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Why An Animated Sex Scene Is Batman's Most Controversial Movie Moment

Since his comic book debut in 1939's "Detective Comics" #27, Batman has become nothing short of a pop culture icon. Not only has he stood at the forefront of the DC Comics brand, taking part in major storylines and rubbing shoulders with other DC greats, but he's also entered other mediums. In addition to television and video games, fans have seen several different movie versions of Batman. While his live-action adaptations tend to get the most press, he has become an animation legend. In fact, it's in this form that his most controversial movie moment has taken place.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" — an acclaimed story by Alan Moore from 1988 — was turned into a film in 2016. For the most part, the feature is true to the source material, centering on the Joker (Mark Hamill, who doubts he'll ever voice the character again) as he terrorizes Jim Gordon (Ray Wise) and Batman (Kevin Conroy). How Joker became so sick and twisted is also heavily explored. The controversy surrounding the film regards the inclusion of a new a romantic subplot between Batman and Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong), aka Batgirl, culminating in them engaging in intercourse on a rooftop. Not only is their age difference questionable, but he's her mentor. For him to take part in such a relationship is wildly irresponsible and predatory, seeing as she looks up to him as an authority figure. The power imbalance is unjustifiable.

All these years after the release of "The Killing Joke," DC fans still can't wrap their heads around this narrative choice.

Batman and Batgirl's relationship remains a hot topic among DC fans

As "Batman: The Killing Joke" has receded further into the past, DC fans have continued discussing it and its controversial love story. In a Reddit thread by u/Rawk505, numerous viewers expressed their negative feelings on Batman and Barbara's situation. "It just didn't work in the context of the movie and its execution, and if anything took away from the tragedy that comes later in the story," commented a now-deleted user, questioning, like many others, if the plotline was added to expand the movie's runtime. Redditor u/8nTTDan brought up the age difference between the two, with u/Fun-University4019 doing the same while mentioning their power imbalance.

The original poster, u/Rawk505, took their analysis of the subplot a step further. In a comment, they explain through the book "The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines" by Mike Madrid that "The Killing Joke" does a disservice to Batgirl through its depiction of her. "'She is not his girlfriend or faithful handmaiden.' Because of the fact she does not pursue a romantic interest in Batman, 'Batgirl is a female Batman can actually regard as a brilliant peer and a partner in the war on crime, the same way he would a male,'" they wrote, quoting passages from the book. In taking away what makes her special, relegating her to a mere love interest and later plot device for Batman's development, they feel "The Killing Joke" misogynistically butchers the Batgirl character.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" is a strong read that has endured as a defining Batman story. It's just too bad its animated equivalent has proven so divisive thanks to a single sex scene and the subplot around it.