When it comes to Batman and all the various graphic novels inspired by the dark knight and his rogues gallery, none have managed to achieve the cult status that The Killing Joke has earned over the years. It’s one of the few books, along with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, that helped cement a new age for the caped crusader as a grim and gritty beast of vengeance, a detective who was driven by the pain of the murder of his parents to become something terrifying and dark.
The Killing Joke isn’t another Batman story however. It’s a Joker story, a possible explanation for the origin of the ace of knaves as he seeks to prove a point: That even the sanest person can dip into insanity if they happen to have just one catastrophically bad day like he did. That’s the greatest strength of The Killing Joke and also its greatest weakness. Something that could have easily been overlooked if it wasn’t for a terrible prologue that eats up a chunk of the running time of this adaptation.
Because for anyone who is familiar with the source material, will know how Barbara Gordon gets the short end of the stick here. Back in the 1980s Batgirl wasn’t exactly as popular then as she was today, resulting in an editorial decision to “cripple the bitch” and use her as a narrative plotpoint for the Joker’s twisted ideology.
These days? She’s back in the spotlight, more popular than ever before and having left her role as Oracle to gather dust as she fights crime as Batgirl once again. And her fans have expressed some vocal hatred for how she was treated back in the original The Killing Joke graphic novel. That’s why the film starts with Barbara on the narrative, attempting to establish her as a crime-fighting equal of the Batman so that her eventual fate actually hammers in on some quickly developed emotional investment.