Amidst the various upcoming projects that Warner Bros. have announced under the DC banner, perhaps the most curious is their planned spin-off movie dedicated to the origin story of The Joker. With The Hangover director Todd Phillips attached to helm the movie, and none other than the legendary Martin Scorsese on board as executive producer, this off-shoot from the official DC Extended Universe proved to be as enigmatic as it was divisive. Some fans felt that Jared Leto, who will apparently remain the franchise’s official Joker, hadn’t been given enough time to prove his worth in his 10-minute appearance in Suicide Squad. Others welcomed the idea of DC breaking away from their confusing and poorly planned franchise structure and using one of the most iconic villains on pop culture as its gateway.
Now, alleged story details of this film have been revealed, with reports claiming that Alan Moore’s acclaimed one-off comic The Killing Joke will provide the basis for the story. In it, we will see The Joker before his transformation, working as a failed stand-up comedian in 1980s Gotham. Nothing has been confirmed, and as of the writing of this post, Joaquin Phoenix is still apparently interested in the lead role (although he played coy when asked about it in a recent interview). Filming is set for later this year but may be delayed for rewrites.
The Killing Joke may be one of the most popular Batman stories in DC’s illustrious canon, next to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The 1988 one-shot graphic novel was a loose adaptation of the 1951 story arc The Man Behind the Red Hood. While some consider it to be the definitive Joker story, it's not without its critics.
This Page: The Killing Joke is Outdated
The Killing Joke is Outdated
For one, it's the story that made the paralysis of the once and future Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, canon - a decision that remains controversial to this day. What felt so fresh in the 1980s has now become overused and emotionally simplistic. The story was designed to work as a one-off but has been appropriated and paid homage to so many times that its character and structural weaknesses have only been exacerbated with time.
As influential as the comic has been, both in terms of depictions of The Joker and stylistic takes on the Batman world as a whole, its own creator looks back on it with heavy cynicism. In a 2000 interview, Moore admitted, "I don't think it's a very good book. It's not saying anything very interesting." He elaborated on this point in 2006 when he expressed regret over the fate of Barbara.
Its legacy has been further mired in controversy following the 2016 cartoon adaptation of the comic. Even at a scant 77 minutes in length, the film felt overlong, with not enough story to pad out the running time. To fix that problem, the creators added a new romantic subplot between Batman and Batgirl, which turned a few stomachs among fans. It didn't help that this storyline added nothing to the main plot, along with the implication that The Joker raped Barbara. It’s not a great adaptation, but it also highlighted how The Killing Joke itself is past its prime. While its influence remains, you can’t blame fans for wanting a change of story-line.
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