There’s Nothing Funny About this Joke

In my reviews I’ve often said that I become concerned when a story is changed from one medium to another as something is usually altered or lost in the translation which waters down the story’s original intent.  But every now and again, a translation comes around that shows great reverence for the source material and maintains its original beauty.  Batman:  The Killing Joke is just such a translation.

This film version of Alan Moore’s legendary graphic novel stays true to Moore’s gritty tale almost word for word and manages to add a little something as well thanks to a well written screenplay by Brian Azzarello.  Azzarello added a lengthy monologue to bolster the character of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and extend this story to theatrical length.

Let’s get something straight from the beginning.  Though this is an animated film, it is not for children.  The film carries an R rating due to its dark and grim thematic elements.  For those of you unfamiliar with the tale, the story centers around the Joker’s desire to prove that all it takes is one bad day and someone can be driven as mad as he is.  He attempts to prove his point by psychologically torturing Commissioner James Gordon.  This torture involves the brutalization of his daughter, Barbara.

Two points have long fascinated me about Moore’s story.  The first was the painstaking care he took in showing that Batman and Joker are simply two sides of the same coin.  Joker is given an origin story in this film in which he had one bad day which drove him stark, slavering buggo.  Batman also had a bad day which made him what he is.  The difference is that he didn’t break and he used that bad day to fuel a greater good.  This is what makes their war so mesmerizing.

The second is that Moore actually delves into a rare area:  the humanity of Batman and Joker.  Batman’s humanity is somewhat taken for granted as he is a hero.  But this story takes it one step further as he tries to reach out to Joker and genuinely rehabilitate him to get them off their doomed road.  Prior to this story, Joker’s humanity had never been touched on.  But this tale shows that somewhere within this beast exists a kernel of decency long buried by tragedy.

Bringing these ideals to light would be incredibly difficult if not for the amazing talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.

If voice actors could be nominated for Oscars, Mark Hamill would easily earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his take on the Clown Prince of Crime.  Hamill has always managed to keep the role fresh and original despite having voiced the Harlequin of Hate on and off for the past 22 years, but he rose to unprecedented heights in this film.

In this go-around, Hamill finally gives us a truly vile and merciless Joker with a guttural voice and truly malevolent laughter.  As scary and disgusting as he is, Hamill manages to make us feel some pity for the Joker as we view his life as a failed comedian before his transformation.  But Hamill’s crowning achievement occurs near the end of the film as the Joker considers Batman’s offer of help.  If there is any doubt that Mark Hamill is the best of the Jokers, this interpretation will wipe them all away.

A Joker is only as good as his Batman and Kevin Conroy also comes out all guns a blazing with his essaying of the Dark Knight.  Like Hamill, Conroy has also played his iconic role for the better part of two decades and brings all of that experience to this film.  The nuance Conroy can put into a rasp is truly astounding as you can hear Batman’s sincerity as he pleads with the Joker to let him help, his concern and care for Barbara, and his anger when he hunts the Joker.

Tara Strong gives a strong and dignified take in the role of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.  For her crimefighting is an adventure and thrill, not a lifelong mission as it is for Batman and her voice reflects that zest.  The character of Batgirl generated quite a bit of controversy due to a moment that takes place between her and Batman in the prologue.  You’ll know it when you see it, but I thought it made perfect sense in the universe of this Batman as the incident was referenced in a previous film.  Rather than weakening the character, I thought it humanized her and helped her understand Batman better when she faces her own abyss.

Ray Wise is paternal and noble as Commissioner Gordon.  The love he has for his daughter is palpable as is his agony when he suffers from the Joker’s tortures.  Yet he also manages to be a pillar of strength, demanding that Joker be brought in by the book to prove that the way of law and order works.

Director Sam Liu does good work in keeping the pace of the story going as well as tying the rather disparate prologue together with the core story.  Wes Gleason’s voice direction is nothing but aces, especially with the stellar work by Hamill and Conroy.  I also appreciated that the animators did not try to mimic Brian Bolland’s artwork for the film.  Rather they came up with animation that evoked memories of that work, but managed to be an original take as well.

Batman:  The Killing Joke is the movie for which Batman fans have been pining for years.  It’s been a long wait, but it was certainly worthwhile as we get a story completely faithful to the core material and with all the pathos and nuance intact.

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The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 3, Night 3-Day 8: Arizona Mat and the Voodoo Blue (Woo Woo!)

After our escape from Schulte and the traitorous Johnny V, Arizona Mat zipped through the interstate traffic and we found ourselves in Las Vegas in slightly less than 2 hours.  We arrived at the Rio where we checked in under a pair of assumed names:  Drs. Alvin Koholic and Sy Schwardo.

“Which of us is which?” I asked.

“Does it really matter?” countered an exasperated Arizona Mat.

I shrugged my shoulders and we made our way to the 19th floor with a good view of the pool and mountains.  Believing we had shaken off the Oatmeal Gang, Arizona Mat suggested we go downstairs for some dinner and make some plans.

We chose the All American Grille.  Arizona Mat enjoyed fish and chips with a beer while I settled for French Dip.  The food tasted great and felt good after the long day of driving, escaping, and not eating.  As we dined, Arizona Mat laid out the scheme.

“There’s a fan fest for the Final Fantasy series of video games going on this weekend.  I have a contact attending who has the clues I need to ferret out the location of the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!).”

“Would you stop that?”

“I try, but I can’t.  In any event, I’ll attend the fest tomorrow to meet my contact.  I suggest while I’m investigating, that you just relax and enjoy yourself.”

That sounded agreeable and I wandered around the Rio while Arizona Mat registered for the fan fest.  Upon completion we wandered across the street to the Palms where John Fogerty was playing a concert.  I found a new slot machine based on the 1960s Batman TV series and Arizona Mat and I tested our luck on it.  I dropped $20, but it was the most fun I had losing money in quite a while.  The machine was true to the spirit of the TV series, complete with campy fun and bonuses with narration done by Adam West.

After spending some time there, we went back across the street to wander through the Gold Coast.  Arizona Mat found a Wylund machine that treated him fairly well.  Upon winning a bit of cash, we returned to the Rio for a good night’s rest.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast at the BK Whopper Bar.  We agreed to meet at our room in the evening.  Arizona Mat headed off to the fan fest while I returned to the Gold Coast where I considered playing a little Bingo.  As I walked past the Port O’Calls buffet, I froze.  Walking out of the exit were Robert Schulte and Johnny V.

I decided to follow them to see if I could find their base of operations and discover if they were any closer than Arizona Mat to discovering the Voodoo Blue.  I trailed them to Bally’s where I joined the Total Rewards club in order to better blend into the background.  As a new member I was gifted with some slot free play which I utilized while I kept my eyes on the dangerous duo.

I seated myself at a Goldfish slot machine where I hit a bonus almost immediately and ended up banking $40 in profit.  As I pocketed my winnings, I saw my quarries leave Bally’s and begin heading across the street to the Cromwell.

Since my last visit to Vegas, the area had undergone some massive renovations.  The area around the High Roller (the world’s largest ferris wheel) had been completely redone.  One of the changes was the Cromwell (formerly Bill’s Gambling Hall).  The outside looked brand new; like a 5 star resort.  The inside matched the outside.  Very classy and elegant.  I slipped over to a Jurassic Park machine where I promptly lost the $10 in free play.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw that Schulte and Johnny V were no longer in the casino.  I quickly swept  the Cromwell and wondered if they might not have headed over to the Quad (formerly the Imperial Palace).  I was unable to find the Oatmeal Gang, but did find a Phantom of the Opera machine.  I hit a Music of the Night bonus which earned me a bit more money.

Thanks to the bonus I was able to earn enough Tier Credits to earn a pull on the Million Dollar Slot Machine at the front of the building.  I didn’t win a million dollars, but I did win a buy one, get one free buffet at most of the buffets owned by the Las Vegas Harrah’s properties.

From there, I investigated the Linq (which is where the High Roller is housed).  I was still unable to relocate Schulte and Johnny V, so I returned to the Rio where I relaxed in my room and worked on Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, a puzzle/mystery game Arizona Mat had brought along on his 3DS.

Late in the afternoon, Arizona Mat came into our room all excited.

“I’ve found the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!)!”

“Where?”

“Based on the clues I’ve received from my contact, I’ve concluded that the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!) is somewhere in the vicinity of the Voodoo Lounge at the top of the Rio.  When the club opens later tonight, we’ll go and obtain it.  For now, let’s eat.”

Arizona Mat and I went downstairs to the Seafood Buffet where we supped on salmon, seafood gumbo, sushi, and other delicacies.  After a very filling meal, I told Arizona Mat I would walk off the meal and would meet him in the room later.  I took a shuttle over to Harrah’s where I walked over to the Bellagio to watch one of their famed water shows.

As the show reached to its climax, a man next to me said, “Beautiful sight, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” I agreed as I turned to face the man.

I felt the blood rush from my head as I stared into the hard, cruel eyes of Robert Schulte.  I felt the barrel of a revolver press against my ribs.

“How did you find me?”

“Find you?” replied Schulte.  “I’ve been trailing you. . .for hours.  For an amateur, you’re not a bad tracker.  It actually took me until the Cromwell for me to notice you.”

“So that’s why I couldn’t find you.”

“Correct.  I saw you over at the Jurassic Park machine.  Johnny V and I slipped outdoors and into the crowd and began following you.”

“Now what?”

“Now we return to the Rio and you and Arizona Mat lead us to the Voodoo Blue.”

Keeping his gun pressed to my back, Schulte forced me into the Rio shuttle at Bally’s and made me lead him to our room.  As I unlocked the door, I saw Arizona Mat sitting on the couch.

“Arizona, I’ve got some bad news.  They found me,” I said sheepishly.

“Don’t feel too bad.  They found me, too.”

As Schulte and I came further into the room, we saw a grinning Johnny V seated on one of the beds, his German Luger pointed directly at Arizona Mat.

“All right, Arizona Mat,” said Schulte, comfortably seating himself in a chair.  “Where’s the Voodoo Blue?”

“Woo woo!” cried Arizona Mat.

“If you do that one more time, I’m going to yank your tongue so hard that your ears will flip like window shades!” I snapped.

“Sorry,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s somewhere on the roof around the Voodoo Lounge.”

“Excellent,” said Schulte.  “Let’s go and retrieve it.”

Schulte and Johnny V forced us into the elevator leading to the Voodoo Lounge.  Within a matter of moments, we were whisked up to the 52nd floor and we entered the rooftop nightclub.  As we weaved our way through the dancing partygoers, Schulte began to get impatient.

“Where is it?” he snarled.

“I don’t know, precisely.  I just know it’s somewhere up here,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s going to take a bit of time to search for it with all of these people here.”

Despite having my life threatened, I had to admit that the view was pretty good.  I scanned in all directions, trying to enjoy the sparkling lights and awesome vista of the city.  I happened to glance down towards the Voodoo Zipline, a zipline that stretched from the top of the Masquerade Tower and went down to the Ipanema Tower.  Towards the end of the zipline, I saw a curious blue flash shining in the light.

“Arizona Mat, look!” I shouted, pointing towards the glow.

“It’s the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!)” said Arizona Mat.

Upon seeing the legendary stone, Arizona Mat broke out into a spastic dance out of sheer excitement or so I thought until he gave Schulte a hard shove into Johnny V.  Grabbing my sleeve, Arizona Mat pulled me down the stairs towards the Voodoo Zipline.  Shoving his way past the attendants, he bolted the door shut behind him.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” said Arizona Mat, pulling out his trusty foam noodle.

Flinging it over the zipline, he motioned for me to grab one end of it.

“Are you crazy?” I yelled.

A shot from Schulte’s revolver whizzed over my head and I immediately grabbed one end of the noodle.  Arizona Mat and I screamed bloody murder as we slid towards the Ipanema Tower.  Bullets flew over our heads and the wire began to saw through the noodle.  It fell into two pieces just as we reached the Ipanema Tower.  I crossed myself in sheer relief as I peered over the edge of the building.  It was a long way down.

Triumphantly, Arizona Mat climbed the pole and removed the Voodoo Blue from its perch.

“I’ve done it!  I’ve found the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!)” crowed Arizona Mat.

“SHUT UP!!!” I thundered.

“Simmer down, friend.  Let’s get out of here before the goon platoon catches up with us,” said Arizona Mat.

We found a service ladder and made our way down to street level.  In order to stay hidden from the Oatmeal Gang, Arzona Mat and I spent the night in a dumpster where I used a rat for a pillow.

The next morning, Arizona Mat and I slipped into the Gold Coast where he picked the lock of a, thankfully, empty room where we were able to get cleaned up.  We chanced a Sunday brunch at the Port O’Calls Buffet, hoping that the Oatmeal Gang wouldn’t suspect us of remaining so close to the Rio.  Luckily our gamble paid off.

We spent the day wandering the streets of the Strip, slipping in and out of casinos.  Towards the evening, we sneaked into Planet Hollywood where we “borrowed” an unoccupied room.  Starving, Arizona Mat and I went to BURGR for a meal.  Arizona Mat once again feasted upon the Farm Burger while I savored the Gordon Burger (a pork patty with duck breast bacon, a relish, tomatoes, and butter lettuce).  Slipping into our room, we managed to get a good night’s sleep and I hoped against hope that we had finally managed to elude the Oatmeal Gang.

Arizona Mat insisted that we spend the day at Qua Baths and Spa in Caesar’s Palace, arguing that the Oatmeal Gang would never look for us in there.  I reluctantly agreed.  Amazingly, Arizona Mat was right.  We truly seem to have evaded them.  I enjoyed a hard workout on their updated equipment and began to relax.

After a Thai massage I found myself relaxing on one of the heated lounge chairs in the Roman Baths, a towel draped over my face.  Arizona Mat brought me a bottle of water which I thirstily drank.  After a day of relaxation, we headed over to Harrah’s to get some supper.

Arizona Mat stopped at a food court where we ordered some ramen.  Shortly after ordering, a wave of nausea passed over me and I began sweating profusely.  I sat down in a chair and Arizona Mat asked if I were tired and I said I just felt very flush.  We took our ramen and sat at a table.  I could only manage a few bites.

To make matters worse, two very unwelcome guests sat at our table:  Johnny V and Robert Schulte.

“Give me the stone!” demanded Schulte.

The last thing I remembered was losing my few bites of food as everything went black.

I awoke a few hours later back in my room at the Rio.  A cold compress was pressed to my forehead and I saw a concerned Johnny V looking down at me.  I weakly tried to shove him away, but lacked any strength.

“Take it easy,” said Johnny V.   “It’s OK.  He’s awake.”

Arizona Mat came around the corner of the vanity area.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” said Arizona Mat.

“What happened?  What’s going on?”

“It was all part of Arizona Mat’s plan,” said Johnny V.

“What plan?” I asked.

“A plan to retrieve the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!) and capture Robert Schulte.  Johnny V was really a triple agent.  I used him to get close to Schulte to keep an eye on him and keep me apprised of his movements.  We were never in danger at any point.”

“But then why did we go through the motions of being pursued?”

“To lull Schulte into a false sense of security.  I told Johnny V to bring Schulte to the food court.  Your spell of nausea got Schulte off his guard.  After you purged, Johnny V managed to karate chop Schulte at the base of the neck and knock him out.  Then the police officers waiting in the wings came out and arrested him.  Johnny V will take the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!) back with him to Omaha and place it in a museum,” said Arizona Mat.

“Kind of chancy.  What would have happened had I not fallen ill?”

“That was part of the plan.  The water I gave you was spiked.”

“It was what?”

“It was spiked.  I needed you to be genuinely sick to throw Schulte off balance.”

“I see,” I said, my hands balling into fists.  “And what happened after Schulte’s arrest?”

“Well, we brought you back here and Johnny V and I went and rode the High Roller and then watched people do the jump off the Stratosphere.”

“So you not only poisoned me, you had fun without me?” I asked.

“I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” admitted Arizona Mat.

I felt my right eyeball begin to violently twitch as I spied a foam noodle on Arizona Mat’s bed.  It was quite a strange sight that night as I chased Arizona Mat throughout the casino swinging the noodle like a baseball bat.

By the next morning I had forgiven Arizona Mat and he, Johnny V, and myself had a final breakfast at the Port O’Calls buffet where we enjoyed fruit, corned beef hash, French Toast, chicken fried steak, biscuits & gravy, bacon, O’Brien potatoes, sausages, coffee, and juice.  We checked out of the Rio and began the long drive back to Gilbert, Arizona.  A drive made longer still by road work which tacked an additional 90 minutes onto the drive.

After returning to Arizona Mat’s home, we stretched our legs a bit and then walked over to Café Rio where Arizona Mat and Johnny V partook of steak and taco salad respectively and I ate the most delicious chicken quesadilla I had ever tasted.  We returned to Arizona Mat’s and gathered around his fire pit sharing stories of the adventure we had just shared while sipping Blue Moon Pumpkin Ales.

Today Arizona Mat dropped me off at the airport.  We shook hands and I knew I was fated to join him in another adventure at some point in the future.  As I headed towards my gate, I saw a nearly emaciated Tall Square still squeezing the dummy’s hand with all his might.

“Submit!!  Submit!!” he grunted.

“Open your eyes, son,” I said as I patted him on the back as I passed him.

I saw him open his eyes and freeze in shock as he stared at the mannequin’s appendage he was holding.

“5. . .4. . .3. ..2. . .1,” I counted down.

“MATTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!” bellowed Tall Square.

Well, the more things change the more they stay the same.