[This article contains spoilers for Batman: The Killing Joke]
It has been a long road for Batman: The Killing Joke, which began with its publication in 1988. A number of producers and directors have attempted to bring one of Batman's darkest stories to life, whether as live-action or animation, with little success. So news of a Killing Joke film finally in the works at Warner Bros. Animation Studios was exciting news, especially after a recent sneak peek at the upcoming feature.
Once initiated, the production picked up steam rapidly, with Bruce Timm signing on as executive producer and Sam Liu directing. Timm and Co. brought in voice actor mainstays Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill (Star Wars: Episode VIII), and Tara Strong to reprise their roles as Batman, the Joker, and Barbara Gordon, respectively. But there were still doubts that the grim source material would make the cut.
Today, EW brings good news for Batfans hoping for a true-to-tone film, as the forthcoming Killing Joke animated feature will have an R-rating. The film, released later this year, will be Warner Bros./DC’s first mature superhero animation, and the second Batman film to warrant the stiffer rating (the other being the extended cut of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice). At present, the studio has no plans to release a PG-13 version of the feature, but things may change depending upon sales.
Sam Register, the head of Warner Bros. Animation & Digital Series lent his support to the grittier vision in a company statement:
"... we encouraged producer Bruce Timm and our team at Warner Bros. Animation to remain faithful to the original story — regardless of the eventual MPAA rating. The Killing Joke is revered by the fans, particularly for its blunt, often-shocking adult themes and situations. We felt it was our responsibility to present our core audience — the comics-loving community — with an animated film that authentically represented the tale they know all too well."
Because Warner Bros. had, at the time, never released an R-rated superhero animated feature, initial fears that the studio would tone down the production were valid – despite the tease of an R-rating. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s original comic remains one of the darkest Batman works in DC’s canon. It features several horrific events, including rape and torture, while the Joker attempts to goad Batman down to his level. Moore’s dark story was his attempt to draw a very thin line between Batman and his nemesis, exploring how one bad day could make a normal person into a villain or a hero, depending upon the choices they make.
So far, everything is falling into place to make Batman: The Killing Joke a standout in terms of Warner Bros.' DC animated efforts. Not only will the film tackle the grittier subject matter head on, but the artwork itself, reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series, looks crisp and stylish. And hearing Conway, Hamill, and Strong in their classic voiceover roles is both comforting and riveting. Even news of extra Barbara Gordon backstory, used to extend the one-shot comic to feature film length, actually sounds beneficial to newcomers – especially in light of her fate in the comic.
Naturally, Warner Bros had concerns about an R-rated animated film having enough pull to make it successful (probably waylaid thanks to Deadpool). Also, the source story is such a controversial one, which some critics found misogynistic. Would Killing Joke be valid representation of the Batman franchise? Of course, grimmer fare like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy already proved there’s an adult market for Batman. Hopefully, The Killing Joke will keep the doors open for other darker Bat-fare.
Batman: The Killing Joke premieres at Comic-Con International in San Diego this summer, with a release on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD later this year.