There was a recent announcement of an animated adaptation of the Batman story The Killing Joke being rated R. Any adaptation of The Killing Joke is bound to be a bit controversial as well, after all even the story’s very own writer thought the tale was “nasty” and “violent” and regrets how Barbara Gordon was treated by the narrative.
It certainly is a shame that Barbara’s first prominent role in a DC animated movie will amount to nothing more than her getting brutalized by a villain for the sake of some Batmanly angst. This got me thinking of some stories starring Barbara actually being a hero, whether as Batgirl or team leader and hacker Oracle, that DC could adapt to counteract this.
Then I got to thinking that the DC Animated movies could stand to focus on people who are not Batman or Superman in general. It’s unlikely that DC will want to let go of the Batman gravy train in general, but even within the Batfamily, there are a ton of neglected and underutilized characters that deserve their own feature. And of course, there are a lot of diverse properties outside the Superman and Batman franchises that also deserve their own showing.
So let’s talk about a few of them. Of course, readers are also welcome to include their own suggestions in the comments!
An important reason Barbara being brutalized in The Killing Joke was so shocking and controversial was because she was beloved in her role as Batgirl. Yet, we haven’t even seen an appearance of Batgirl in the DC Animated movies. Before adapting the violent victimization of Barbara Gordon, can’t DC at least adapt her heroic Batgirl adventures that led up to this moment?
Batgirl: Year One is perfect for the job. It’s a fun, self-contained story that contains tons of foreshadowing for her eventual post Killing Joke role as Oracle. It shows a young Barbara shaking off the drudgery of her regular life to reach her full potential. She butts heads with Batman, flirts with Robin, sneaks out on her dad, teams up with Black Canary and truly comes into her own as a hero.
Even for people who approve of The Killing Joke, this is an essential prequel to that story because it shows the kind of life Barbara had before the encounter with the Joker. How can that tragedy mean anything if we don’t seem the triumph beforehand?
Oracle: Year One
Oracle: Year One (Batman Chronicles #5), DC Comics
Oracle: Year One by John Ostrander and Kim Yale functions as a perfect sequel to The Killing Joke. Unlike the aforementioned story, this actually deals with Barbara’s perspective on her whole affair. Her anger, her fear and the impact The Killing Joke had on her life are explored in depth. There are even some great moments where she seems to call out that narrative itself- she gets angry at Bruce for laughing with the Joker after what he did to her and also resents being used as nothing more than a tool to upset Batman and her father.
But most importantly, the story shows Barbara putting her back together and rising from the ashes of tragedy to become a stronger and more effective hero. She finds her own identity as the superhero hacker Oracle and learns that her disability doesn’t stop her from being the incredible person she is. It’s an inspirational, powerful story and perfectly counteracts the issues even Alan Moore himself ultimately saw with The Killing Joke.
Batman: No Man’s Land was a huge year-long Batfamily crossover that happened in 1999. After Gotham was devastated by several natural disasters, the US government decided to evacuate and effectively abandon the city- but several citizens stayed and so the Batfamily stayed to protect them.
The story was full of a lot of important moments- the introduction of a new Batgirl, the fracturing of Jim Gordon and Batman’s relationship, Harley Quinn’s comic book debut, Lex Luthor trying to get his hooks in Gotham as Bruce fights to save it and a very fiendish Joker scheme.
it's already been proven that the story can work well when condensed and self-contained. Greg Rucka did an excellent novelization of No Man’s Land that made for a very good tale. Moreover, a No Man’s Land Animated series was actually considered in the past, so the blueprints are there.
Batman: No Man's Land Volume 5, DC Comics
The best thing about this feature is that it would give some lesser-known members of the Batfamily the attention they deserve. Cassandra Cain has been woefully underrepresented in DC Comics adaptations, despite her long and successful presence in the comics. This story introduces her as Batgirl and her tragic backstory and out-of-this-world martial arts abilities make the narrative incredibly compelling. What’s more, Oracle plays a huge role in this crossover, essentially keeping Gotham from falling apart. The novelization is even mainly from her point of view.
So in addition to being a great story in its own right, No Man’s Land also works very well as a follow up to The Killing Joke and an Oracle:Year One feature. Its shows the rebirth of the Batgirl legacy and Barbara not letting what the Joker did stop her from saving Gotham.
The upcoming Batman: Bad Blood feature is going to feature Batwoman’s debut in the world of DC Animated movies. However, she’s a supporting character in this story. My thoughts are that if this feature does well, a Batwoman animated movie should be the next step
Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, had a memorable time where she starred in Detective Comics. The arc that kicked this off, “Elegy”, is a beautiful, self-contained story that would be perfect for a video adaptation. It showed Kate’s origin, where she struggled with discrimination, loss of family and an ill-fated romance- and then all of this comes back full circle when Kate has to face demons from her past.
The enigmatic and whimsical villain Alice is an intriguing foe and we also see Kate’s relationship with her father pushed to the breaking point. It’s a stylish story full of emotion and action. It would make a great movie and really expand the Batman property.
Gotham Academy, DC Comics
The New 52 comic title Gotham Academy shows a different side to Gotham that could easily make for a fun animated feature. With the Gotham TV series and the upcoming Damage Control show, it’s clear that the public has interest in seeing the civilian side of the superhero world explored a little more.
Gotham Acadamy shows what it’s like to be a regular girl attending a boarding school in a city overrun with superheroes. It’s the kind of perspective you typically don’t get to see of Batman’s world and the little horror mystery type stories the title focus on can easily be adapted to a self-contained tale with a broad appeal.
This is a bit more of a financially risky movie to make, since it doesn’t have Batman brand recognition- but DC has come so close to launching Jaime focused features, they obviously see some potential in them and so do I. Jaime’s been featured in both the Batman: The Brave and Bold Cartoon and Young Justice, so he’s not new to the world of animation.
What’s more important is that the first arc of the Blue Beetle title (pre-new 52) is perfect for a self contained movie. The story was an effortless blend of sci-fi, comedy, superhero antics and teen awkwardness. Jaime’s perspective is a compelling one- he’s an inexperienced kid thrown into the world of superheroes without any preparation and what’s more he has to deal with controlling and calming a murderous alien presence in his body.
Yet, in a refreshing change, he’s open and honest with his friends and family and they are supportive and involved in his life as a hero. If marketed right, I think a good adaptation of Jaime’s story could attract a wide audience.
Justice League: International
Justice League International (1987), DC Comics
There have been plenty of Justice League animated movies, but Justice League International is a different creature entirely. The original comic was quirky and comedy focused, featuring a cast of misfits getting into hilarious hijinks. A lighthearted feature would be a refreshing change from the relentlessly grim tone of all the other DC animated movies.
Not to mention, a lot of fun characters would get the spotlight: the egomaniacal Guy Gardner, the fun buddy duo of Booster and Beetle, the punchy heroine team of Fire and Ice, the power couple of Mister Miracle and Big Barda…and Batman there to play the perfect grumpy straight man to his wacky cohorts.
The Teen Titans
The New Teen Titans, DC Comics
More than a decade after the original cartoon’s debut, a Teen Titans cartoon is still airing on Cartoon Network. So the team clearly has enough brand recognition to carry an animated movie. It would be interesting to see what a more PG-13 style movie could do with the classic blend of teen angst and superheroics and the success of the cartoons proves that characters like Cyborg, Starfire and Raven are compelling enough to draw in viewers.
There are plenty of arcs from the original 80’s Teen Titans comics a feature could adapt. In fact, an adaptation of “The Judas Contract” arc has been proposed as a direct-to-video movie before, but fell through for whatever reason. Maybe it’s time to dust that off.
Wonder Woman’s live-action movie debut is coming up and soon she will star in a movie of her own. It would be a smart business move to give her another animated movie as part of the promotional hype. The Circle storyline written by Gail Simone is probably the best Wonder Woman story for a self-contained adaptation. It’s not an origin story (like her previous animated movie) but it still focuses on her homeland and her birth, which will likely feature heavily in her live-action movie as well. It shows a side of Wonder Woman’s backstory never seen before- namely how other Amazons dealt with her birth.
The story also includes Diana having to grapple with her identity, discover secrets about her past, defending her family and trying to solve a conflict among her own people. It’s rich, meaty stuff that could make for a powerful and memorable feature.
The Death of Max Lord
The OMAC Project, DC Comics
I think the story where Wonder Woman kills Maxwell Lord to save the world and has to deal with the fallout as Batman and Superman cope with her decision has the potential to be a really good animated movie.
Now, to be clear, I wasn’t a fan of how this story ended up playing out in the original comics- it was mostly Batman and Superman demonizing and preaching at Wonder Woman for saving their ungrateful behinds. It wasn’t resolved satisfactorily and was too heavy-handed overall. Also, the turn of Max Lord from “okay dude” to villain was way too abrupt.
But this has the potential to be a great story and one with broad appeal, considering it depicts a clash between the three most famous DC icons. It could be a genuinely complex examination of an ideological conflict between the three heroes, where each hero’s viewpoint is equally valid. Wonder Woman believes in killing when absolutely necessary to save lives, Batman has a hard line of never killing no matter what…and maybe to spice things up, the animated feature can present Superman as unsure of who to side with.
The OMAC Project, DC Comics
No one necessarily has to be show as “right” about this issue, it can be an examination of how even heroes can have moral conflicts among themselves. That would actually make it one of the most “adult” animated movies DC’s put out as it would deal with actual gray areas.
Moreover, the fact this version of Max Lord wouldn’t be connected to any previous continuity would make his jarring and sudden change of character in the source material a non-issue. An animated adaptation of this arc has a real potential to surpass the original. It would be also be a story involving all of the Big Three that focuses more on Wonder Woman that either of the other two, which would be a nice change.