August 20, 2016

Bruce Timm Explains Barbra Gordon’s Role in ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’

During this year’s San Diego Comic-con, we had the chance to sit down with some of the people responsible for bringing The Killing Joke to the screen. One of those responsible for the animated adaptation of the controversial graphic novel was none other than Bruce Timm. Bruce Timm is known for his work on Batman: The Animated Series, an animated series that changed the animated world for the better. In this interview, Timm explains the need for more Barbra Gordon in the animated adaptation, what he did not like about the graphic novel and why he originally didn’t want to do this project.


Bruce Timm

Q: It took a long time to get this one off the ground, what slowed this project down and how did it happen now?

Bruce Timm: Our first iteration of the movie was (I didn’t even know exactly what year, Brian [Azzarello] seems to think it was 2007), whatever year ‘The Watchmen’ came out, that’s the jest of it. When we first started talking about doing it, Brian wrote the script, we let the home video people know that this is kind of a special case, a famous comic, it’s a very notorious comic, if we do it is there a chance that it might be R-rated, are they going to be okay with that? The home video people said yes, reluctantly we are okay with that. Later that year, the ‘Watchmen‘ movie came out and kind of under performed and everyone kind of took a second look at it and thought ‘well maybe this is not the time to do an R-rated superhero movie.’ So we put it on the shelf. A couple of years later we revisited it, home video people said ‘yeah, let’s do it this time, go.’ We started designing it, storyboarding it and then the shooting in Aurora happened, which was a horrible tragedy. And everyone looked at it and said ‘Okay…Batman and gun violence is kind of hitting to close to home right now. This is not the time.’ So we shelved it again. And both times I kind of – honestly, I sighed in relief ’cause I was dreading doing this movie. So a couple of years later, we said ‘Let’s do ‘The Killing Joke’ again.’ Initially, the comic is so short, it’s not really long enough to make a feature film out of and Brian’s script wasn’t feature length. The home video people said ‘Yeah, we’ll just do it as a short movie and adjust the price point so people don’t feel ripped off.’ But this last time we put it out on the floor, we said you know what, let’s expand it to feature film length and we’ll use that screen time to kind of fix one of the things about the comic that’s kind of always bothered me, in that Barbra [Gordon] is kind of just a victim. She’s basically there to be wounded so that Commissioner Gordon and Batman  can be all pissed off and swear revenge. Not that this completely mitigates that but to me it made the movie more palatable to spend more time with Barbra in the story before ‘The Killing Joke’ happens.

Q: You mentioned the fact that it’s a little bit more of a mature story, how do you feel that fits in as far as fleshing out what comics can do that are going to be at different levels for all people, different styles of adaptation?

Bruce Timm: I’m kind of at two minds about it. I felt a little weird when we got the r rating and then the home video people said ‘Okay let’s do it’, on one hand it was like okay cool, we kind of crossed that threshold, the other part of me was kind of like oh, man that’s kind of sad, I kind of finally made a Batman movie that little kids should not see. But in a way it’s kind of okay because they do have alternatives, there are other things that are more age appropriate Batman in the comics, the movies , cartoons, tv shows, the toys but it did feel a bit weird.

Age of the Nerd: As far as adding more Barbra Gordon to the story, how tough was that to add this bigger layer onto something that everybody read and grew up with?

Bruce Timm: Well what’s interesting about it is that knowing that would be a possibly issue for certain people, we designed the movie in such a way that if you really are only interested in seeing ‘The Killing Joke’. if you’re really that much of a purest, the movie is designed in such a way that you can go to chapter five and hit play and you’ll skip the entire first half of the movie, just watch ‘The Killing Joke’ part and you’re good. It’s a clear break. It’s not completely integrated, it’s almost like literally two different movies sandwiched together, so having said that, I hope people do watch the first part of it because I’m very proud of it, I really enjoy the first half of the movie, weirdly enough, almost as much as that I enjoy the second half of the movie. I think Tara [Strong] is great in it, I think Kevin [Conroy] is awesome in it and Brian wrote a really great script. I’m very proud of it, so we will see.

Q: Were Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill always in the cards for this movie?

Bruce Timm: Well Mark has very publicly said many times that he would only come back and play the Joker if it was ‘The Killing Joke’ and I think that was just his way in sending a message to us that if we would ever do ‘The Killing Joke’ that we would be in a lot of trouble if we didn’t hire him. So…mission accomplished, Mark! It was great. He would obviously be our first choice anyways. Him having said that, chances are if we offered him that part, he would probably say yes. Once he was signed on, it was like well it would be really weird if we have him as Joker if we didn’t have Kevin as Batman, so that made that an easy sell. Then it was like okay, who’s going to play Batgirl? I guess it better be Tara Strong then shouldn’t it? So everything just kind of fell into place. I’m always delighted anytime I can work with any of those guys. Kevin is always my number one choice for any Batman project.

Q: At the core of it, why did you pick out this story? Is there something that particularly about the story that drew you in?

Bruce Timm: I have not always wanted to do it. I have always kind of not wanted to do it. I admire the comic enormously, I respect it. I don’t really loved it, I never loved it. It’s not my favorite Alan Moore comic. I think Brian Bolland’s artwork is phenomenal, that to me, still holds up. There’s even things that Alan wrote in the story that I think are amazing as well but there are certain things about it that have always just rubbed me the wrong way for weirdly personal reasons, specifically the way that Batgirl is treated. I think even Alan Moore himself said that he kind of regrets those aspects of ‘The Killing Joke’. But when it came down to doing it, it was just kind of like well, I could say no and somebody else would do it. That would probably be okay but at the same time, it’s just kind of a challenge. It’s kind of like can I take this mature material that I don’t love but can I turn it into a movie that I love without putting my own stamp on it and that was my own personal challenge. You guys would be the judge if I pulled it off.



Be sure to check out our review of Batman: The Killing Joke and our interview with Kevin Conroy.


About the Author

Chris Salce
Chris Salce
I'm a pop culture fanatic based out of Southern California. My collection of comics and pop culture memorabilia would even impress The Collector. When I'm not busy writing about pop culture news, doing film reviews or interviewing celebs, my brother and I work on a comic book called Blood-RED (And yes, that was a cheap plug). I have a certificate of completion for a children’s storybook writing program.



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