An upcoming animated Batman film could be rated R

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Oct 15, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT (Updated)

DC Entertainment could be pushing its next animated Batman offering into an uncharted realm.

According to Polygon (via Slashfilm), DC parent company Warner Bros. has given the creators of the next Batman animated film, The Killing Joke, the green light to make the movie a rated-R affair if they want -- something no superhero film has ever done before, let alone an animated one.

To be clear, that doesn't mean the movie will actually be made or released with an R rating. What it does mean is that the filmmakers can make it any way they see fit, even if that involves content that could be rated R. Producer James Tucker says he hasn't decided yet whether he will push for that -- and the studio can also decide to trim it even if he does.

The Killing Joke can certainly live up to an R rating. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland in 1988 as a one-shot graphic novel, the book provided a definitive and tragic origin story for the Joker as part of a black-as-night tale that found the Clown Prince of Crime attempting to drive Jim Gordon insane -- a plan that included the shooting and paralysis of Gordon's daughter Barbara along with other tortures and humiliations.

DC's animated offerings -- the DC Animated Universe, if you will -- come out several times a year. Many have been based on existing storylines from the comic books, but none have been quite as dark as The Killing Joke (even Batman: Year One was somewhat toned down to a PG-13). The truth of the matter is that a number of these films are already not strictly child-friendly viewing and have gotten increasingly violent. But making The Killing Joke as a potential "rated R" piece pushes that envelope to its furthest extreme yet and acknowledges that there is in fact a large adult audience for these titles.

Even if The Killing Joke is eventually issued with a PG-13, there's no easy way to tone down the overall grim nature of the material. The book is often grouped with The Dark Knight Returns, the aforementioned Year One and Moore's own Watchmen as part of the wave of late '80s comics that revitalized the form while taking it in either more mature or exploitative directions (depending on your point of view). Was it inevitable that the animated movies -- which are probably far less risky to release with an R than, say, a live-action Batman blockbuster -- would head the same way?

We'll find out sometime in 2016, when The Killing Joke is expected to be released. As for casting, Mark Hamill is returning as the voice of the Joker -- and no matter what he goes through as Luke Skywalker in the new Star Wars movies, we can pretty much guarantee that it will be a walk in the park next to what he does as the clown.

Should The Killing Joke be made and released in its full R-rated glory, or should the animated DC films make an attempt to stay somewhat family-friendly?