There are few relationships more intriguing to audience’s than the ongoing battle of wills between Batman and his arch nemesis Joker. Throughout nearly a century of comics, films, TV series, and video games, The Dark Knight has endured the relentless treachery of the maniacal Clown Prince of Crime, yet the story remains endlessly entertaining because the two characters have been written to be a justification of one another’s very existence.
That central yin-yang dynamic ensures that Batman and Joker need each other in some beautifully dysfunctional way, and that contrast is perhaps most eloquently explored in Alan Moore’s 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke. Thankfully, if you haven’t read the graphic novel yet or simply don’t want to, the 2016 film adaptation just landed on Netflix, so you can absorb the tale in a lean 77 minute format.
Batman: The Killing Joke follows Joker’s escape from Arkham Asylum and subsequent attempt to drive police commissioner James Gordon insane, but it’s also interspersed with flashbacks to Joker’s early years as a failed stand-up comedian, marking one of only a handful of times the character has received any type of origin story. The film is brought to life by the always excellent voice acting of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker, helping to make it one hell of an entry in the DC canon.
Sadly, The Killing Joke only received mediocre reception from critics, with some of them frustrated by some of the prologue’s deviation from the source material. But despite the movie sitting at 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s still a compelling and tragic tale that pits two iconic characters against one another in a unique manner that any devout fan is sure to adore. You can check it out for yourself immediately on Netflix.