9 votes

The issue with modernizing stories: representation in The Killing Joke (book vs. movie)

I've very loosely applying the title I used in yesterday's post because quite honestly, I can't even call what they did with the movie a modernization.

Intro

Old stories are always being updated for lots of reasons, ranging from trying to appeal to new audiences to correcting toxic depictions to fitting better to the current social or political climate and more. There's nothing new there. However, one thing I find a bit odd lately, as in the last five years or so, is that a lot of this modernization is actually done pretty poorly in main stream media. We see more forced diversity, queerbaiting, and generally bad storytelling.

There will be spoilers for both.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore (1988)

This is probably my least liked batman comic that I still recommend fans read.
It's one of the few Joker origin stories and have impacted the tone of Batman since. It's honestly the story I think of whenever I'm thinking of Batman and the Joker's relationship, and makes Joker the all-time greatest DC villain.

And of course, through the paralysis of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), we get one of the strongest female heros in DC - Oracle.

The Killing Joke is infamous for adding Batgirl to the list of Women in Refrigerators. The treatment of women, specifically Batgirl, is probably the most easily agreed upon aspect to modernize. She was pulled into this story without much thought on the effects of the character before or after.

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

When details about this movie was in the works, it was hinted (and then confirmed) that about half an hour will be added to the beginning of the movie and better flesh out Barbara Gordon. This was exciting. The end result was disappointing almost to the point of offense.

The additional time was devoted to Barbara debating with her "gay best friend" (who is every stereotype that phrase can embody) how her "boss" (Batman) doesn't respect her and that she should just quit. Also comes with a scene where she insists on being heard, is aggressive and then has sex with Batman. Yeah...I can't even truly describe how bad it was... (I'm just glad tickets were sold out at the theater so I didn't have to pay money to see it. I borrowed it from the library for anyone wondering.)

The quitting thing in particular really bothered me. Barbara is one of the few heros in the DC universe that does not have a tragic back story. She chose to be Batgirl for the same reason someone chooses to be a cop in a corrupt city like Gotham. In the animated series and in Adam West's Batman, Barbara became Batgirl independently. She wasn't seeking approval or permission.

Enough of the rant...why it didn't work? Ultimately, it was a lack of respect in general. There was a feeling all around that the team was asked to modernize, but they themselves weren't convinced. The end result was what you would expect a bunch of closed minded straight guys to write. Obviously no research was done to better understand gay men or women. They were ultimately not treated as real people. There was no research on Batgirl herself, and this includes watching Adam West's Batman, or reading any comics with Batgirl or Oracle.

Final thoughts

The sad thing is, they had a chance to really add to the original story. I would have love to see Batgirl in her prime. Show how strong and capable of a hero she was before she was paralysis and emphasize the loss Batman and Gotham will feel from loosing Batgirl. Show Barbara's determination in perhaps a little Oracle origin story. She's very smart, let's see some of that. Show her dealing with her own loss while still carrying a duty.

Edit to add: I would also drop the gay best friend. In the new 52, Barbara's roommate is trans and they build a real friendship before she's comfortable enough to tell Barbara. Steal directly from that!

What are your thoughts? Any other comic adaptations that stood out for you? (There are so many!)

5 comments

  1. [5]
    dubteedub Link
    MovieBob did a video on the scene with Barbara Gordon and Batman if you are interested in more discussion on that topic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsz-FC8RrCU

    MovieBob did a video on the scene with Barbara Gordon and Batman if you are interested in more discussion on that topic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsz-FC8RrCU

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      Catt Link Parent
      That was a really good video on basically why I don't like the Killing Joke and thought the movies were terrible. Thanks for sharing.

      That was a really good video on basically why I don't like the Killing Joke and thought the movies were terrible.

      Thanks for sharing.

      2 votes
      1. [2]
        dubteedub Link Parent
        Hey thanks! Yeah, I remember watching Moviebob's video on the Killing Joke awhile back and it captured my thoughts way better than I think I could have articulated here. It is just such a fucked...

        Hey thanks! Yeah, I remember watching Moviebob's video on the Killing Joke awhile back and it captured my thoughts way better than I think I could have articulated here. It is just such a fucked up power dynamic between Batman and Batwoman that it really leaves a sour taste in my mouth and I have no idea why the team decided to push the movie in that direction. It seems designed to stir up controversy more than any authentic creative vision.

        Moviebob is a pretty cool dude to follow and I like his reviews on nerdy movies and thoughts on the industry at large. He has been on a big #RehireJamesGunn kick lately.

        Him and Lindsay Ellis are my two go to YouTubers for film analysis right now.

        2 votes
        1. Catt Link Parent
          The frustrating thing is one of the reasons I've always loved Batgirl is because she doesn't answer to Batman (or anyone). In the comics, Dick (first Robin) acknowledges that she's "not a Robin"...

          The frustrating thing is one of the reasons I've always loved Batgirl is because she doesn't answer to Batman (or anyone). In the comics, Dick (first Robin) acknowledges that she's "not a Robin" because she's actually more on Batman's level, so the weird referring to Batman as his boss really bugged me.

          And on top of that, they're going to toss in the sex, after they introduced this power dynamic!

          Even from a "guy" POV, I really hate the whole if a woman is down for sex, the guy just goes with it thing. Cheapens Batman's character too...

          3 votes
    2. Catt Link Parent
      Thanks, I'll check it out later. Honest Trailers actually did a pretty good take on it too :P

      Thanks, I'll check it out later.

      Honest Trailers actually did a pretty good take on it too :P

      1 vote