- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

One of the most celebrated comic books in the history of the medium comes to mediocre, animated life in Batman: The Killing Joke (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated R, $24.98, 77 minutes).

Based on Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s one-shot masterpiece from 1988, the latest mature cartoon from Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment to arrive to home theaters features a classic confrontation between the Dark Knight and the Joker mixed in with an unnecessary plot line tied to Barbara Gordon (Batgirl).

For those unaware of the original, award-winning book, the creators helped further define the origins of the Clown Prince of Crime as truly a homicidal maniac, while taking readers on a trip into the depths of his depraved mind. At its roots, it’s a marvelous, psychological horror story.

I’ve got a pair of beefs with the creative choices director Sam Liu and writer Brian Azzarello made when trying to adapt such a seminal piece of sequential art into a violent cartoon.

• Nearly every panel of Mr. Bolland’s artwork was a life-like masterpiece and could be hung prominently in many a pop culture museum. Warner Bros. Animation, unless using an antiquated motion-comic style, had little chance of faithfully adapting the artist’s brilliance to the format.

They could have opted to assemble an edgier team of Japanese anime artists to offer a unique visual adaptation to the piece.

SEE ALSO: Blu-ray review: ‘Hardcore Henry’

Instead, they went the bland route, often plaguing many of the DC Entertainment’s releases, sticking to a more conventional animation style that neither pays tribute to the original source material nor offers the world anything original to the medium.

• The stand-alone story clearly focused on the origin of the Joker and his choices to torture his archenemy through sadistic acts carried out upon Jim Gordon and his daughter, Barbara. The cartoon extends the short story to, what I am guessing, pad the run time?

If Mr. Azzarello needed filler to make the toon longer, why not dig deeper into that Joker versus Batman backstory or offer flashbacks defining the moral makeup of Commissioner Gordon.

Alas, he decides to focus on Batgirl and her adoring, slightly obsessive relationship to Batman. That’s 30 minutes of filler that with neither thrill the hard-core fan of the source material or peak the imagination of viewers unfamiliar with “Batman: The Killing Joke.”

Furthermore, the creators felt compelled to justify the R rating with unnecessary tight shots of women’s thighs, derrieres and breasts. The most egregious scene finds Batgirl actually roughly seducing Batman on a rooftop.

The Batgirl plot line completely distracts from the main event. In the graphic novel, Barbara Gordon was an ancillary example of the wrath of Joker. They could have lopped off that entire opening focused on her, and viewers would never have noticed.

If viewers can get past the above, and appreciate the core story, the actual dialogue mimics the original source beautifully with Mark Hamill delivering another strong performance as the voice of the Joker and Kevin Conroy returning as Batman.

However, simply going back and rereading “Batman: The Killing Joke” might make for a much more satisfying evening.

Best extras: Let’s start with a nearly 18-minute overview of the original one-shot comic book and pop art history of the Joker featuring interviews with executive producer Bruce Timm and Mike Carlin.

It stars loads of Mr. Bolland’s fantastic artwork along with some classic illustrations of the Joker through the years from Frank Miller, Bob Kane, Jim Aparo, Jerry Robinson, Jim Aparo, Alex Ross and Jim Lee, just to name a few. It also touches on the psychological make-up of the villain and Mr. Moore’ detailed writing style.

A second featurette offers 12 minutes on the musical score with a trio of composers Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis explaining their motivations for their pieces.

Best part of the segment reveals the work involved in the Joker singing a twisted, Broadway-style musical number that I am calling “I Go Looney.” Best of all, I enjoyed watching Mr. Hamill in the sound booth making aural magic juxtaposed with the animated Joker onscreen.

Additionally, as standard with DC Entertainment’s animated releases, viewers get some content from its superhero, cartoon vault.

In this case, it’s a pair of episodes when Mr. Timm was at the top of his game in the 1980s from the series “Batman: The Animated Series” and “The New Batman Adventures.”

Specifically, “Christmas with the Joker” features pasty face delivering holiday mayhem to Gotham while “Old Wounds” explains how Nightwing (Dick Grayson) soured on teaming up with Batman due partially to a girl, as in Batgirl.

Both episodes could use some serious digital cleanup but each delivers beautiful depth-of-character animated designs complemented with art-deco looking locations to make cartoon connoisseurs put on a Joker grin.

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