SDCC 2016 ‘Batman The Killing Joke’: One. Bad. Day.

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So DC and Warner Bros. have finally brought what is arguably the most infamous Batman and Joker story of all time to the screen, in cartoon movie format, no less. And San Diego Comic-Con, being the smart cookies they are, brought a showing of the film to this year’s Con and what is likely the most difficult audience to please, the fan-atics, so let’s get into this!

The Madness of Spoilers lies ahead!

Now, I know back-story has to be established from the outset and that’s more or less fine, but they sure portrayed Batgirl as whiny, at least for the entire first act. Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) is Batgirl and has been trailing Batman for approximately three years or so when our story begins. Sure, she kicks plenty of butt on her own, but she’s still in need of approval from the Caped Crusader, especially when she finds herself involved with mobster Paris Franz (Maury Sterling). Somehow, this mesmerizing moron manages to completely bump Batgirl off her game, sending her off on scavenger hunts alone and causing rifts between her and Batman (Kevin Conroy) when she realizes, duh, she can’t take on a simple one-man mouthpiece because he’s managed to get inside her head. Forgive me, but, that just didn’t sound like any Batgirl I knew.

And it just gets odder, because it turns out the tension between Batgirl and Batman had very little to do with an idiotic gangster, or their working-behind-masks relationship issues. No, it’s sexual tension, and after a good old-fashioned scream-fight on a rooftop, Batgirl and Batman get naked and bump bat-uglies. (No, the movie doesn’t show it, but you can clearly tell when Batgirl is perched atop Batman and takes her top off, what they’re doing.)

Inevitably, soon after that, Paris Franz gets dealt with and Barbara decides to go back to being boring librarian Barbara and hang up her cowl for good. That is the entirety of the first act and mildly more than half the movie itself, and a rather unfair go at Batgirl in general, in my opinion. True, the extended Bat family always has growing pains (just look at pretty much all the Robins), but somehow, I thought better of Batgirl than that. Barbara Gordon is supposed to be stronger and, let’s face it, more mature than this representation being offered to us. I suppose the idea is to give background to the relationship between her and Bruce, and while the girlfriend troubles being discussed with the cutie-pie gay librarian friend are fun and all, this whole thing is barely touched on when we get to the better half of the movie.

And here we are! It’s later and, once again, Joker (Mark Hamil) has gleefully skipped Arkham and Bats is on the hunt for him. Joker importantly goes to take over this old amusement park, to prepare it for the upcoming massive performance, but hey, first he needs performers! This means a surprise visit to the Gordon household and next thing you know, Babs has taken a bullet to the gut and the Commissioner has been dad-napped for some good old-fashioned torture!

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, we get treated to, let’s all just admit it, what we’re really here for, the Joker background story. In sepia tones, a young, struggling, never-named comedian tries valiantly to make money to get his very-pregnant wife out of a very bad neighborhood. He worked at a boring chemical plant before trying to make it as a comedian and that isn’t working out too well, either, so our unnamed man decides to try for one big score with some mobsters. They want his help breaking into the old chemical plant so they can get into the card business next door, but hey, there’s a catch: They also want him to wear the notorious Red Hood while he does it.

The movie kind of fails to let the audience know that Bats has been chasing the Red Hood and his crime gang for awhile now, so our unnamed man never really stood a damned chance anyway. But even before he can think about donning a scarlet helmet, news comes back that his poor pregnant wife has met a very tragic end, and with nothing to lose, Nameless decides to do the mob job any-damn-way! Rather like the very first Tim Burton Batman film, you can guess what happened next.

Meanwhile, in the present, Joker as we know him has stripped Gordon naked, dog-collared the poor man, and forced him on a nightmare carnival ride of madness involving naked photographs of his beloved daughter, bleeding and dying from a gut-shot wound. Trying very hard to prove his point, Joker far-too-cheerfully spouts his peculiar brand of madness and explains that anyone could become him, anyone at all, with the now-infamous line, “All it takes to become me is one. Bad. Day.”

This is meant to tie in with the whole Batman and Joker being the light and dark sides of each other, and really, who is to say which is which on that one bad day? Batman gave a heartfelt plea to not do this thing, whatever it is Joker’s planning next, that will likely lead to the death of one or both of them, when he went to see false Joker in Arkham Asylum. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now when we have the final showdown between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. Or is it? Batman gives a final, entirely heartfelt plea to let him help Joker, once and for all; it truly doesn’t have to end this way. And, for once in his insane little world, Joker answers him deadpan serious: It’s too late for that. It all comes down to this, the final Killing Joke, where Joker cracks a bad funny and after a heartbeat Batman actually lets out a guffaw right along with him.

And that, dear fans and friends and odds and ends, is the end. Except, of course, the inevitable easter egg after some credits, that is.

The style of animation is Spartan and very similar to the old ’90s Batman cartoon show, where Hamil first began voicing the Joker, and that is in no way a bad thing. Joker being the obvious exception, the show took extra care with his facial expression and drawings because, hey, he needs it for this story especially. Famed DC contributor Bruce Timm, who produced The Killing Joke, stated there would be a 15-minute prologue that would further set up the story, as the one-shot original graphic novel from 1988 simply wasn’t long enough for an entire animated movie; so perhaps therein lies the explanation for the whole Batgirl scenario. It’s actually a fairly good sendoff for a very well-known Batman story, and love it or hate it, every single Batman fan out there will want to see it at least once.

Batman The Killing Joke was released digitally on July 26, 2016, and will enjoy a DVD and Blu-ray release on August 2, 2016!

https://youtu.be/DDj4zGFf4F8

Wondercon 2015: ‘Batman vs. Robin’ Flies in the Court of Owls

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Warning! All kinds of spoilerific horror abounds within!

So, Batman vs. Robin takes up only a few months after where Son of Batman left off, with the devastating news that Damien is the son of Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne. This means that mad immortal bastard, Ra’s al Ghul, is Damien’s grandfather and his whole family tree is screwed beyond belief! When we catch up to Bats and the newly-mantled, next-generation Robin, Damien is of course already chafing under the restrictive yoke both Batman and Bruce Wayne are attempting to place upon him. Already trained under his admittedly sociopathic grandfather, Damien also resents the fact that Batman refuses to kill the criminals they catch, leading to yet more confrontations.

Even bringing in the original Robin, Dick Grayson, now a young man proudly busting criminals as Nightwing, doesn’t help, and sadly notches Damien’s resentment even further. When the mysterious representative of the secret underbelly society of Gotham known as the Court of Owls comes to offer Damien the vigilante freedom that is supposedly his birthright, what will the resentful son of the Dark Knight do now?

We were fortunate to be treated to a screening of Batman vs. Robin in the Arena section of the Anaheim convention center, and boy, was it worth the crowded seating. The fight scenes of the film, and there were many, were given incredible detail and could be easily thought of as real-life instead of cartoons. The struggle of Bruce Wayne trying to discipline a young man who is very much like him is approached with grace, even when it finally comes down to fisticuffs between Wayne and Wayne Jr., Damien’s own grapplings with the ideas of fate and blood-inheritance versus what he himself truly wants is something that, at its core, we can all appreciate.

After the movie was over and the cheering died down, creators James Tucker, Jay Oliva, J.M. Dematheis, Phil Bourassa and Andrea Romano came out to talk to the audience, along with cast members Sean Maher (Dick Grayson/Nightwing), Stuart Allen (Damien Wayne/Robin), and Jason O’Mara (Bruce Wayne/Batman).

The creators waxed poetic about their finally being able to introduce the beloved Court of Owls storyline into the Batman film universe. The film is based heavily on the Night of the Owls comic book storyline by Scott Snyder. Oliva mentioned that he specifically chose panels from the comics that Greg Capullo had illustrated, using a mythology that had already spanned several different comic books in the Batman world.

Bourassa happily agreed, “It was quite fun to delve into new characters that already had a long backstory that had, so far, not made it to the screen.” Bourassa went on to tell a brief story about how the Dollmaker, one of the villains of Batman vs. Robin, was based on a make-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-into-a-weapon character he had dreamed up when he was in the fourth grade.

The returning voice cast of BvR expressed their gratitude to be part of the Batman-verse again. This was Jason O’Mara’s fourth time as the voice of Bruce Wayne and Batman, yet he still manages to remain charmingly humble, saying when he was asked by a fan if he thinks Batman is his character now, “Batman is shared by many great actors.” O’Mara went on to say that for this latest Batman film, he felt he spent more time as Bruce Wayne instead of Batman, and getting to know the man under the mask was vital for this particular film.

As an Easter egg for fans who notice that sort of thing, it was pointed out that Kevin Conroy, who had previously voiced Batman in no less than 11 series and features, was the voice of Thomas Wayne for Batman vs. Robin flashbacks. O’Mara related a story of nervously meeting Conroy for the first time, where Conroy jokingly choked the other actor for taking his place as Batman’s voice! O’Mara said he wouldn’t dare attempt to do his version of Batman’s voice in Conroy’s presence, since Conroy’s Batman and O’Mara’s Batman are two entirely different takes on the same beloved character.

Young Stuart Allen, voice of Damien Wayne and next-gen Robin, seemed at ease and enjoying his newfound fame in the Batman-verse. He spoke of schoolkids teasing him with, “How you doin’, Son of Batman?” only in terms of geeky admiration, and grinned about it.

Sean Maher, the voice of Nightwing, formerly the first-generation Robin under Batman’s tutelage, talked about the messed up father-son relationships between most of the characters sprinkled throughout Batman vs. Robin, and how most societies can appreciate such a thing. From Alfred taking the mantle of father figure to young Bruce Wayne, to struck-dumb adult Bruce Wayne trying to love his wayward son into obedience, in the end, as Oliva closed, “Everyone just needs a hug!”

Batman vs. Robin is out on Digital HD April 7, 2015, and DVD/Bluray April 14, 2015!

XXX