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So it turns out I was able to pick up the Batman: The Killing Joke Blu-ray for a reasonable price (“not cheap enough!” I already hear some of you saying) so I was able to form an opinion on the thing for myself rather than depending on the internet’s wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed its unleashing upon the world.
And…well…I mean, the cover’s nice:
…though looking at a large version of the image, I can’t precisely tell if this is a brand new image based on the cover of the original comic, just with extra details that extend beyond the borders of that comic’s cover, or if it is the original drawing, with those additional details added after the fact, or what. My vote’s for brand new drawing, since it wouldn’t surprise me if Brian Bolland exactly duplicated every strand of hair, every glare on the camera, for this new image. There are enough little differences that could be attributed to recoloring/Photoshop manipulation, I suppose, but…
“Hey, Mike, what about the actual cartoon?”
…Now, the discs inside are certainly very round, with nice labels, and…
Oh, okay, fine.
What we have here are two very different cartoons basically just glued together to make a feature with the expected run-times of DC’s usual home video product. You have the first half (more or less), which is relatively standard issue Batman/Batgirl fighting bad guys, and the second half which is the actual adaptation that you presumably bought the movie for. The big problem is an issue of tonality…the second part does not flow from the first part. You have slam-bang action with relationship melodrama, and then you swing into a story that, as originally presented in print form, has a measure of melancholy and introspection that the cartoon at least attempts to duplicate.
The elephant in this particular room is of course that Batgirl and Batman perform, to borrow a phrasing from my initial Twitter response, the horizontal Batusi in the first half of the story. Now, this seems very much to be wildly inappropriate for the characters, to say the very least, given the “mentor/student” relationship that the two have…and is in fact reinforced throughout this half of the film, despite Batgirl’s efforts to alter that status. Batman even says to her at one point “we’re not equals,” emphasizing the apparent power imbalance that makes this “hook-up” even more cringeworthy. Yes, in context, they’re both adults, but that’s not how their relationship has ever read. At any rate, I will say that to the film’s credit, their sexual encounter is presented as a Very Bad Idea, so for a one-off film, I suppose can deal with it…
…Not that there’s any real point to it, beyond (as I’ve seen some folks suppose) to give Batman even more reason to hunt down the Joker, since apparently just shooting one of his crime-fighting partners and, oh, the simple fact that he’s the Joker aren’t enough. This is part of the larger idea that the producers added this extended prologue to give context as to who Batgirl is, so that we’ll feel the loss more when Joker shoots her in the back half of the movie (oh, SPOILERS, by the way) and…I don’t know. I feel like if you had to it, an entirely separate adventure, giving us not just the classic context for Batgirl but the Batman/Joker conflict as well, would have provided sufficient contrast and not have diminished the whole by pretending to be part of “The Killing Joke.”
Now the actual adaptation itself is…serviceable, if viewed as its own thing. There are some highlights, like Mark Hamill’s voicework as the pre-Joker Joker, which was as good as I’d hoped. He sounds like a perfectly normal guy…with just the faintest hints of his eventual Joker voice at the edges. And the scene where Barbara opens the door and the Joker is waiting there with the gun pointed at her…that’s just as terrifying and horrible as it needs to be. In fact, that entire scene is probably the best paced of the film, and most closely resembles the source material. There are attempts at some of the visual transitions from the comic, too, and those aren’t too bad, I suppose.
But overall this trip didn’t feel necessary. Nothing’s really added by giving voice to the dialogue, by making the pictures move. Part of the appeal of the original Killing Joke is, like I’d said, the quiet melancholy, as in the scenes where the Joker is clearly reflecting on his past. And Batman’s opening speech to who he thinks is the Joker, about how he’s been “thinking about you, about me” — that works read on a page. It doesn’t work when read out loud. Even the joke that ends the story…the timing on its telling feels like it’s off…and we don’t get the sirens that drown out the laughter, even though Batman has explicitly said that the police will be coming. You can still interpret the ending in this way, however, which is a good thing since in my mind I do think that’s an important part of the story.
It’s like animating The Killing Joke has made it smaller, taking its sadness and its nightmarish qualities and reducing them to Just Another Cartoon, and tacking on an unnecessary prologue didn’t help.
I mean, believe it or not, I’m glad I saw it…I think it’s interesting from the perspective of what happens when direct adaptations like these are attempted (see also The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen), but maybe we’re better off when these stories are used as inspirations for new media adaptations rather than expecting accurate translations.
Okay, so I’m a little behind on this, but I’m thrilled this is happening…Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar returning as Batman, Robin and Catwoman for a new animated feature based on the ’60s Batman TV show.
There’s a trailer at the link…the animation looks nice, West and Ward’s voice work sounds good…it feels like West may be pushing the “jokiness” of his voice a bit more than we got in the show (similar to his voice work in Lego Batman 3) which sort of gives Batman more seeming self-awareness of the inherent ridiculousness of his circumstances. In the show, the joke was Batman was deadly earnest about everything, and making him in on the joke would undercut the show’s tone. HELLO, I’M THE GUY NIT-PICKING A NEW ADAM WEST BATMAN THING — I’m sure it’ll be fine, and will be perfectly happy getting new Adam West Bat-anything. I mean, I’m sure my voice won’t sound exactly the same 40 years from now. I’m just glad that The Bat-Powers That Be were able to get this accomplished while West and Ward and Newmar were…still available to perform, shall we say.
I’d love for there to be a series of these films, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say that one’s all we’re getting. Besides, they’ve already done an animated Dark Knight Returns adaptation, which is basically the only other story I’d insist on West voicing.
At the very least, it’ll be nice to have a new Batman direct-to-home-video cartoon that kids can watch, as opposed to the Killing Joke flick that was released a few weeks ago. I haven’t yet seen it, and I’ve been hesitant to do so after hearing about a wholly unnecessary and distasteful expansion to the story, with Batman and Batgirl having a sexual relationship. (Apparently to give Batman more reason to be angered at what the Joker ultimately does to her, since “the Joker seriously injured my crime-fighting partner” isn’t enough.) From what I hear, the adaptation of the actual comic itself isn’t bad…I mean beyond the problems with the actual story itself, which has undergone quite a bit of reconsideration in recent years…though apparently the ending is made less ambiguous. What I’ve been most curious about is Mark Hamill’s voice work on the pre-Joker Joker…I want to know what he does with that. Ah, well, maybe if the price on the Blu-ray drops a bit more, I’ll pick it up, or I can just Netflix it eventually.
Maybe instead of tacking on that unnecessary prologue, they could have used that portion of the disc’s runtime to adapt a different Joker story? Like “Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker.” They didn’t do an adaptation of that already, did they? Or while I’m thinking of it, how ’bout a series of two or three discs adapting this series? Sure this scene needs to exposed to the cartoon-viewing public.
I want to thank those of you who have pledged payments to my Patreon account, and I swear I’m not just saying that so I can link to my Patreon account again. I really am thankful for your generosity and willingness to spare a buck or three every month to my endeavors here. It’s very much appreciated. And like I said, there’s not going to be any special contributor-only content or anything, so everything I write for the site will be equally available to everybody. However, Patreon supporters will get to leave with me on my flying saucer to go live in my chocolate castle on Venus when the end times come, so just keep that in mind.
- Bully, the Little Bull Stuffed with Butter and Syrup, is a few days deep into A Month of Pancakes, which you should dig into immediately. I voted for Pancake Month, and got exactly what I was hoping for! Democracy works, sometimes!
- Blogging brother Tim relates his own thoughts on the state of comics blogging (as I did myself, not too long ago). One day soon, it will be just Tim and I standing alone in a wasteland filled with the desiccated corpses of fallen comic blogs, squaring off against each other, HTML tags in hand, studying each other for the smallest sign of weakness.
- Pal Andrew tells us about that one time the Jack of Hearts met the Incredible Hulk. Man, there’s nothing quite like 1970s Marvel comics.
- The Trouble with Comics gang look at nationalistic superheroing and discuss its impact on the medium. …I’ve been “on hiatus” from TwC for the last few weeks due to scheduling issues, but hope to be back and contributing there again in the near future.
- And now, for no real good reason, NEEDLEPOINT JOKER:
Someone brought in a couple of bins holding piles of ’90s Batman stuff, and this is one of three things I bought from them, just because it was so odd. (I bought it specifically to resell to a fella working at my previous place of employment, who is way into the character…and it is at that store the NEEDLEPOINT JOKER is currently on display.)
The other two things I bought were a Catwoman bank and a replica of a ’60s Batman fan club pinback button. Oddly enough, I passed on the signed Batman #500 from one of those home shopping TV shows, even despite being in one of those collectible fold-out comic binders. …The ’90s were weird, man.
Among other announcements at last weekend’s Wondercon, DC is apparently going to reveal the Joker’s real name in the forthcoming Justice League #50. They hinted at its reveal before, earlier in the storyline, and you can see those specific panels at that link where Batman learns the name, but we, the readers, are kept in the dark.
Now, assuming it’s not a big ol’ fake-out, it still seems kind of weird. As Twitter pal nicknewt newted…er, noted, “There’s two possible outcomes of revealing the Joker’s real name: 1: Someone we never heard of, thus anticlimactic / And 2) an existing character, which is dumb as [fudge].” My response was that it could be some heretofore unrevealed relative of Bruce Wayne, which, if I may opine briefly, would also be a dumb as [fudge] option. Given Batman’s reaction to the revelation of the name, it’s clearly got to mean something, but…well, I don’t know. We’ll see in two or three months, whenever Justice League #50 actually does show up.
And that’s the weird bit…the reason it feels like some kind of fake-out or doomed-for-the-reset-button reveal is because it is happening in Justice League, and not one of the main Batman books. Unless, as I also mentioned on the Twitterers, this is some kind of “Wolverine’s Origin” deal where the movie studios were going to reveal their own version of the formerly-secret information and it was in the comic company’s best interest to do it themselves in whatever title was convenient before it was done for them. I mean, I’m not sure what film or TV project could theoretically have done this. Maybe some throwaway line in Suicide Squad? Something they’re leading up to in Gotham?
The one time they almost got a real name to stick to the Joker was in the first Tim Burton Batman film, where he was given the name Jack Napier (a play, I think, on “jackanapes,” which is clever). The name ended up being used in the animated series (where I believe it was eventually revealed as an alias), and eventually faded away, finally unable to counter the decades of inertia of a nameless Joker. I noted, ugh, 11 years ago that the one remnant of that particular bit of the character’s history is that “Jack” (or something similar) is now sort-of the go-to name whenever the Joker’s past starts getting thrown around. (Interestingly, if a bit awkwardly, Alan Moore in The Killing Joke avoids mentioning his real name at all in the flashback scenes.)
Like I said, I’m still convinced this is a fake-out of some kind, but it got folks talking about their comics, so, hey, a win for DC. I personally think that would undermine the Joker’s power as a character, by nailing down this agent of chaos to a specific history, when he’s more effective as just this wild monster that came from nowhere to counter Batman’s need for order. It doesn’t matter who he was, just what he is, and (presumably) making a Shocking Reveal out of his true history may bump up sales and interest in the short run, but won’t really add anything in the long run. Then again, if DC really is sticking with it and (almost more importantly) if the tie-in media runs with it, the Joker’s real name could be with us for while…at least, until that previously-mentioned decades of inertia wipes it away once more.
Say what you will about Dark Knight III, and boy howdy you sure have, but it certainly brought customers into the store specifically for just that book. Now the real trick is “will they come back?” and of course I’ve had a customer or two ask the very astute question of whether or not this series will be released in a timely fashion (if it is, this would be the first Frank Miller-involved Dark Knight series in history to do so). And of course, there’s been some curiosity from parts hither and yon as to how involved Miller actually was in the series.
Having read it, I personally feel that this is definitely an interesting Brian Azzarello-written take on Miller’s Dark Knight-iverse, if not as quirky and strange as the previous installments. It lacks the wild shifts of tone in a lot of Miller’s work, from straight-up satire to dead seriousness, which is probably fine since trying to duplicate that particular balance is a chump’s game. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more, but I’m not feeling the Dark Knight-ishness of it quite yet. The inserted mini-comic with the Atom comes close.
As a retailer, I gotta complain about that cover, though. I’m trying to convince people they’re getting unique “FINGERPRINT SMUDGE” variants, but I think they’re beginning to catch on.
In other news:
- Speaking of Miller’s Dark Knight, Alan over at Trouble with Comics has a somewhat more critical look at the Dark Knight Saga than I tend towards, but still an entertaining read nonetheless. All Star Batman is a saint, I tell you…a saint!
- A wee bit of Star Wars comics history for you…here’s an old SW toy ad drawn by Rick Veitch.
- Can you believe that I’ve had to explain to people just who the Star Wars rabbit is? Oh, how very soon they forget that minor character from a handful of Star Wars comics published nearly four decades ago.
- First, read this Nobody’s Favorites post by pal Andrew about a certain superhero named Static…no, not the Static people like, the other one. Pay close attention to the lettering in those panels, and then look at this Twitter post I made a while back and tell me I’m wrong.
So I finally received my copy of the Batman Vs. Robin animated movie from Diamond this week, and this is some sticker that’s on the box:
Don’t know if that means anything to anybody that hasn’t read the comics…is there any kind of larger media presence for Talon and/or the Court of Owls that I don’t know about, that would make this sticker of use in attracting your average consumer in a Best*Mart? “But Mom, this movie has Talon and the Court of Owls! We have to get it!” Or is it enough that perhaps the very presence of the sticker ballyhooing their presence will pique curiosity: “Huh…these characters are apparently important enough for the manufacturer to go through the extra expense of printing and applying these stickers to the packaging…surely I, as a Blu-ray/DVD consumer, can’t let all that effort go to waste.”
Okay, I’m pokin’ a little fun. But honestly, one would think the promise of “BATMAN VERSUS ROBIN” would be enough get get someone to pull the trigg…OOH, sorry, Bruce, poor choice of words.
The movie itself is fine…not one I’d put on the TV to entertain the four-year-old in your life, because it starts off with a sequence that’s pretty much pure nightmare fuel. But it certainly delivers on the title, and I like the fact that this new movie builds off the previous Bat-imation film that introduced the Damian Wayne character rather than just leaving that as a stand-alone. I know the last couple of Justice League cartoons are effectively in sequence as well, but those are sort of blandish and empty (particularly the recent Throne of Atlantis), while these Batman films have a little more weight to them. There is one significant bump in the road, a flashback sequence that introduces the Court of Owls concept via a bedtime story in the most awkward bit of storytelling you can possibly imagine, but otherwise everything flows well, and violently, enough. I appreciated the clarity of the fight scene choreography, and I hope what I just typed right there turns up as a pull quote in an ad someday.
Anyway, I liked it. I hope they do at least one more to wrap up the Damian storyline…or, even better, maybe they can tackle the whole Batman Incorporated thing. That would be pretty amazing in animation. Plus, they still need to introduce this vital character.
The last couple of my posts have had me in a bit of a Negative Nelly mode, discussing some current retailing/publishing shenanigans, so I thought I’d try to focus on some of the stuff I love about comics this week, you know, for a little balance. And what’s better than Batman and Swamp Thing busting in on some thugs and giving them what for:
That would be from Brave and the Bold
#176 (July 1981) by Martin Pasko and Jim Aparo, about a year prior to the launch of the ongoing series The Saga of Swamp Thing
, also written by Mr. Pasko.
Ah, man…Jim Aparo didn’t draw Swamp Thing nearly enough, but I’m glad we got what we did. (Check out Brave and the Bold #122 for another Aparo-drawn Swampy/Batman adventure, written by Bob Haney no less.)
It has been almost literally decades since I’ve last seen this item, but my memory of the sight of it has been with me all this time. And now, here it is again, after all these years, recovered by Ralph from one of the boxes in his office, is the Batman-Colored-As-Robin-More-or-Less blue plastic whistle:
Don’t know anything about it, don’t know how old it is (probably from the ’70s, if not earlier), no idea how much it’s “worth” (everyone asks me if it’s expensive, I’m guessing “no”), but it’s certainly dirty and the stickers (one on each side) have seen better days.
This is almost, but not quite, proto-Batman of Zur-En-Arrh merchandise.
So following up on my brief grumbling about DC Comics and their handing of the 3D covers for Villains Month….
To recap briefly: DC Comics is replacing their regular superhero series for the month of September with what is essentially 52 supervillain “one-shots” as part of their line-wide “Forever Evil” crossover event, though they are all branded and numbered as part of particular series. For example, what would have been one issue of Action Comics for that month is now Action Comics #23.1 through #23.4, four weekly issues of Action each featuring a different villain. And on top of that, DC is using advanced lenticular imagery to give each cover a 3D effect.
In ordering these special issues, I had to take into effect the following considerations:
1. I needed enough copies to cover in-store sales, both for customer pull boxes and for sales off the rack (based on sales histories for each title over previous months).
2. I needed to gauge how many extra copies I’d need to cover extra interest caused by being a crossover tie-in.
3. I also had to estimate interest based on the specific villain being featured in each issue. (A Joker comic will sell forever…a Count Vertigo comic I’d probably have to staple dollar bills to the cover to get people to take it home.)
4. And then, of course, I had to use the immense precognitive powers all comic retailers must develop to foresee how many extra copies I’m going to sell because AWESOME 3D COVERS, DUDE!
After too many weeks of agonizing over these things (particular over Justice League: Dial E, tying together one of DC’s highest selling titles with one of their lowest, and wondering how stuck I’m going to be with copies), I finally settled on numbers I could live with for each title. I had enough to cover regular monthly sales, I believed I had enough to handle any additional interest each individual title might bring in, and I thought I had enough of a buffer to accommodate folks attracted by the 3D novelty.
And then this happened. DC wasn’t able to produce enough copies of the 3D versions of these titles to meet demand, resulting in allocation of retailer orders and the announcement of alternative editions of these comics with regular 2D covers.
In my case, it’s not as bad as it could have been, but Good Lord it ain’t good. Out of 52 titles, my orders on eight remain unchanged. On eleven books (including some particularly significant ones, like some Justice League titles), my orders were cut in half. Even more than half, in a couple of cases. Some orders were only dropped by about 1/3, but that’s enough of a cut to be problematic. In a number of cases, I only lost a few copies, sometimes as little as two. And, oddly enough, in the case of at least one title, I was allocated more than I ordered (which has me wondering if DC way overestimated the popularity of that one issue when originally setting their print runs).
For a couple of the drastically reduced titles, I am going to be stuck with not enough of the 3D covers to even cover pull lists, though discussion with some customers has shown that they’re sympathetic to the situation we find ourselves in, that it’s not our fault and they’re okay with receiving 2D covers if necessary.
Plus, there’s another potential hiccup, even with the titles for which I’m receiving my full orders (or close to full orders). The news regarding the allocation of the 3D covers has been widely disseminated, which means it’s widely known (or at least perceived that) these books are in short supply, which will jump up demand beyond that which I anticipated. As I noted, I based my orders on particular factors, but not one of them was “DC won’t be able to print enough of them, ensuring I don’t get even the numbers I ordered.” I was doing my level best to estimate sales levels on previous histories, demand for specific characters, and general interest in the 3D effect. Now that we’ll likely have “speculation” and “other stores trying to buy copies for their shelves” and “I hear these are rare, we better buy ’em” goosing sales, rack copies are going to dry up immediately, even with one-per-customer limits that we’re almost certainly going to have to impose. Even on that one Joker issue, for which I am getting my full order, but will now surely blow off the shelves.
Ordering the 2D cover alternatives to make up the 3D cover shortages was bit of a bear as well, though, as I said, some of my customers are cool with having 2D replacements. But now, I have to reconsider what my potential racks sales are going to be, as my estimates were at least partially based on the 3D covers attracting attention. Point 4 is now no longer a consideration in my numbered list above, which would have been the dealmaker in at least a few of the more borderline titles being offered. No offense to the World’s Biggest Count Vertigo Fan, who is very likely reading my website right now and is about to shoot off an angry email to me, but a Count Vertigo comic with a cool 3D cover might have sold to someone with no prior interest in Count Vertigo out of the novelty of it all. A plain ol’ Count Vertigo cover may not have grabbed that same customer.
Of course, Harley Quinn and Joker and Lobo and the like will sell comics regardless of how many dimensions their covers have…I plan on getting plenty of the 2D versions of those titles. Regardless, this whole hoohar DC caused by their overreach and inability to provide the product they promised is going to make a very nervous September for us, as I hope the orders I did my best to estimate will actually reflect reality. Otherwise, you may see me in front of the shop, rattling a tin can and asking for spare change.
Sigh. I hear if you look closely, you can actually see the grey hair shooting out of my scalp.
• • •
In other more amusing news: where I lead, Grant Morrison follows! Big news over the last couple of days, as Morrison revealed his interpretation
of the end of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke
. Basically, Morrison thinks at the end of the story, based on particular storytelling clues, Batman kills the Joker.
Why yes, that is an interesting interpretation, and old news to longtime readers of this site, who may remember I came to the same conclusion nearly a decade ago. …Of course, I’m sure I wasn’t the first, and in the end it’s just an interpretation of the ending, and not necessarily reflective of any direct intention of the authors. Not that I got anywhere near the blowback on this at the time that Morrison’s receiving now, since Morrison seems to attract his share of folks getting the vapors whenever he says anything. But anyway, I was a bit bemused by this turn of events, and my thanks to folks on the Twitterers who did their best to point out my original post.
• • •
One last item: Bully
, the Bull Who Walks Like A Little Stuffed Bull, was responsible for my corner box image
last week, in case you wanted to know what that was all about.
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