Last Friday, following the world premiere of Batman: The Killing Joke, the filmmakers in attendance decided to stay behind and do a Q&A with fans. Director Sam Liu, executive producer Bruce Timm, and screenwriter Brian Azzarello answered questions from fans fresh from watching the movie. It’s been nearly a week since then, but I intentionally kept this one behind because I wanted the mass of Batfans to have seen the movie themselves at the Fathom Events screenings first before posting the mild spoilerish questions and concerns raised by SDCC attendees. See if you share the same thoughts and let us know in the comments below or on one of our many social media websites.
The credit roll was cut short, while WB Home Entertainment PR representative Gary Miereanu took the stage. He explained that Liu, Timm, and Azzarello were at dinner and decided on having an impromptu Q&A session following the premiere, feeling that fans were entitled a chance at some answers after having seen it. Miereanu reminded folks to purchase the home media release as well as the soundtrack before simply allowing the fans to begin.
First up at the microphone, the attendee expresses his admiration for the Dark Knight, explaining that he wore a Batman T-shirt for a year and a half when he was younger. Azzarello questioned if he ever removed the shirt, to which the attendee explained that his mom had to wash the shirt everyday. After the matter of the T-shirt was settled, the fan inquired about what was the most difficult part about adapting this movie. Azzarello joked, “Keeping it quiet.” Timm praises the cast once more for bringing the “human dimension” to it and how much that helped. He then provided a very practical answer, explaining that “in almost every creative thing we do, when you break it down to its essentials, it’s kind of like problem-solving.” The accomplished producer listed a few examples such as wanting to elicit a certain emotion from the audience and going about trying to figure that out. He elaborates even further about how these problems are usually solved, listing experience, trial and error, and discussion and argument. It was summed up as such “Every movie has its challenges. This one had challenges just like every other one, but it was a real fun journey to be on.”
Azzarello then asks the crowd, “How do you think we solved the problems on this one?” The crowd applauded with approval. Miereanu informs those in queue that for the best questions, they will be awarded a total of six deluxe editions of the Batman: The Killing Joke graphic novel.
The next attendee asks about whether the audience reaction provided an outlook on what should be modified or tweaked. Timm expressed joy, explaining that the audience reacted exactly the way he wanted in the right moments in the film. Azzarello chimes in with his agreement, in somewhat disbelief when fans reacted positively to certain parts. Timm explains that he understood that the first portion of the movie was not going to be universally loved and predicted it would elicit discussions on the Internet. Azzarello expresses more disbelief, “The first half plays so much better than…” Timm finishes his thought, “Than I was expecting.” Miereanu followed up, inquiring if the fans reacted any differently than what they initially expected. Timm answered that the fans reacted in the way he had hoped. Liu added that it was far more satisfying seeing how the crowd reacted, explaining that all work put into it made it all worth it. Azzarello expresses some frustration over some dismissive journalism he’s read before and hoped that some people could at least see some good in what he was doing. (Editorial note: This was a very interesting observation considering the amount of controversy the Batgirl prologue would eventually receive later on.)
Referencing the Joker’s infamous “One bad day” speech, the next question inquired about how likely the roles could have been switched and the Joker became the Batman and vice versa. He invoked the Flashpoint Paradox as a example when Martha Wayne became the Joker. Timm corrected him, explaining that that was in an alternate universe. Timm glances over the questions and instead wonders aloud about the Joker monologue, whether it is really possible for someone to go mad based on a bad day. He then muses about the ending and asks whether Batman killed the Joker. He asks Azzarello what he said a few years ago. Timm admits that he doesn’t believe Batman killed the Joker, while Azzarello can’t seem to recall. Azzarello confesses that beforehand, he had an opinion, but since he’s been involved in the adaptation, he keeps his opinion to himself.
Next up, a fan inquired about which was the more difficult task: Adapting a beloved story or creating a new one? Timm immediately answers that he believes creating a new one is more difficult. He feels that although the Killing Joke was intimidating, he didn’t find it too difficult. He cites Brian Bolland’s fantastic artwork, for example, explaining that the staging in the book is so “immaculate,” that they simply found themselves reusing Bolland’s panels in the movie because “Brian Bolland did it better.” He elaborates that starting fresh from scratch, without a solid foundation is really difficult. Liu provides a more diplomatic response, explaining that they both have their challenges. He elaborates that when you come across something very beloved, staying faithful to it is only “halfway there.” He cites the difficult decision of whether to take liberties or not. He mentions that he’s happy with the additions to the Killing Joke to “break it up,” because the core story is mostly comprised of talking. Singling out this specific project, Azzarello admits that creating the original material at the beginning was the most difficult because they had to create something up to par. After a certain point, in the conversations, they hit a snag, because they had already “padded out” the story so much when the story was already “tight” to begin with, they wondered what else they could possibly add. Then, they thought about Barbara and how she didn’t have a story arc. Azzarello admits that he was glad to have given her one.
The next questioner came up and at first, praised their work on the film, which elicited more applause from the crowd. Considering the controversial nature of this film, the fan asked if they’d be more likely to adapt other controversial stories, citing the Death of the Family among other stories. Timm admits that the aforementioned stories are not currently being considered for adaptation. Azzarello quips that he likes the fact that “we took Killing Joke, which is controversial, and made it more controversial.” (Second editorial note: This is more foreshadowing here. He really anticipated the backlash, it seems.) Timm continues the jokes and sarcastically remarks that they felt it needed more controversy.
A Joker cosplayer reaches the microphone next and asked about the Bolland-esque animation style. He compared the style to that of the current New 52 continuity animation style and wondered how they made the decision to deviate. Timm said that he didn’t believe the New 52 style would have worked well with it. He explained that they were mostly trying to honor Brian Bolland, but also do their own variation on it. In the end, he felt like the movie should stand alone, away from the New 52 continuity.
Seemingly a big fan of Timm’s work, the next fan asked if Timm would ever consider writing or directing for the DC movie universe, which drew plenty of applause from the crowd. Timm replied very succinctly, “They would have to ask me.” The crowd became very vocal and started shouting a few unintelligible responses.
Unfortunately, the next question was dismissed pretty quickly. The fan brought up a scenario in which the Joker was a childhood friend of Bruce’s. The panel sarcastically remarked about how great the idea was, before rejecting it.
The next fan thanked the panel for adapting The Judas Contract, believing it would never be done. Citing the more darker stories that have been adapted recently, the attendee asked if this was always something they’ve always wanted to do or if it was a natural progression. Timm affirmed that was “a little of both.” He reminisced about how during his run on the DCAU, they really wanted to go a little further but were restricted by censorship at the time, but also admits that he never felt “completely shackled,” because he always did find a way to tell the story and provide that emotional satisfaction. He also admits that he enjoys the use of profanity from time to time as well.
After thanking Bruce Timm specifically for the Killing Joke, the following questioner inquired about whether they would consider doing some other iconic stories, referencing Knightfall and No Man’s Land. According to Timm, those stories do come up in conversations from time to time, but believes that those stories are “a little bit complex for what we can do in a 70-minute movie.” He points to The Death of Superman and The New Frontier stories as examples of stories that became more than what they anticipated for their 70-minute runtime. Timm eventually concludes by leaving it open, expressing those stories could be adapted someday.
A seemingly feminine Joker cosplayer stepped up to the microphone and their gender ended up confusing the panel. The cosplayer corrected them and in a genuinely bemused manner, confronted the panel about Barbara’s role in the movie. He references their attempt at making Barbara more than something that moves the plot along, but that her story ended up being more about the “men in her life.” The sexually ambiguous cosplayer concluded with a simple “Why?” The question elicited applause and cheers from female viewers in attendance.
Considering how controversial this portion of the Q&A became, I’m going to directly quote the panelists for this answer.
Azzarello: I think she’s stronger than the men in her life in this story. She controls the men in her life in this story.
As Azzarello is attempting to articulate an answer, an attendee shouted out, “Yeah, only by using sex!”
Understandably, there was confusion. Azzarello asked the man to repeat himself because he had not heard. When the man failed to repeat immediately, Azzarello became agitated, by calling the man a “pussy.” The insult came with cheers, laughs and applause.
Azzarello: What’s the criticism? I’m willing to take it on, head-on.
A female attendee repeated his frustration. The man managed to pipe up again and said, “Sex and pining over Bruce!”
Azzarello: I don’t think she’s pining, you know. I think it’s more about her decision… She initiated it… She’s pining over the violence, the violent aspect of it.
Timm: See, here’s the thing. It’s complicated, but I actually really liked, in that opening story, that both Batman and Batgirl both make a series of mistakes. And then, it kind of escalates because Batman kind of overreacts and then, she kind of overreacts to his overreaction. To me, that’s a very human thing. People have a tendency to do that in real life a lot. It kind of humanizes both characters to me. Batman, especially, I think is more at fault in that first part of the movie. We get blamed a lot for making Batman too perfect and I really thought that this was a really good opportunity to show that no, he makes big mistakes just like everybody else does. I mean, I do take your point that it is kind of all about their relationship, but to me, that’s kind of fascinating. There’s clearly an unstated attraction between the two of the characters from the very beginning and I think it’s kind of even there in the comics. Even if you go back to the Adam West show, it’s there in the Adam West show between Batgirl and Batman. It’s subtle, but to me, it’s always been there. Maybe, it’s just in my head.
The crowd applauds his response.
Liu: They both make mistakes. She is the one that decides, “I have to stop. There’s a problem here and I need to step away from this.” I think that comes from an emotional, sort of, strength. You have to identify that, “Are you strong enough to do something about it?” I think she makes the decisions that strong people make.
Timm: Yeah, I believe she comes off as a stronger character through that arc. I mean, she’s strong enough to walk away from Batman’s style of crime fighting because she realizes that that’s not who she is, that’s not who she wants to be.
Liu: Right. And in the beginning, that’s what she wants. She’s trying to be that. She wants it so bad that these things happen and she realizes, “Woah, maybe this is not what I need.” And she steps away from him.
Timm: In our opinion, anyways.
And that’s where it concludes.
Everybody has their valid points in that last bit, I just wish it hadn’t escalated almost to the point of heckling, because that clearly upset Azzarello. There was a bit of foreshadowing there and it finally culminated in that confrontation.
Regardless, everybody has their thoughts on the movie, especially the Batgirl prologue. If you’ve seen it, tell us what you think. Do you agree with what was said towards the end? Let us know.