The Killing Joke Animated Movie Gets an R Rating

Batman: The Killing Joke

The DC Universe original animated movies, over the nine years the line has run, have often featured violent scenes (and the occasional bad word or sexual implication) that firmly put them in PG-13 territory. Just because these are cartoons doesn’t mean they’re for kids.

However, this is a new milestone, one of questionable significance. Batman: The Killing Joke will be released as part of the DCUOA line later this year, and the MPAA has given it an R rating. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment then released a statement that they will accept that rating, “choosing to remain true to the landmark DC Comics graphic novel’s violent, controversial story.”

I say, an R sounds about right. The original graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland was a cornerstone of the “grim ‘n’ gritty” trend (although Moore has since disavowed that approach as a mistake). Grown-up comic readers seized on the treatment of the kids’ comic hero in more “adult” fashion as justifying their hobby.

I am sarcastic about this because I don’t care much for Moore’s work, and to me, this milestone is notable mostly for treating Batgirl (Barbara Gordon, voiced here by Tara Strong) as a throwaway plot device, a character to be maimed and tortured just to motive Batman and Commissioner Gordon, as the Joker tries to drive them insane. It sums up how unimportant key female characters — and by extension, women readers — were at that point in corporate comics.

Batman: The Killing Joke

Thankfully, the character was reclaimed as Oracle, the most computer-savvy detective in the DCU, by Kim Yale and her husband John Ostrander during their run on Suicide Squad. Reportedly, Batgirl’s role will be bigger in this movie than in the comic, perhaps to make her “sacrifice” more significant.

Here’s the trailer for Batman: The Killing Joke:

For me, the best part seems to be the voice casting. Kevin Conroy returns as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, both modern masters of these characters as established in Batman: The Animated Series. The story is billed as the origin of the Joker, but honestly, does such a force of nature need a starting point? Isn’t it time to move forward, not backwards, in how we think about and portray female superheroes?

While animation, like comics, is a medium that can tell any kind of story, many people are turned off by an R-rated superhero cartoon, just because of the connotations and history of that kind of storytelling. Others would rather have more uplifting or enjoyable stories, instead of pushing the boundaries by dramatizing this kind of assault in animation.


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