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Can't Talk | August 15, 2020

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Joked To Death

Joked To Death

Welcome back the amazing Justin for an article on, in his words: So there’s two new animated Batman movies coming out next year. One is based on that ever so popular and never critiqued comic “The Killing Joke”–ah, %^&$.

There’s a fun game a lot of comic book readers like to play called, “Has DC done something stupid today?” The game’s pretty simple–all you have to do is look through any news involving them in the past 24 hours and tally up the points in the stupid or smart section at the end of the week. And then you either marvel at how they managed to not be insultingly stupid or get ready to drink yourself to death.

For example, this weekend DC showed off a new trailer for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” (+2 smart points), revealed some new comics (+5 smart), “Green Lantern Corps” is gonna become a movie (+10 smart), announced that Milestone would be coming back with its own universe (+10 smart), and they even announced three new DC animated movies for next year! The first is “Batman: Bad Blood,” which stars Taylor Swift as the Dark Knight and Kendrick Lamar as Robin (yes, I’m going for that joke). The other is “Justice League vs. Titans,” and the third is… well, it’s a rather infamous book.

Incidentally, I should probably throw up an enormous trigger warning here if you aren’t into hearing about sexual assault. Seriously, don’t read starting right… about… now.

If you aren’t in the know, “Killing Joke” is a famous, 1988 one-shot comic from Alan Moore (of “Watchmen” fame) and Brian Bolland. It’s basically the “definitive” Joker origin in that every other medium to mention his beginnings references “Killing Joke” in some capacity, from “The Dark Knight” to “Batman: Arkham Origins.” However, the comic is most infamous for what happens early on in the story. The Joker, determined to drive Commissioner Gordon as mad as he is, comes to the commissioner’s daughter Barbara’s house and shoots her in the stomach before stripping her naked, photographing her, and showing the photos to her chained up father. And it just so happens that this is coming out as an animated film next year as well.

…No, seriously, this is gonna be made into an animated film.

While the “Killing Joke” comic itself is regarded as among the top Batman stories of all time (having personally read the comic for the first time myself this past weekend, it’s okay and not all that worthy of its praise), Barbara getting shot and humiliated did not go well, to say the least. Feminist critics ripped it to shreds for fridging Barbara,her only purpose in the story being to suffer immense pain just so Joker can get to Jim. Sharon Packer called it “sadistic to the core.” Hell, even Alan Moore himself said he didn’t care for it years later, “I don’t think it’s a very good book. It’s not saying anything very interesting… It was probably one of the areas where they should’ve reined me in, but they didn’t.”

The thing about “Killing Joke” is that originally it was supposed to be a one-and-done thing that had no connection or impact, just something that sort of exists. But it’s something that they’ve never been able to let go; they’ve made it part of the official canon, and in the comics it’s sort of written as an inevitability that Barbara has to be crippled, which, yikes. Booster Gold tried to prevent it and that didn’t go well, as did Zatanna and Wonder Woman, and while they accepted that they weren’t able to change it despite wanting to, they took Barbara out for one final night before her assault at the Joker’s gross hands. Either of them saving Barbara and stopping her from being crippled would’ve come off as really ableist, which is an issue people had with the New 52 when Barbara was “cured” (ugh) and able to walk again.

I don’t think I know anyone who has an issue with Barbara being paralyzed so much as they do the whole part where she’s stripped naked and photographed while she’s bleeding. That’s where people draw the line, and while other Batman properties have never explicitly said that she was photographed naked when the Joker paralyzed her, the general assumption is that it happened offscreen. The only two Batman thing to come within showing the material is “Batman: Arkham Knight,” which has you play as the Dark Knight as he hallucinates Barabara getting shot and Joker taking pictures of her (clothed, because I doubt even Rocksteady would be that ballsy). You can’t do anything, you can only watch, and what’s even worse about it is that your Joker hallucination taunts you about it once it’s ended. The New 52 has made minor references to “Killing Joke,” usually stopping right as Barbara opens the door, and current “Batgirl” writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher have flat out said the Joker wouldn’t play into their book at all. When they did reference “Killing Joke,” they removed the sexual assault from it completely.

Just for fun, I decided to tell this news to my two friends, Jess and Sarah. Jess knows a little bit about comics, so I explained to her what “Killing Joke” was and what happened. The first words to come from her were, “what the fuck,” and when I told her it was becoming a movie, she repeated the sentiment in all caps, followed by “fucking fedora wearing nerds” and “nerds make me wanna die.” Sarah does know about the crippling and she responded instantly with “………….why? Come on DC, why are you doing this? Such a bad idea, oh my god.”

Sarah also brought up the other Batgirl controversy from earlier this year, which was a cover that referenced “Killing Joke” and showed Barbara getting all buddy buddy with the Joker. That cover was part of a Joker month variant along with 24 other comics and got pulled at the request of the artist Rafael Albuquerque after the backlash it got. The response to that backlash was… weird to say the least, since it was basically condemning people for not liking a story where a character is stripped naked and photographed. “These stupid feminists, how dare they critique a work where a female character is assaulted just for the purpose of driving her father mad?!” Just try to wrap your head around that one, and most of the response seems to be from dudes. I’m not saying those dudes advocate for female characters getting assaulted, buuuuut it’s kind of hard to not think that.

Maybe this movie would go over well if it weren’t for the fact that 2016 also happens to be Batgirl’s 50th birthday (she first appeared in 1961). I mean, I doubt it given the source material, but at least they wouldn’t have that working against them as well. (Incidentally, what are the odds there’ll be a Batgirl Eternal next year?) Granted, the fact that they considered making a film based on this just months after the cover fiasco shows that DC may be partially staffed by drunk howler monkeys. Yeah, “Killing Joke” is a “classic comic,” but it’s weird how they chose this one for a film adaptation and not, say, “Justice League: Trinity War” from the New 52, “Batman: Knightfall,” “The New Gods,” “Green Lantern: Blackest Night/Brightest Day,” introducing the other Lantern Corps, “Forever Evil” from the New 52, “Justice League 3000,” “Kingdom Come,” the Injustice comics, “Trinity,” “Infinite Crisis,” “Identity Crisis,” and plenty of other comic book arcs that won’t make people wonder if it’ll include its villain stripping a teenage girl naked and photographing her.

There’s still the possibility that they change the darker aspects of “Killing Joke” to something like Joker shooting Batgirl while they fight. We won’t really know until we get our first trailer, so if that gets changed I’ll eat my crow with a spoon and livestream. But until then, the reservations people have about the film are justified as far as I’m concerned. I understand people’s exhaustion with “Killing Joke”; hell I was tired of it before I even read the damn thing. While the Joke may have (debatably, it all depends on your point of view) lead to the creation of Oracle, there’s no denying that the punchline leaves more than a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.

(Batman property owned by DC Comics)

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