it opens the door for other classic stories, for example Batwoman:Elergy, to get general release. That would be awesome.

Leave a Reply