We all knew it was happening. The animation branch of DC Entertainment is taking on Alan Moore”s seminal Batman classic The Killing Joke. Yesterday Comic Book Resources revealed that Kevin Conroy would reprise his role as the voice of Batman and Mark Hamill would once again become the Joker. These gentlemen are arguably the best of the best when it comes to Batman voice actors, so it”s no surprise DC would want them back for The Killing Joke.
Now if they can just fix that pesky sexual assault.
Last year, I made my stance on this adaptation clear in my piece “It”s Time to Kill ‘The Killing Joke””. To quickly recap: while the comic is the definitive take on the Joker”s origin, the comic misuses Barbara Gordon terribly, having her sexually assaulted and maimed to further a man”s story. She is reduced to an object, a broken Sexy Lamp. Contrary to revisionist history, The Killing Joke did not set up Oracle, as DC Comics intended to throw Batgirl in the trash after Moore”s One-Shot. It wasn”t until Kim Yale and John Ostrander fished Babs out of the garbage to make lemonade out of lemons that Oracle was born.
For the most part, Barbara”s paralysis and PTSD are the only lingering effects from The Killing Joke. The Joker is definitely still alive (if you chose to read the ending as Batman dispatching his nemesis permanently). Doubt has even been cast on the Joker”s origin in the years since. And while Commissioner Gordon has had…robust…reactions to the Joker”s presence, the lore has never explored the ramifications of what happened to Jim in The Killing Joke, nor given him the lingering trauma that Barbara has been dealing with for years.
But there”s an easy way to fix The Killing Joke without sacrificing the greatest Joker origin story of all time. Actually, two ways.
#1: Let Barbara be the hero of her own story.
In this version, we change nothing. The Joker still shows up at Barabara”s apartment. She is still shot and sexually assaulted. She still ends up in the hospital. What we change are the DETAILS. Instead of the Joker passively recounting to Jim Gordon what has happened to the latter”s daughter, the point of view pivots to Babs. And she doesn”t just go down, she goes down fighting. Batgirl is a superhero. A little thing like a nearly mortal gunshot wound isn”t going to keep her down. So instead of writhing in pain as the Joker and his goons strip her naked and take photographs (which is sexual assault), she fights back. Bloodies them up a little. Battered and left for dead, Barbara”s only concern is for her father. With the last of her strength, she reaches out to Batman and the police to go after the Joker.
At the end of the comic, instead of lying unconscious in the hospital when Batman visits? Barbara is awake. Scared and in pain, but defiant. Determined to keep fighting against the worst of Gotham”s criminals. These tiny tweaks would go a long way towards fixing the issues many fans have with Batgirl”s treatment in The Killing Joke.
#2: It never happened.
In this version, we LITERALLY change nothing. Everything happens exactly as in Moore”s original work. The only difference? None of it happened. It”s all a figment of Batgirl”s imagination.
Think about it. It makes sense. The Joker is obviously still alive. Jim Gordon”s fear of the Joker could stem from A DEATH IN THE FAMILY – fearing his daughter could end up sharing Jason Todd”s fate if she continues down this path. Of course, that would mean Commissioner Gordon knew his daughter was Batgirl…good thing there”s precedent for that.
Just pull that panel out of the INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US timeline and stick it in the main continuity. After that, it”s just a matter of taking this panel from BATGIRL #49 and removing the ambiguity in regards to The Killing Joke.
Released on March 2, 2016, the issue features Batgirl fighting for her life and her mind against the villainous Fugue. Frankie and Batgirl”s A.I. algorithm go full Inception to rescue Babs from the false memories Fugue has implanted her mind. Co-writer Cameron Stewart hedged that the panel was left purposely ambiguous, “If you want to read it as retcon, you”re welcome & encouraged to do so. If you want the timeline as-is, you are also encouraged to do so.” Artist Babs Tarr was more direct.
Should DC Entertainment take the above panel and follow it out to “The Killing Joke wasn”t real” end game, it would lead to some very interesting story development. How exactly did Barbara become Oracle? There are limitless possibilities. After all, being a superhero isn”t exactly a low-risk career. Her paralysis could even still be linked to the Joker, just in a different way. Surely false memories are easier to implant if they”re grafted onto real ones, right? Or perhaps Barbara just got into an accident, completely separate from her Batgirl persona. According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, nearly 1 in 50 people live with some form of paralysis. That”s over 6 million people. None of whom were shot by the Joker.
You can read HitFix Harpy contributor Jill Pantozzi”s piece on why Oracle matters for more information.
Will the comics ever confirm that The Killing Joke isn't canon? Maybe? Will the new animated film stick directly to the source material? Unknown. But if DC Entertainment was looking for an olive branch to extend over this controversial storyline, either of these options would be a great start.