This is something to get excited about?
About a year ago, I wrote a piece about how DC’s biggest mistake was publishing The Killing Joke about 30 years ago. (Click here.)
My point was — and remains — that the story, while artfully told by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, revolves around the sexual humiliation of Barbara Gordon.
I didn’t like it then. I don’t like it now.
Readers, shall we say, freaked out, accusing me of being a censor (untrue), a bleeding heart (untrue), a social-justice warrior (untrue), a guy who wants all my Batman stories to be peppy and bright (the worst insult of all — and incredibly untrue).
My grievance was never so much that The Killing Joke was published in the first place. Art is art. Bad things happen to good people and good people have to learn how to survive being a victim.
It was that it wrought a generation of poor imitations and has been defended as if it were the Koran, the Torah or the New Testament.
The heart of my argument — provoked by a variant cover that showed the Joker dominating the modern, empowered Batgirl of Burnside in an especially unsettling, resonant way — was that it was time to take The Killing Joke out of canon, where it was never meant to be in the first place.
So many superior stories — like Batman: Year One — were removed, what would be so wrong about relegating The Killing Joke to a place in history?
It has served its purpose and its continued reference just serves to make Barbara/Batgirl a victim again and again.
Anyway, people will believe what people will believe.
Since my piece a year ago, we’ve gotten the announcement that The Killing Joke would be made into an animated film from Bruce Timm. I’ve ignored it, just as I have subsequent announcements of the voice casting, the release of footage, etc., etc.
I ignored it because I felt neither a desire to publicize it nor to make the same argument again and again.
But then it gets announced this week that The Killing Joke will be tagged with an “R” rating. And it was like this weird cause for celebration on the web:
“The Killing Joke is getting an’R’! The Killing Joke is getting an ‘R’! Woo hoo!”
And that is just bizarre.
Because the vast majority of that story is PG-13. There’s little, if any, foul language. There’s very little gore. The flashbacks to the Joker’s origin are pretty basic, noirish storytelling, as is Batman’s hunt for him in the present.
Unlike the operatic, brilliant Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller — which deals with similarly dark themes in a far more compelling, layered way — The Killing Joke is at heart a straightforward character study.
So, unless there are substantial changes to the narrative and imagery, what’s left to make The Killing Joke an “R”?
The sexual degradation of Barbara Gordon.
It’s left ambiguous as to whether the Joker actually sexually assaults her, but shooting her, undressing her and taking photographs is in the same arena. The only way, then, that I can foresee The Killing Joke getting that “R” — which Warner Brothers actually trumpeted in a press release — is that that sequence is animated in all its ignominy. (Maybe they’ll include Jim Gordon’s distant full-frontal nudity from the carnival scene but I have a hunch that won’t make the cut.)
I fully recognize the artistic choices Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and DC made and I admire their laudable desire to make comics more adult, even 30 years after the fact. That’s freedom, man. It’s the aftermath and response I find nauseating.
Giving The Killing Joke an “R” is not an indication that it’s for adults. We already knew that. It’s an indication that it will be grimly explicit in its depiction of sexualized violence.
And people are celebrating that — and it’s wrong.