Much has been made about the M-rating of the recently released Batman: Arkham Knight, and how far the game is willing to go in terms of characters and moving the actual storyline of this world forward. It's a final game in many ways, and it plays for keeps.
But as long-time Batman fans already know, one of the most disturbing moments in the history of the character actually took place during an animated movie, and was originally re-written and scrapped due to controversy after the Columbine shooting. The restored footage was added back to the straight-to-DVD release nearly three years after Columbine, and remains one of the darkest scenes in Batman history.
I'm talking, of course, about Return of the Joker.
How this happened
The rest of the story contains spoilers for Return of the Joker
The film was actually meant to bridge the story lines of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond using the lore's most recognizable villain, the Joker. In this world there is a new Batman in Gotham, Bruce Wayne walks with the help of a cane, and the Joker is dead.
Terry McGinnis, who becomes the new Batman, walks in on the older Bruce Wayne looking at images of the Joker, and brings up the fact that Wayne never talks about that particular supervillain. "You killed him, didn't you?" Terry asks. "He was going to do something so terrible you had no other choice. That was it, wasn't it?"
response is to ask for Terry's suit back. "I have no right to force this life on you or anyone else," Wayne says.
Bruce Wayne does think the Joker was killed, which makes the reappearance of the character a shock. But Batman didn't kill the Joker, a child did.
Tim Drake was Dick Grayson's successor as Robin, but in this film he was captured by the Joker, and suffered chemical and physical torture for weeks on end. The scene describing what happened during that time, and the actions that led to Drake telling the Joker of Batman's secret identity, are hard to watch for an animated film.
"It's true Batsy, I know everything," the Joker says. "And kind of like the kid who peeks at his Christmas presents I must admit it's sadly anti-climactic. Behind all the sturm und bat-o-rangs you're just a little boy in a playsuit crying for mommy and daddy. It'd be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. Oh what the heck I'll laugh anyway. HA HA HA HA HA!"
The Joker's slashes at Batman with a knife, and ultimately buries the blade in Bruce Wayne's knee. It's a crippling injury.
What happens next was originally removed from Return of the Joker, and replaced with a scene where the Joker is pushed into an electrified puddle. The dialog was also replaced to be less disturbing.
The scene you're about to watch was released later in the "uncut" version of Return of the Joker, but it shows just how much this adventure changed the Batman, and it wasn't just the knife wound that ended his career.
This is the full, uncensored scene.
Holy shit, right?
This scene is painful for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that child was the victim of weeks of psychological and physical torture. While an earlier scene in the movie sets up the Joker gun that requires two pulls of the trigger to "fire," it's unclear whether Tim knew that when he first pulled the trigger.
For all Batman knew, Tim had decided at that moment to kill him, and was willing to take the action to do so. The second shot that killed the Joker not only showed that there was some of Drake left in that grinning rictus, it meant that he had to go against Batman's cardinal rule of never killing anyone.
The laughs devolve into sobs, and the scene ends.
The rest of the film is just as interesting, either as a standalone movie or the setup for Batman Beyond, and you should look up the uncut version if you have yet to see it.
This is one of the darkest, bleakest looks at the relationship between Batman and the Joker, made even harder to watch due to the familiar, and always charming, animation style. If you thought the film would play by the rules of the broadcast Batman cartoons, prepare for a few shocks.
Also, while the cartoon is dark enough, the game is certainly worth your time. Check out some game play below.