I usually enjoy DC Comics animated movies, because unlike their live-action movies, they’re actually, you know, good. But despite how successful and how influential The Killing Joke is in the Batman universe, I am not excited about this movie, and that all has to do with how this comic affects Barbara Gordon.
Don’t get me wrong. Based on the trailer, the movie looks like it will be good. It’s already got an R rating and isn’t shying away from its dark subject matter. It also features amazing voice acting from Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong, but all that being said, I kind of don’t understand the point of making this well-written but truly offensive comic a movie. I suppose it’s simply because it’s one of the most popular, controversial, and well-known Batman comics. It’s up there with A Death in the Family as one of those must-read Batman comics. But as a woman, this comic left me feeling upset and gross. Because what people remember about this comic is one major thing: It’s the comic were the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon and paralyzes her. If someone’s a big comic book nerd they might elaborate more on why they like this comic, and there are some great moments. The “one bad day” line that the Joker says to Batman is just perfection, for example. But this book is still, for the most part, so famous and so controversial because of what happened to Barbara. And the sad thing is Barbara wasn’t even the main character or focus of this comic in any way. (All screen caps are from hayley566)
Gail Simone sums up the issues with The Killing Joke perfectly here. Barbara Gordon is only important to the comic as a plot device. She is used by the Joker to get to Batman and James Gordon. She isn’t shown fighting off the Joker when he comes to attack her and it’s heavily implied that the Joker also sexually assaulted her. Barbara is given no agency; she is just a convenient way of hurting two male characters. We even see this play out in the trailer for the movie. Gordon, Batman, and the Joker are all shown speaking in the trailer, but we only see images of Barbara. The trailer wants to remind us this comic was so famous and controversial because of Barbara being hurt and assaulted—but like the comic, it doesn’t want to give Barbara her own agency. The trailer sensationalizes what happens to Barbara but still doesn’t want to make it actually about her.
This is one DC animated movie I am not planning on seeing. After this trauma, Barbara becomes strong as the superhero Oracle, but that is not because of anything to do with this comic. That was others attempting to fix what happened in The Killing Joke and has nothing to do with The Killing Joke itself. I have no interest in seeing such an atrocious incident played out on screen.