Friday, July 29, 2016

The Killing Joke Is Feminist Affirmative Action

The much-reviled batsex in The Killing Joke film adaptation would be deplorable enough on its own, but the added subplot also reeks of politically opportunistic revisionism.

In the days surrounding Batman: The Killing Joke’s one-night theatrical release (or two, depending on where you live), much hoopla has been raised by comic fans over certain alterations made to the characters of Barbara Gordon and Bruce Wayne, who apparently take their relationship to places never before suggested or seen in the series canon. Having read Alan Moore’s Killing Joke (really old review here), played the first two Arkham games, and bypassed pretty much anything else in the way of Barbara-related comics lore, I’m in no position to comment on the credibility of this unanticipated development other than to say it’s disrespectful to the men who wrote the comics, the fans who read the comics, and the characters who carried the comics, which would be all around deplorable enough if the added subplot didn’t also reek of politically motivated, arrogantly progressive revisionism.

The original Killing Joke obviously wasn’t centered on Barbara Gordon, a minor character and centerpiece of the Joker’s horrifying scheme, nor did Moore’s choice not to emphasize her impede the ability of any fair and reasonable reader to empathize with Commissioner Gordon or loathe the monster striving to break him. Barbara was, by any interpretation of the word, a plot device, but that wasn’t inherently a bad thing, as not every comic issue needs or ought to dedicate the same attention to every character all of the time. This is a fault of Marvel’s cluttered Captain America and Avengers movies, which try in vain to equally apportion a shining moment or integral story function to a dozen different superheroes in order not to upset fans of War Machine, Scarlett Witch, Sharon Carter, and other lesser Marvel characters. Nor does every story need to feature a resilient and self-sufficient female character for the sake of availing witless, backsliding readers that women can be resilient and self-sufficient. This assumption is born out of a malicious, educationally-propagated fallacy that fiction, rather than being a coded line of communication between author and listener, should serve solely as a vehicle for promoting and engendering a warped leftist worldview, wherein women are never brutalized by more powerful men and both sexes have roughly equal agency in any given sequence of events.

Up until a couple years ago, or maybe even the release of this movie, The Killing Joke was unanimously considered a nearly perfect graphic novel, and it’s still a nearly perfect short story to this day. The passage of time and the softening of people’s consciences have no bearing on the artistic worth or philosophic clarity of a piece of literature, so while Emma Watson-worshipping college lesbians may denounce the shooting and humiliation of Barbara Gordon as an attack upon their sexuality, this is exclusively their problem and not the novel’s. Barbara’s limited role in the novel perfects suits the story Moore was trying to tell: it serves a purpose in a maniacal plan that couldn’t quite be replaced by anything else, it poignantly highlights the cruelty and perversity of the Joker while exposing Jim Gordon’s prevailing goodness, and it drives home the bleak, disturbing world of Gotham by utterly appalling the reader.

Detractors may dismiss this as Exploitation Fiction, but when has that stopped leftist culture critics from lionizing Tarantino, Argento, Miike, and other masters of exploitation sub-genres? The otherwise mediocre rape drama Irreversible still attracts new viewers because its director pulled no stops in shooting the film’s most exploitative, sickening, and undoubtedly effective scene. The point of moviemaking is not to utilize a female character in ways embiggening to disaffected females who like to claim make-believe women as representatives of their physical or psychological ability; it’s to utilize (or not utilize) a female character in ways that serve the nature of whatever story the author is telling.

Screenwriter Brian Azzarello’s unnecessary expansion of Batgirl doesn’t just taint Alan Moore’s already cohesive and complete treatment of Batman and the Joker; by totally revamping the opening to the story and kowtowing to Feminazi ideologues who either don’t understand or don’t care about art, it retroactively accuses the original author of committing accidental misogyny and ruins the movie by attempting to atone for ‘mistakes’ which were a byproduct of a less sensitive, right-thinking era. This Progressive pandering, more so than the spontaneous sex scene, voyeuristic night jog shots, or obligatory gay friend who does nothing, is the most offensive addition to a classic that needed no Obama-age updating, and will be remembered as one of the worst stabs at correcting a minor female character outside of Briseis in the catastrophic Troy (whose creators couldn’t stomach to depict a woman as a helpless war prize) and whatever that Leonidas wife subplot was in 300.

Story notwithstanding, the 30-minute Batgirl prologue is tonally incongruous with everything else inside Moore’s The Killing Joke, which the humorless remainder of the microscopic film replicates almost panel for panel and line for line. The introductory plotline is stuffed with awful one-liners and relatable character moments that had my sold-out theater howling with laughter, while the latter part features no relatable characters and only invokes humor in the most disquieting or horrifying of circumstances.

The voice acting by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy is fine, except when it’s not due to bad direction or unconsidered loyalty to the comic book format. All the Joker flashbacks until his transformation – the best part of the movie, bar none – are passed through stock, old-timey sepia filters that accentuate the theatricality of the voice acting and convinced me for about half a minute that the movie had switched to some TV show within the show. When he receives the news that his pregnant wife has passed away, Joker puts on a sullen face but speaks with little audible emotion, and from that point on the audience are drifting in the same boat of apathy. Dialogue is read at a breathless pace with no pauses for comedic or dramatic emphasis, as if the actors were having an after-school hang-out in the bookstore and trying to skim through the book as fast as possible to make it home in time for dinner. As such, it comes across more like an accelerated episode of Scooby Doo than a recommended-for-mature-viewers character study. The last time I read The Killing Joke I took as a kind of horror story about a tragic man who’d forsaken all moral restraints and wanted to prove that any man subjected to similar trauma would also revert to an animalistic state. The movie by comparison looks and sounds like a morning cartoon, and even with the heavily hyped R-rating, it still steers away from nudity, profanity, or atmospheres of terror and dread.

The consensus online seems to be that DC should have settled for making a 45-minute short instead of padding The Killing Joke out to justify a feature, but the movie’s ultimate failing is its indecision to distinguish itself from the core story in cinematic, thematically appropriate ways. The one major change they made from the book should have been omitted entirely, and everything else is harvested straight from the panels with no thought to fleshing them out to be suspenseful, scary, or filmic. Consider how tense and drawn-out the scene in Blade Runner is where Deckard hunts down Batty, how much mental unease Ridley Scott builds out of one compact environment. In Batman: The Killing Joke: The Movie, Batman paces down a hallway of green and purple mirrors, lets the Joker beat him up in a boring, bright room, then tackles him out a window all in a span of two or three minutes, thus ending a chase that could have spread across a range of carnival attractions.

For those deniers still sitting on the fence, DC thankfully demystifies the longstanding question of whether Batman kills the Joker at the end, effectively quelling any more useless debate and signaling that comics, written as they are for teenage boys, have no artistic excuse for ambiguity and should not be left open to interpretation.

Here’s hoping Suicide Squad has lots of snappy dialogue, likeable and one-dimensional crazy people I can quote ad nauseum to my friends, themes of working together to defeat a bad guy, nobody dying or getting permanently injured, and zero depth of storytelling. If DC would just take some lessons from Marvel, maybe they could start producing child-friendly entertainment like Avengers: Age of Ultron which all of us already know and love.

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