Does the animated Batman: The Killing Joke need to be rated R?

Published On April 20, 2016 | Blog

It’s clear that DC has conquered the small screen. Wildly popular TV shows like The Flash and Arrow have solidified DC as a major player in the world of long-running narrative and DC’s animated features are no exception to the tremendous work being done by the comic company. The recent announcement of Batman: The Killing Joke getting the animated treatment has fans eager to see how DC will portray Allan Moore’s infamous story.

            Now the scandalous cherry on top of already exciting news, the animated Batman: The Killing Joke will be rated R! At first this sounds like an open-minded breakthrough in the evolution of four-color, kiddy-books finally catching up to its aging audience. But while this provides provocative possibilities to see gut-pounding justice dished out by the Dark Knight it could be a wrong turn down a side street as dangerous as Crime Alley.

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            When I first read The Killing Joke I thought it was a completely separate side story outside of regular DC continuity and for a large part it is. Originally printed as a prestige format, one-shot comic it had some freedom to play with ideas that either would or wouldn’t be taken as a part of true DC history. As we know, Barbara Gordon’s paralysis was kept but Batman killing the Joker wasn’t. That’s right, Batman kills the Joker in this comic. I saw it when I first read it and thought it was a fantastic sort of “What-If” story. The Killing Joke’s continuity has been debated for a long time. I don’t want to turn this into an argument for that perspective but for a long time I felt alone in this view until I heard Grant Morrison corroborate the theory on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast. Check it out here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzlekMIf7D4

            When the Deadpool movie came out I heard a lot of fans saying that it had to be rated R. I agree that an R rating made Deadpool a better movie than it would have been with a PG-13 rating. But I don’t agree that Deadpool needed to be rated R to stay true to the comics. None of the Deadpool comics have content that would give them an R rating; no nudity, not f-bombs, and even the violence isn’t as explicit as the movie was. The Deadpool MAX series didn’t even have R-rated nudity. Again, don’t get me wrong I loved Deadpool but I don’t agree that it had to be rated R to stay true to the source material.  

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            I’m starting to hear a lot of the same thing again, that The Killing Joke MUST be rated R. But, like Deadpool, the movie doesn’t have to be rated R to stay true to the comic. What I think is happening is people are rightly assuming that we react differently to different types of media. The same content we see in a comic will translate differently on screen. Comics have the unique ability to communicate certain themes in a way that impacts us more deeply. Comics engage our imagination like you wouldn’t expect from a visual medium. Between the panels that little white line cues our brain to fill in the blanks and we usually imagine a much more explicit scene than what’s actually on the page.

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            The new animated Killing Joke doesn’t have to be rated R but I’m glad it is. Every adaptation from page to screen is going to have its deviations. Deadpool is amped up from the comics and The Walking Dead is extremely toned down for TV (not to mention the characters are completely changed, but I wont complain about that here). They each have their reasons and now I understand why they’re changed. Different mediums mean different expressions of content.

by Solomon White

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