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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the animated adaptation of Batman: The Killing Joke]
Hours ahead of its world premiere at San Diego Comic-Con, Batman: The Killing Joke was already getting negative attention online.
Word got out that the R-rated, animated adaptation of the classic graphic novel would include an expanded backstory that sees Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Tara Strong) and Batman (Kevin Conroy) have a sexual encounter.
“It’s totally out of character for both of them,” one woman told Heat Vision outside Ballroom 20, minutes before the screening Friday. “They’re supposed to have a father-daughter relationship.”
In the 1988 graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland, the Joker shoots Barbara, paralyzing her almost as soon as she appears on the page. In the film version, she’s the protagonist of the story for the first 20 minutes — fighting crime and dealing with conflicting feelings about her working relationship with Batman, and whether it’s time to move on and leave crime fighting behind. After a heated exchange in which she lashes out at Batman for removing her from a case, she kisses him and it’s implied they have sex (though that takes place offscreen).
During the premiere, the moment played well, with fans clapping. And the reaction to Mark Hamill’s performance as the Joker couldn’t have been stronger.
But afterward, things got heated when one fan asked, “You have talked about how you wanted to give Barbara more story … and yet the story you gave her ended up being about the men in her life. Why?”
Screenwriter Brian Azzarello responded by calling Barbara “stronger than the men in her life in this story.”
“She controls the men in her life in this story,” he said.
The fan shouted that she was strong by “using sex” as he walked away from the mic, sparking a minutes-long discussion about the scene. When Azzarello said he couldn’t hear what the fan said, he challenged the fan to repeat himself, saying, “Wanna say that again? Pussy?”
Others chimed in, saying they added sex and Batgirl “pining after Bruce” to the film.
“I don’t think she’s pining over Bruce at all,” said Azzarello. “She’s pining over the violence.”
Executive Bruce Timm acknowledged “it’s complicated.”
“I actually like that in that opening story both Batman and Batgirl make a series of mistakes and then it kind of escalates, because Batman kind of overreacts and then she overreacts to his overreaction,” said Timm. “That’s a very human thing.”
Timm went on to say Batman was more at fault in the first part of the movie. (He overreacts by taking Barbara off the case, and then doesn’t communicate with her after their sexual encounter.)
“There’s clearly an unstated attraction between the two of the characters from the very beginning and I think it’s there in the comics. If you go back and look at the Adam West show, it’s there in the Adam West show,” said Timm. “It’s subtle, but to me it’s always been there.”
The questioner who sparked the conversation was later identified as Bleeding Cool contributor Jeremy Konrad, who wrote for the site: “Clearly, it was contentious, and I let my emotions get the best of me, and I need to be better than that as a journalist. But it was not necessary to use that derogatory word, especially in this situation, in a public forum. Hopefully, no offense was taken by anyone.”
Azzarello also spoke out after the panel, responding to criticism against his comment by tweeting, “I called someone a pussy when they unintelligibly yelled from the back of the room, then wouldn’t repeat it.”
No, I called someone a pussy when they unintelligibly yelled from the back of the room, then wouldn’t repeat it https://t.co/15GNyna64F
— Brian Azzarello (@brianazzarello) July 23, 2016
July 23, 10:54 a.m.: Updated to include more details from Brian Azzarello’s exchange with Bleeding Cool contributor Jeremy Konrad.
July 23, 1:20 p.m.: Updated with Azzarello’s response on Twitter.
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