It’s no joke: Iconic Batman tale The Killing Joke to become animated movie

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Jul 11, 2015, 1:21 PM EDT

If you haven’t seen the animated films that DC Entertainment has been putting out over the last few years, you’ve been missing out. Based on the plotlines of their more popular comic books, these films feature top-notch voice acting and a chance to see your favorite pages in motion. (I strongly recommend All-Star Superman and Justice: Doom.) But one particular graphic novel I never expected to see adapted is currently in development for a 2016 release: The Killing Joke.

The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore in 1988, is one of comic-dom’s most disturbing comic books. In it, the Joker decides to drive Commissioner Gordon mad. I’m going to let Wikipedia explain what happens next:

[T]he Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and imprisons him in a run-down amusement park, and shoots and paralyzes his daughter Barbara (aka Batgirl). His henchmen then strip Gordon naked and cage him in the park’s freak show. He chains Gordon to one of the park’s rides and forces him to view giant pictures of his wounded daughter, naked, hoping to drive Gordon insane in order to prove that the most upstanding citizen can go mad after having “one bad day”. Once Gordon has run the horrifying gauntlet, the Joker puts him on display in the freak show, ridiculing him as “the average man”, a naïve weakling doomed to insanity.

Turning The Killing Joke into a movie is an odd choice: I read the graphic novel once, in 1988, and I’m still traumatized by the Joker’s casual cruelty and Barbara’s reaction. It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read, but I will never read it twice. 

DC Entertainment’s animated movies tend to be rated PG or PG-13. If the director of the movie sticks to the page, The Killing Joke, with its emotionally distressing content, would hit closer to a hard-R or even NC-17 for violence (although the MPAA tends to give NC-17 ratings for sexual content; for more on this, see the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated). 

The Killing Joke resonates in the DC universe to this day. It's referenced in the current hit videogame Batman: Arkham Knight, and while Barbara Gordon has recovered from her paralysis in The New 52, she suffers from PTSD.