Batman: The Killing Joke is recognised as one of DC’s greatest properties. Not only does it cement the Joker as the most twisted comic book villain, but it also created a final panel that would be debated amongst fans for years to come.
However, there is also the view that The Killing Joke has manipulated Barbara Gordon’s character to become nothing more than a plot device for the leading male characters. Originally I argued against this, because when one reads outsideThe Killing Joke, it can be seen that Barbara Gordon grows beyond the injustice made against her. Even when the writers of The Killing Joke had no plans for her beyond the fateful shot, comic book editor and writers Kim Yale and John Ostrander revived Barbara to become more powerful than she was as Batgirl.However, the justice she received in the comics is missing in the animated adaption of The Killing Joke.
It has been months since the film was released to theatres worldwide, but the sting of how Barbara was treated is still fresh. But it wasn’t the animation of The Killing Joke that ruined the cinematic release; it is the film’s original prologue that is to blame.
There are arguments for and against Barbara’s intimacy with Bruce Wayne. Even with the DC comic series Batman Beyond supporting the idea that Barbara and Bruce had a fleeting relationship, the whole concept weirds me out. And without Barbara becoming Oracle, without her healing and becoming DC’s best computer expert and a brilliant field strategist, her assault is nothing more than a plot point for the three leading males.
So, in an attempt to better my favourite comic’s film adaptation, here’s my pitch to fix it.
A fresh story for the prologue was unnecessary, especially with the writers making her the sexual desire of her villain (Paris) and her mentor. However, a prologue is necessary, but it needs to be less tedious. An example of a possible prologue plot could easily be Batman: Gotham Knights #43. The story would have to be manipulated to fit the silver screen, so it would go something like this:
Starting at page 19, Batman and Batgirl stand atop a building, discussing the emotional state of Jason Todd who is taking care of the Batmobile below.
“That’s it?” says Batman.
“What more is there to say?”
“I want your assessment of his character… his ability to do this… not just a debriefing on the case you cracked.”
The conversation cements Barbara as one of Batman’s alliesandadvisors. It elevates her status in the Batfamily, and the story that follows proves her seniority in Gotham’s favourite vigilante gang.
Cut back to page 10. Batgirl warns Robin to slow down as they speed across the water in a boat. The conversation continues with Batgirl denying she’s a babysitter and she goes on to say that the vigilantes under Batman are like a family. The pair go on to disarm a boat full of smugglers, the only hiccup being Robin launching a harpoon into a criminal’s hand. Batgirl explains how the bat-vigilantes don’t condone lethal force. The pair then learn that the criminals were smuggling cigarettes.
Page 17 now, and Batgirl catches Robin tossing a smoking cigarette onto the pier. The sun is rising over the bay.
“I bet you don’t do that around the house,” says Batgirl.
“Do what?” Robin says. Batgirl doesn’t even threaten to tell Batman. No, she threatens to discipline him herself. But she has also brought him breakfast in the form of chilidogs.
She’s fair, she’s in charge, she’s respected. More importantly, Batman respects her opinion.
Cutting back to page 19, she further discusses Jason Todd while atop the building. The dialogue could be pulled exactly from the pages; the only change would be adding Barbara’s current absence from the Batgirl role. The change would be small, like this:
“I may need you to work with him again,” Batman would say.
“The cowl was a favour this time, Batman. It’s not permanent.”
Then, the dialogue would slip back to the panels, and the vigilantes’would speak unknowingly of Barbara’s future.
This prologue has the opportunity to come under the time length of the original’s, which leaves room for an epilogue. And an epilogue gives the opportunity to show Barbara becoming the Oracle.
The epilogue would begin with a blonde lady running through the streets of Gotham, Penguin gang members hot on her tail. As she turns into a back alley, her phone rings. She checks her smart watch, and the name OLIVER QUEEN flashes across it. Dinah Lance presses a finger to her ear.
“What’s up, babe?” She’s puffed, only the slight hint of panic in her voice.
“Not quite, Dinah.” The voice is electronic and masking the speaker.
The voice proceeds to help Dinah as she escapes the gang members, and continues to direct her across the city. Dinah then stops atop one of Gotham’s highest gargoyles, looking across the city’s glowing lights.
“So… tech support. That’s new.” Dinah hears the sound of stone grating and she turns to see the old tiles slide open. She hesitates, then drops through the space in the roof.
Dinah barely makes a sound as she lands in the dark room, the city light’s glowing through a large clock face behind her. Barely a second passes when the space is illuminated, blue and green lights erupting from a wide range of computer monitors.
And there, at the centre of it all, is Barbara Gordon, her wheelchair made insignificant in the grandeur of the room. A green mask rotates on the monitor behind her.
“So,” comes the electronic voice. Barbara pulls off a headset, her natural voice following. “You want to catch the Penguin.”
Credits roll with stills of Oracle guiding the Black Canary through the Iceberg Lounge. By the end of the credits, Penguin is being arrested by Jim Gordon, while Dinah and Barbara are enjoying a coffee in a nearby café.
Although the writers hinted at Barbara’s future as Oracle, their short credit scene did not do her justice. But, by expanding her role through the credits with still images,her story would be tiedoff nicely. This also creates a fantastic transition from Gotham vigilante to her worldwide vigilantism.
But, this is all because to me, Barbara is a leading character in The Killing Joke. To me, it’s the scariest point in her timeline, a terrifying assault that could have easily had her throwing in the towel. But she grew from her tragedy and became something more powerful than Batgirl could ever be. The moment was just as pivotal as the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and the destruction of Krypton.
It needs to be treated as such.
Article by Brittany Jayne Howarth
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