In this post I will be discussing the problems with Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. If you're a comic book fan, the chances are that you have heard of it. Before I begin though, I do want to establish that I think The Killing Joke is a great comic. It is probably the best Joker story line ever. It is a perfect portrayal of how twisted and dark the Joker is.This is a cornerstone comic for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between Batman and the Joker. It gives us a fascinating look at what the Joker's origin could be and the artwork is also wonderful!
However, it's not all good...
Unfortunately, it is rather problematic in it's portrayal of Barbara Gordon. And that is putting it lightly. Barbara Gordon is the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, also, she's Batgirl. She's incredibly intelligent and she is a highly skilled crime fighter. In the comic, she's only portrayed as Commissioner Gordon's daughter. She doesn't get her own identity as a character and it is never even mentioned that she is also a bad ass crime fighter who has had years of her own adventures leading up to this point. As I said, it's problematic.
For those of you who don't know her part of the story, the Joker shows up at the Gordon's house and shoots Barbara right through the spine, instantly crippling her. He then proceeds to take pictures of her naked. Then he kidnaps her father and forces him to go through a twisted fun house where the photos are all on display.
We get Barbara Gordon as a plot device. She is used to create tragedy for Batman and the commissioner. We are encouraged to feel bad for her but our sympathies are mainly directed towards Jim, her father. Which is not right. This is all wrong. Barbara should portrayed as being as resilient and tactical as Batman himself. Batgirl is a well established character and it is a damn shame that the writer Alan Moore does not care for her.
However, in a 2006 interview with Wizardmagazine, Moore criticized his decision to cripple Barbara Gordon: "I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon - who was Batgirl at the time - and if I remember, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project ... [He] said, 'Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.' It was probably one of the areas where they should've reined me in, but they didn't."
Can you believe that? "Cripple the bitch". Good job Mr Wein. Way to have a respect for DC property. This, of course, doesn't take any blame from Moore but it's pretty disheartening that no one had any objections to how the situation was handled. Not even a Batgirl tie-in.
Initially, this was meant as an else worlds story, meaning a story that uses these characters but is not a part of the main continuity. However, DC and fans enjoyed it so much that it became an established part of continuity and therefore Barbara's disability became a fixture of her character. Batgirl had her last adventure in Batgirl special #1 but thankfully, her story doesn't end there. In fact the one good thing about this ordeal is the fact that DC reintroduced her as their first disabled hero, ORACLE.
So I want to reiterate. I personally, don't have a problem with the fact that she was crippled by the Joker. That made room for a whole bunch of great stories where she had become Oracle. However, the problem is in how they handled it. As I've mentioned, we don't see her side of the story at all. The first time we see her is just before she is shot. The next time we see her, she is in hospital and tells Batman that the Joker has her father. The last time we see her is through the eyes of Jim, as he has to see the horrid pictures that were taken by the Joker.
All she is in this story is another victim.
Nowadays, I feel like we have this problem a lot less. Comics have come a long way in the last couple of decades. Thankfully there have been no more women in fridges! (Google that if you're curious; women in fridges) I personally have seen a great increase in terms of making comics more female friendly. It's not just that there are more female characters but there has been a great surge in diversity in general within the industry. Whereas most heroes use to be middle aged white men we now have a great array of heroes of all different cultural backgrounds!
But now to get back to the point at hand...
With their highly anticipated animated adaption, DC had the perfect opportunity to fix The Killing Joke! And having seen it I can confidentially say that they failed to do so. We were all told that we would be given an extra Batgirl story to flesh out the character. This sounded good, perhaps it would help to give her an arc of some sort? NOPE, in fact, they managed to make the Killing Joke even more misogynistic than before... by making Batgirl be in love with Batman. Also, they screw. Thankfully, after that initial half hour it begins as just the original story. The rest is very faithful and therefore pretty good. That is, everything except the problem I was discussing earlier.
Seriously, DC? Can you please stop disappointing me with your Batman films? I'd really appreciate that!..
In conclusion, I think its fair to say that although I am a fan of the book I'm not a fan of a big chunk of it. I don't think I'm being a social justice warrior or anything like that, I just think Batgirl deserved better.