Tagged: Killing Joke

Wayne D. Chang: Judging “Joker” on Its Merits

Wayne D. Chang: Judging “Joker” on Its Merits

There are several ways to look at Todd Phillips’ 2019 movie Joker. It is obviously grounded in DC Comics’ vast history, however it is not what most comic book aficionados would consider a “comic book” movie. Yes, it is set in Gotham City. Yes, there are references to Arkham Asylum as well as characters like Thomas Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, and even a young Bruce Wayne. However it would be grossly unfair to judge this movie as a Batman movie or even consider it in the same frame of mind as the introduction of the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman or Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight (and hinted at the end of Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins). Both movies featured The Joker as the villain, and there was a clear relationship between him and Batman, but as I suggested, this does not appear to be a typical comic book movie.

For the record, I have not actually seen “Joker” yet. I am basing this op-ed piece on what news is currently available, video clips, trailers, etc. This piece may be flawed, but it is my opinion, and you are welcome to take exception with it if you choose to do so.

We see Arthur Fleck as someone akin to Arthur Miller’s “Willy Loman” in Death of a Salesman – a man of little perceived significance and yet to come to terms with who he is. Arthur Fleck is the kind of guy who gets the crap beat out of him in viral videos. He is a stand-up comedian who has had more bombs than Dresden. From what we see of him, there is a slow progression into madness or at the very least, we see him come to terms with his madness and rebirth as the Joker, something more than a stage persona. Arthur Fleck has accepted this as who he is as he becomes visible to a wider audience thanks to an appearance on “Live with Murray Franklin.” The fact that “Murray Franklin” is played by no less than Robert De Niro lends a gravity to what could have been a simple comic book movie, but even saying that is doing a gross disservice to Joker. The movie is a love note to Martin Scorsese’s 1982 masterpiece The King of Comedy.

Joker is as Warner Bros Publicity has stated, “a cautionary tale.”

So far Joker has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim and response from international film festivals, however it has also endured pre-judgment from comic book fans who are quick to dismiss it as NOT a comic book movie. A friend of mine was excited to see this when the teaser first hit social media, however recently he said he wouldn’t bother seeing it as it was not in his estimation a legitimate telling of the origins of the Joker as generations of comic books, TV shows, cartoons, and movies have portrayed it. There was Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s timeless Batman: The Killing Joke (from which Joker seems to draw inspiration). There is also the older story element of Batman chasing a man in a red hood who falls in a vat of chemicals. Being immersed in chemicals apparently rendered this man’s hair green, his face white, and his lips red giving Gotham City the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. While the red hood was not integral to the Joker’s origin in some cases, Batman was, and in the case of  The Dark Knight, the Joker existed as a response to Batman establishing a symbiotic relationship.

A lot of dissatisfaction from comic book aficionados seems to come from the basic question of “Where’s Batman?” It is bad enough that adaptations of stories sometimes play fast and loose with established mythology, and some fans seem quick to voice that they’re not going to see Joker. I confess that I was one of these fans, however after deeper consideration, dismissing Joker as not a Batman movie would be just the same as what happens to Arthur Fleck in the movie – dismissing him as insignificant. Joker appears to be a frighteningly intimate portrayal of a man’s descent into madness and embracing it as others have not accepted him or his true nature. As such, I could easily see how this could and should receive massive amounts of critical success, however it is not what I would consider or accept as a comic book movie or a Batman story. Perhaps this version of the Joker would appear in an adaptation of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that certainly would be interesting, but I have reservations about that. It would be better to judge this as a character study.

Suicide Squad – The Big Reveal (Not A Review, Seriously!)

Suicide Squad Beacon Premiere

This is not a review of Suicide Squad, the latest movie that pisses off the critics. John deserves first crack at that, and you’ll see it in his regular space here at ComicMix this Sunday. And Arthur does his weekly review thing, and I wouldn’t usurp his turf. And I’ll bet our pal Robert gets a few comments in well before the home video release. Yeah, I’ll offer a few opinions here, but after reading the inner-most thoughts of so many of those professional movie reviewers I feel a strong desire to pull the bedsheet off of the painting.

Here’s the bird’s eye lowdown: the professional movie critics are sick and tired of superhero movies. Be warned – no matter what’s up there on the screen, the critics have wandered out of the theater in search of Elvis. Capes and cowls are crap. Enough is enough. Screw you, Robert Downey Junior.

Suicide Squad is not the Gone With The Wind of superhero flicks, and after Batman v Superman and The Killing Joke, it probably seems better to me than it should. Yeah, there’s too many people in it: without them, you can’t establish a squad. There’s one completely unnecessary supervillain plotline, which seems to be the hallmark of recent DC-based adaptations. Big deal. Suicide Squad belongs to three of the most compelling characters in contemporary comics: Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, and The Joker. And The Joker is only there to establish why Harley is Harley – and Harley is… complicated.

Here’s my big review: if you pull the stick out of your ass before it, and you, plump down into your popcorn-littered seat, you just might have fun.

Suicide Squad the movie is fun. It’s not Deadpool type fun, although the first DC/Marvel movie crossover should be Harley Quinn Meets Deadpool. Yeah, I don’t think that will happen either.

If you’re a movie critic or a professional Internet crank, “fun” doesn’t pay the rent. Critics’ vitriol should be measured the way most guys measure their penis, confusing inches with millimeters. The genre is not done. The genre has been with us since Douglas Fairbanks Senior first donned Zorro’s mask. Costumed heroes are a movie staple. If the earth didn’t open up and swallow those theaters playing Batman v Superman, the genre is safe.

Pick up a newspaper. Read about Donald Trump. The zika virus. ISIS. Killer cops. Hurricanes and tornados. Mongo crashing into Earth. After all that, trust me, Suicide Squad is a fun movie worthy of your time and your need to relax after all that heavy lifting.

Superhero movies have been with us for 100 years and, whereas the current fad will lessen eventually, they will be with us for the next 100 years.

Critics: deal with it.

Love, Mike Gold, professional crank

Dennis O’Neil: The Sound of the Bat

kevinconroy

I was on my way to meet the voice of Batman when I lost my mirror. I’m pretty sure the culprit was from New Jersey and so I’d like to blame Chris Christie but the Jersey governor really had nothing to do with it. Maybe next time.

We were in Manhattan, on busy 34th Street, in the midst of dense crosstown traffic creeping along, barely moving. Suddenly something struck the car, only about a foot from the driver’s head. Since I was that driver, the matter was of some concern to me. What had happened was, a truck had inched into my lane and hit my driver’s side mirror and there I was, looking injured and forlorn, and there, too, was the truck driver, a youngish dude in work clothes, blaming me. If you know me, you know that refusing to cop to a fault is not in my catalogue of questionable behavior, so believe me when I tell you that I am pretty damn sure that it was not my fault, thank you very much, but the east bound lane of a street rife with vehicles in the middle of the afternoon didn’t seem like a good venue for a debate and anyway, he was back in his truck pretty quickly, creeping east, so I would have been debating his tail pipe and, finally, going a distance to avoid any sort of confrontation is in my catalogue of questionable behavior. (Is writing very long sentences questionable behavior? You decide.) I got out and briefly inspected the damage.

I got back behind the wheel and saw a parking lot a block away. We weren’t late, not yet, but we were getting close, but the parking lot could be our friend in need. Just zip in there, grab a ticket and hurry to my destination. Then a police officer came from the curb and knocked on my window. I rolled it down and started to explain the broken mirror. But the mirror wasn’t the problem; intent on getting to the parking lot

I had forgotten to rebuckle my seat belt. That omission was going to cost me the better part of a benjamiin. And I remembered some of the reasons I no longer lived in Manhattan.

But we finally reached our destination, a recording studio, and I finally met Batman… well, actually, Batman’s voice. Kevin Conroy has been doing the voice work for the various animated versions of Batman for almost 25 years, so yes, I’d certainly heard him, but I’d never seen him. Soon, I was sitting next to him in a sound booth, both of us wearing microphones, watching an animated movie on a monitor and talking about it. No script, no rehearsal, just looking at the flick and commenting on what we saw. When the movie was released on DVD, what Kevin and I said would be an optional soundtrack. Strange gig. But a nice one. Kevin was pleasant and friendly and so were the techie guys. I’d do it again in a hot second, though I might ask to negotiate the broken mirror. I could live without attention from the officer, too.

PS: The Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times dated July 31 had a nice story about Kevin Conroy and Batman, which is where I got the idea for what you’ve just read. Maybe there’s some way you could check it out?

 

The Point Radio: KILLING JOKE’s 30 Year Trip To Animation

In the wake of Comic Con, so many fans were talking about just one thing – BATMAN:THE KILLING JOKE and the new R rated DVD release. Cast members Kevin Conroy,Tara Strong & Ray Wise join us to talk about their respect for the classic story and how it was transformed from page to screen.

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Molly Jackson Is Preparing For The Future

Wonder Woman & Elmo

This past weekend was the arguably biggest event on the geek calendar, San Diego Comic Con. It is an explosion of headlines, news clips, and video spots that most geeks salivate over. However, I was not one of them. That’s right, I spent the biggest geek weekend of the year creating Sesame Street characters out of fruit. It was awesome.

My niece, Baby Destructo (as I call her), turned three last week and wanted a Sesame Street birthday party. Elmo is kiddie crack, I swear. As she is my very favorite person to spend time with, my family and I spent the weekend trying to make it the best day of her year.

Hanging out with a three-year old is a reminder of how active an imagination can be. She was always pointing to nothing and seeing trains or butterflies coming through the house. She makes force lighting and names everyone after My Little Pony characters. We sat together and she read books to me, and even has her favorite book memorized.  My personal highlight though was when she pointed to Spock on my t-shirt and said “I like him.”

Towards the end of the weekend, when she was all passed out from playing her favorite game of me chasing her through a museum, I finally got to check out some of the highlights from SDCC. I was particularly disappointed to see some news pieces. A male con staffer decided to hijack a Women in Film Production panel to teach the panelists about the film industry. I can’t quite understand why, but he thought that he needed to help the female panelists explain their careers and run their panel for them. Then I checked out the reviews of The Killing Joke. I admit, I haven’t seen the film yet but the descriptions I have read are not promising. They took Batgirl, whose part in this comic is small in itself, and added a storyline that made her a lovesick child who only seems motivated by a man.

I was excited to see the Wonder Woman trailer; it was a surprising breath of fresh air after reading some of the others. It was a strong woman standing up and being an equal partner with a man while fighting for the equality of others. I would love to see more of strong female characters in all media, but what really hurt was seeing that a strong female character was dragged down. Mostly though, I think about the world that my tiny, imaginative, smart niece is growing up in.

Media will shape her more than any generation before her. She will grow up in a world where equality is an active topic, where in her formative years a woman is the first presidential nominee for a major American political party. But in the same breath, entertainment has dragged its feet in making changes. Every time we get a Ghostbusters or Buffy, another demeaning instance seems to rear its ugly head.

We have a responsibility to the future to make sure that our entertainment is diverse and equal. And in some ways it seems silly. After everything that has happened, this fight should be over but the current climate of this country has proven otherwise.

I want my niece to grow up in a world where she is treated equally along with everyone else. So the next time you read something that is not quite right or hear a joke that uses a minority group as the punchline, think about the future you want for the next generation.

Mike Gold: Suicide Squad, John Ostrander, and My Damn Good Luck

Johnny O Squad LogoAre you tired of all the comics-related movies this summer? I didn’t think so, but I do understand why some of the movie critics are. These poor bastards see a couple hundred movies each year, they have little choice over which ones they must review and after a couple years, the daily smell of hot popcorn must become cloying.

Still, a couple of these writers have become complete assholes about it. Fine, fine. It is a great tradition among the professional critic set to cast their noses so high in the air you’d think they’d drown in a drizzle.

Having just seen The Killing Joke in a real movie theater – that part was cool – I’m only a couple days away from seeing Suicide Squad­ at the New York City screening. I’ll be joining my friend, frequent-collaborator and fellow ComicMix columnist John Ostrander, creator of Amanda Waller and the concept of The Suicide Squad.

This will be a highly personal experience for me. John and I have been friends for 45 years now, which speaks highly of his astonishing tolerance. Amanda Waller and Company first got on their feet in my apartment in Evanston Illinois before I returned to DC Comics in 1986. John and I were plotting the Legends miniseries and, since Bob Greenberger was my assistant way back then and he and John had been kicking some ideas around we decided Legends would provide a great launchpad for the Squad.

We really weren’t sneaking John in through DC’s back door, although that image pleases me. When Dick Giordano offered me the job of senior editor, he was hoping that I would bring John and some of my other First Comics collaborators to the company, or, in many cases, back to the company. This was no surprise: it was exactly the same deal, with the same hopes, that DC’s then-executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld made with Dick when he was editor-in-chief at Charlton nearly 20 years previous.

John and I met because we were comic book geeks. We both were at a party dominated by people in Chicago’s burgeoning theater scene, which gave us the likes of John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, David Mamet, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna. In fact, John co-wrote the play Bloody Bess that starred Franz and Mantegna. When I arrived, the party’s host recognized me and semi-snarlingly said “Oh, we have a couple of other comic book fans here” and I was escorted to a lonely couch where us fanboys couldn’t infect the others. John was sitting on said couch, and we hit it off immediately.

Friendships come and go; the really good ones can exist forever and endure long periods of limited co-existence. I am lucky to have John in my life as a constant – our friendship never lacked personal contact despite my moving from Chicago to New York, back to Chicago, and then back to New York (well, Connecticut, really). John has also moved around, calling Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey and now Michigan his home. We share emails almost daily, phone calls frequently, and in-person visits whenever possible (in the comic book racket, that can be with alarming frequency given the now-12 month convention season), often over amazingly great barbecue. John and I have shared our good times and our bad, the worst of which for each of us being the death of our respective wives thirteen years apart.

John Ostrander has always been there for me, and that is why I am looking forward to the Suicide Squad premiere.

Even if the film breaks.

John Ostrander: Savaging Barbara Gordon

Barbara Gordon

Warners has announced that they are making an animated feature of Batman: The Killing Joke, the 1988 one-shot by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Central to the storyline is The Joker shooting Barbara Gordon at point blank range with a large caliber handgun, then savaging her (she is later seen with welts and bruises all over her face), ripping off her clothes, possibly raping her, and photographing her. Some consider it a classic. Others are asking how they can make an animated feature that’s true to the story and more are asking why they are doing it.

The “why,” I think, is pretty obvious – the book made money, evidently continues to do well on the backlist, and the powers that be are presuming it will sell well as an animated feature. They are probably not wrong.

I’ve read many comments on the idea online including female members of the comics community and all the comments I’ve read are disgusted with the idea of the comic as well as the announced animated feature.

At the time that Batman: The Killing Joke was released, I was co-writing Suicide Squad with my late wife, Kimberly Yale. Don’t get me wrong; I was and I remain a big fan of both Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Individually and together they have done stunning work. Moore is one of the giants of the comic book industry. He is, IMO, a better writer than I am and I don’t say that about many other writers (I have a very healthy ego and opinion of my own work, thank you very much). That doesn’t mean he can’t go wrong and I think that Batman: The Killing Joke went wrong.

In the controversial scene, there is the ring of a doorbell at the apartment of Commissioner Gordon. Barbara, all smiles and virtually going “tee hee,” goes to answer it. I should mention there is no chain on the door, no peephole to check who is in the corridor. There is evidently no policeman on guard duty in the hall. This is Gotham City, home of costumed psychopaths, and needs a vigilante dressed up as a bat to control the criminal population. James Gordon is the Commissioner of the Police and there are no safety measures where he lives?

Barbara opens the door. Barbara has been Batgirl and faced some of the costumed psychos inhabiting Gotham. She’s a grown woman who, in her own continuity, had been a congresswoman for at least one term. And yet she just flings the door wide open like a silly ninny.

There stands The Joker and he has a large caliber handgun. He shoots Barbara somewhere below the middle. From the angle, Kim and I thought it was the spine although others think he actually shot her in the uterus. He then rips off her clothes, beats her, takes pictures of her (while her father, off panel, is held motionless by The Joker’s henchmen), and possibly rapes her. Kim and I felt that was strongly implied but, to be fair, it was not directly shown.

I know women who have been assaulted. I know women who have been raped. That’s heinous enough but can you imagine what it would be like to have been shot, to have your spine broken, and then to be sexually assaulted? The pain, the horror – I can’t dwell on it too long.

Kim and I discussed it. To have been shot at the close range, to have your spine shot out, should have killed Barbara. If not, Kim thought severe sepsis would have set in and Barbara would not have survived. However, in the story, she does. That’s a given.

I should point out that the cover has a close-up of the Joker aiming a camera at the reader and saying, “Smile.” In that context, the only possible interpretation I can conceive is that the reader, the viewer, is Barbara as she lay on the floor, after she had been shot, presumably after she had been violated.

How does that feel?

The Bat office was done with Batgirl at that point. Barbara no longer fit into their plans. Kim and I asked if we could have her and we were told that. So we re-created her as Oracle. To us, it was important that the act have consequence. We didn’t want Barbara to magically recover. Given the violence she had endured, we felt she would be paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. However, we felt she could still be a hero.

It was a given in Barbara’s continuity that she was also a computer wiz. I mean first class. So we gave her banks of computers and made her the info wizard of the DC Universe. It started in Suicide Squad with her advising Amanda Waller, although we didn’t reveal Oracle’s true identity at the beginning. We left clues and, eventually, we showed it was Barbara.

Kim and I felt that, if we did the job well, Oracle could become an important part of the DCU. It solved writing problems for other writers; how did their protagonist learn a necessary plot point? They went to Oracle. She went on to become a valued member of the Justice League and led the Birds of Prey in their own book.

The last story that Kim and I worked on together before she died was Oracle Year One, drawn by the wonderful Brian Stelfreeze. We showed that year as Barbara made the transition from broken hero to dynamic Oracle. She became a strong and much loved icon for the disabled community. In making her a hero again, Oracle allowed others to heal with her. The reader healed with her.

Eventually, DC returned Babs to Batgirl status. Her spine was healed. Gail Simone was offered the job and she took it; she knew they were going to restore Barbara whether she wrote the series or not. She could, and did, make the events of the Killing Joke and Oracle a part of Barbara’s backstory; it wasn’t just forgotten.

It has been suggested that someone else could become Oracle but, to my mind, that wouldn’t work. You can’t just put anyone else into that role. It was the fact that she had been Batgirl, that she was Jim Gordon’s daughter, that she had her own long history, that she suffered the events of The Killing Joke – however heinous – all contributed to who she was. I don’t think anyone else but Barbara could be Oracle for the character to have any meaning.

I don’t know how all that gets fitted into an animated feature. I’m also not sure what parental response will be. It’s Batman, it’s Joker, it’s a cartoon. Great for the kiddies, right? Except this sure won’t be Frozen. If they change what happens to Barbara, I’m not sure it will be The Killing Joke either. If it’s not, why bother?

Oh, right. It’ll make money.

 

 

Martha Thomases: Killing The Killing Joke

Another week, another kerfuffle. This one, involving a variant Batgirl cover for the “Joker Month” promotion at DC comics, is actually a little bit more interesting than most.

(Please note: I actually find most of these events interesting, which is why I write about them so frequently.)

In this case, the usual knee-jerk assumptions don’t apply. Artists were assigned to create a cover that featured the title character (in this case, Batgirl) and the Joker. The assignment was made, not by each series’ editor, but the marketing department. Rafael Albuquerque, the artist, decided to create an image that paid homage to one of his favorite Joker stories, The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.

I really like that story. There are people who have issues with it, and I understand their concerns, but, to me, it is a phenomenal meditation on the nature of madness, and those who have to live with it. I wasn’t happy about how the rest of the DC editorial office reacted to the show, deciding that Barbara Gordon was the only superhero ever to suffer an injury (or death) that wasn’t curable.

(Side note: I did like the way Kim Yale and John Ostrander took what I considered to be an unfortunate editorial decision and made Barbara stronger than ever, as Oracle. I still resented that Batman’s back could be fixed, but not Barbara’s.)

Anyway, all this changed with The New 52. Barbara Gordon can walk again. Barbara Gordon can do the kind of amazing acrobatics that require usable spines and lots of training and talent. More recently, the editorial office and creative team decided to recast the character as younger, hipper, and more girl-friendly.

The creative team was not happy with the Joker cover. A lot of fans of the new series, perhaps too young to have read The Killing Joke, were not happy with the Joker cover. Rafael Albuquerque, when made aware of the reasons for the controversy, was not happy with the cover.

Finally, DC withdrew the cover. And that’s where this gets interesting.

There was also a lot of saber-rattling about censorship, which shows how little the public understands the word. The creative intent of the people creating the comic book was not supported by the variant cover, and they didn’t want it used. The only people who thought the cover was a good idea were those in marketing.

I do a lot of marketing work. I’m not opposed to marketing. That said, no one defending free speech has ever asserted that the needs of the marketing people should determine artistic expression. If anything, those of us who appreciate artistic freedom (even of work we don’t like) tend to prefer marketing people to butt out of editorial decision.

During the run-up to withdrawal, there were a lot of tweets and Facebook postings and other internet conversations about the issue. And, as so often happens on the Internet, some people got verbally abusive and threatening and there was name-calling and unpleasantness. DC alluded to this in their press release.

If you read the comments about this on the Comic Book Resources article (and I only read the first page or so, because I have a life, but not so much of one that I could stop thinking about the comments that I read), you’ll notice something unusual. After lots and lots of discussion about censorship and artistic integrity, the commenters are horrified that someone would threaten the artist. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior? Isn’t the terrorism of an Internet threat more violent than the image in question?

Except no one was threatening Rafael Albuquerque. The threats were directed to those people (most often women) who didn’t like the cover. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior?

It doesn’t.

It would be lovely if those who like the variant cover, who thought that it was horrible of the “social justice warriors” to threaten an artist, would 1) apologize to those they wrongly accused of making threats and 2) perhaps direct their outrage to those who actually do make threats, even if they agree with them otherwise.