With the upcoming buzz for the DC animated feature, The Killing Joke, it is an interesting note to see just how much animated movies and television series based on comic books have greatly matured over the years. While there are many series that cater to younger audiences there are many depictions of these characters with the grit and complexities that satisfy an adult audience.
The Killing Joke is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bollard, focusing on both the origins of the Joker, and his attempt to break both Batman’s and Commissioner Gordon’s view of justice by putting them through “one bad day”. This is also the story famous, or infamous, for Barbara Gordon being crippled and becoming Oracle for decades within the DC continuity.
What is intriguing about this adaptation is seeing how far super hero films have come from their Saturday morning origins. Having evolved tremendously from the days of the “Super-Friends” and other series, in both form and execution.
Many of these changes stemming, ironically, with Batman: The Animated Series. Taking a page out of the philosophies of authors Robert Heinlein and Ronald Dahl the series didn’t dumb down the narratives in the series for their audience. Episodes dealt with drug abuse, depression, child abuse, social apathy, age discrimination, and, most prominently, the haunting effect of death on a human being.
Few of these issues were examined in the children’s programing, and usually it was akin to G.I. Joes’ “Knowledge is Half the Battle” segment. Furthermore, it is interesting that when both Marvel and DC began making their own animated features, their stories began to take on greater complexities normally left out of weekly television programming.
They weren’t forced to sanitize the story to make sure children (or their parents), wouldn’t freak out over disturbing themes or images. One would not have dreamt of putting The Killing Joke onto the screen twenty, or even ten, years ago. But now animated movies and series are no longer just for children.
Granted, there have been many attempts at creating mature cartoon films and series, but in their attempt at divorcing themselves from the juvenile audience, they alienate their adult audience, too. They require subtlety, nuances that don’t insult the viewers. Even the evolution of Batman as a character isn’t an in your face change. And as such he hasn’t lost the timeless quality that has come to define his legacy.
Whether the adaptation will compliment or be an affront to the source material, it’s beyond doubt the medium of cartoons has branched out from its family friendly origins.