Over the years, a handful of stories have defined the cutting edge of the comic book world. Graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen gave rise to the darker, more adult-oriented fare in the sequential art world, allowing for grittier tales to emerge like Moore’s Bat-magnum opus, Batman: The Killing Joke.
Since its publication, the standalone book has ranked as one of the most controversial storylines in DC’s history. Attempts to adapt the story as either a live action or animated film have generally faltered, until recently.
The first official trailer for The Killing Joke arrived today. Its short and not so sweet minute-and-a-half teases the premise of the original graphic novel: that a single horrible day can break even a good person. The grim source material shines through from the get-go, when Kevin Conroy’s Batman asks Mark Hamill’s Joker point blank about who will survive their ongoing battle. And Batman’s question hangs over the all-too-brief trailer as fans are treated to glimpses – neatly adapted from the comic – of Barbara and Commissioner Gordon being taken hostage. The trailer then flashes through some of the archetypal duo’s epic struggles from the upcoming feature, ending after the Joker's infamous “one bad day” line, as his menacing cackle lingers through the fade.
Aside from Hamill’s Joker and Conroy’s Batman, the upcoming animated film also features the vocal talent of Tara Strong as Barbara Gordon and Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon, among others. During production, executive producer Bruce Timm and director Sam Liu seemed to waffle back and forth about whether the extremely dark cartoon would garner an R-rating. Since it was officially rated for mature audiences, we’ve only been granted sneak peeks at the production up until now. And the trailer was worth the wait.
The animation, while similar to the stylized artwork from Batman: The Animated Series, has been filtered through Brian Bolland’s evocative style from The Killing Joke. More than artwork, it's the cackle that says it all. Hamill’s iconic voice behind the Joker’s pale face ought to be enough to send shivers of anticipation down any fan’s spine. Batman fans will also appreciate Conroy’s return as Batman, especially since the two worked so very well together in past series and features like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and the Arkham Asylum video game series.
Hopefully, we’ll finally see a definitive version of The Killing Joke’s disturbing but important story line. And, since a feature based on The Killing Joke has been in the works since its release in 1989, it has been a long time coming. And it is looking very dark, after all.
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.