The long-awaited adaptation of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” — which made headlines when it scored an R-rating — is finally here. The film debuted at Comic-Con International in San Diego with a little help from “Batman: The Animated Series'” Bruce Timm, Tara Strong (Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), director Sam Liu, Eisner Award-winning writer Brian Azzarrello and Batman himself Kevin Conroy.
Gary Miereanu came on stage to introduce “Batman: The Killing Joke” and reminded fans about the film’s special two-nights-only screening with Fathom Events.
“There’s actually not enough story material in the comic to fill the movie, so we made the decision to… give it some room to breathe,” Timm explained, before Miereanu received a call on his phone.
Mark Hamill, who voices the Joker, addressed the audience over speaker phone and thanked everyone in attendance for their support. “There’s been so many milestones… This is something I’ve been wanting to do, since we wrapped up in the ’90s… Tonight is very, very special. I hope you all enjoy it.”
Hamill then impersonated the Joker, sparking riotous applause from the audience. “Enjoy the film,” he intoned. “It’s just as insane as all of you!”
“We took that screen time to basically give Barbara Gordon her own mini-movie, because she’s always been one of our favorite characters, and I’ve always felt bad about her in the original story,” Timm continued. “We just thought it’d be real fun to let the audience… get introduced to the character.”
“Everyone in the actual ‘Killing Joke’ has a story arc except Barbara Gordon, and she deserves it,” Azzarello added.
“When I first booked Batgirl, I had just moved to town in ’96. I kept pinching myself,” Strong recalled. “She was a girl, and now she’s a woman and she goes through some stuff. It was really dark, and — for me — my favorite Batman is when it’s dark… We go really deep into emotion places… We really love it, and we hope you do too.”
“The original story is pretty tight. We got thirty minutes [out of it],” Azzarello explained.
“By the time I got the script, a lot of the big decisions had been made by Bruce and Brian,” Liu shared. “It was really smart, what they did. It allows the audience to ease themselves into the movie before all this heavy psychological, emotional… stuff that is the graphic novel. You get to understand who [Batgirl] is. She was a partner… All I had to do was follow their lead, follow the voice acting. The voice actors did such an amazing — it’s a shame it was only voice acting.”
“The key to me for Batman through the years is to find a consistency, and to keep him true, because you guys are the most amazing fans. You really are! You know more about the Batman legacy than most people. You know so much. You’d hear it in a second if I was inauthentic,” Conroy shared.
:The interesting thing about this story for me is it’s much more of a psycho-drama. So much of the episodes is action and fighting, and visually that’s exciting, but that’s not a lot for the actors to bite into,” he continued. :[In ‘Killing Joke’] there’s more to bite into… I was able to go to places I haven’t been able to go to before, and I hope you enjoy it.”
“I’m the neophite in the group. I’m the new Commissioner Gordon. I could start from the beginning,” Wise said. “I’ve been a Batman fan since I was 8 or 9 years old. I love The Dark Knight, I love The Batman — I love bats! For my money, this fellow right here” — he points to Conroy — “is the only Batman for me.”
“I am so proud and so happy to share the screen with him, and this woman [Strong],” he continued. “It is not an easy task… you know what Commissioner Gordon goes through… he has a confrontation with the Joker and it doesn’t end too well… I think that confrontation you’ll enjoy… It was a wonderful time. That’s all I can say. I love this movie. It’s like a 1940s, great detective movie.”
“It was chilling,” Azzarello said of Hamill’s performance. “All the Joker stuff he’s done before was leading up to this… Wait till you see what he does. It’s extraordinary. I can’t tell you how cool it is — I mean, I write comic books. It’s not a bad job! But I sit in my room by myself, sometimes the cat comes in, and I’m talking through these stories in my head. Gary gave me the DVD at a Cubs game… and then I went home, and put the DVD in. Seeing these words I had written… this is a really, really great story, and the actors are out of this world.”
“As many times as Sam and I have watched this movie… we’ve seen it a million times… and every now and then, we stop and go, ‘Damn, Kevin’s really good in this!'” Timm shared. “There’s certain scenes in this movie… that he really nails it in this movie. The same with Tara… and Mark as well. He’s still the same old Joker you’ve always heard, but even scarier.”
“You almost feel sorry for the Joker. You almost buy into what he’s saying,” he added. He also recalled how Hamill performed several flashbacks, pointing out that the past version of the Joker sounds more like Hamill than the Joker ever has.
“[Hamill] went to places I think all of us were surprised with,” Conroy said.
“We love working together. We love each other. We definitely have a rhythm,” Strong added. “There’s thing that Mark does that I kind of wanted to listen again and do a double take… He still goes to those crazy places, and he’s such a diverse, talented guy… I still pinch myself when I’m with him.”
“There’s a lot of trust between these actors. It’s true,” Timm pitched in.
“When Brian and I and several other people first sat down… we said, ‘One thing we need to figure out is what happens at the end of the movie’… and everyone had a different interpretation at the end of the movie,” he recalled. Azzarello called the ending they came up with “perfect.”
Miereanu then confirmed a “Justice League Dark” animated film, then announced “Teen Titans: The Judas Contact” for the spring as well as “Harley Quinn: A Bruce Timm Original” for next summer.
Following the film, Miereanu revealed that the soundtrack is now available for purchase as Timm, Azzarello and Liu reentered the stage for a fan Q&A.
Asked what the most difficult part of making the film was, Azzarello said, “Keeping it quiet.”
“I think of almost every creative thing we do… as kind of like problem-solving,” Timm shared. “Even at the very beginning, I think, ‘I want to make an interesting movie. How do I accomplish that?'”
“I couldn’t actually be happier. You guys all laughed at the right places, you lost your shit at the right places. I think it played pretty well,” he added.
“The first half plays so much better than I was expecting,” Azzarello said. “You guys did what I wanted you to do.”
“There’s nothing more satisfying… than seeing how you guys react, especially when it’s positive,” Liu pitched in. “It makes it all worth it.”
“What we do, it takes time. It takes a lot of time. At times, you read things and it’s so dismissive… at least put the homework in. It’s so great you guys were into what we did,” Azzarello concluded.
“Honestly, I think it’s harder to come up with an all-new story… With something that’s as well drawn as this series — Bolland’s staging is so immaculate… Literally starting with a blank page without a firm story to adapt is always harder,” Timm revealed.
“They’re both hard in their own way. When you have something so beloved, it’s beloved for a reason. You stay faithful, and you’re halfway there. That being said,too, do you take a little liberty…? I feel like those kinds of decisions haunt you a little. Even in ‘The Killing Joke,’ there are things that work really well because it’s a comic,” Liu explained.
“The thing about this is that it’s controversial, so we added more controversy,” Azzarello said.
“I think she is stronger than the men in her life in this story. She controls the men in her life in this story,” he said of the controversial sex scene between Barbara and Bruce.
“They both make mistakes, but she’s the one who decides, ‘I have to stop. There’s a problem here, and I need to step away from this.’ I think that comes from an emotional strength. I think she makes the decisions that strong people make,” Liu explained.
“She comes off as a stronger character at the end of that arc,” Azzarello agreed.
Warner Bros. Animation’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” will be available for Digital HD download on July 26, and arrives on Blu-ray/DVD on August 2. The film is making its World Premiere at San Diego’s Comic-Con International on July 22.
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