Project #195: Mask of the Phantasm vs. The Killing Joke

Hello and welcome to Project Nitsuj. It’s time once again for a vs blog and this is special for two reasons. First off, I got a guest host this time around and two I’m not comparing anime I’m instead comparing two Batman movies to each other. As you all know The Killing Joke came out this year and since I did a review of it last week I have to wonder how does The Killing Joke stack up to Mask of Phantasm. Well today we’re here to look at those two movies and see which one did their job better and to help me with this comparison I’ve invited the AI who reviewed Mask of the Phantasm in place of me this year. Let’s give it up for, Seras.

(Seras): Hello all. Glad to be here.

(Nitsuj): Seras here will be representing Mask of the Phantasm while yours truly will be representing The Killing Joke and whichever side wins gets to make one reasonable request to the loser.

(Seras): Fair enough. If I win, you have to buy us a Wii U.

(Nitsuj): Alright, that sounds fair and reasonable. And if I win, you have to sing Girlish Lover from Oreshura in front of everyone.

(Seras): You know how much I hate that song.

(Nitsuj): If you want to back out now’s the time. But just know that if you do I will forever call you Seras the Cowardly.

(Seras): *Chuckles* Nice try. But I’m not backing down at all. I accept.

(Nitsuj): You’re going down little lady.

(Seras): I don’t think so.

(Nitsuj): Alright, let’s get this show on the road. This is Mask of the Phantasm vs The Killing Joke.


(Nitsuj): Let’s start by looking at the central figure in these movies, Batman. This it’ll be a tough category seeing as how both Batman’s were voiced by Kevin Conroy but they’re each different in their own right. Seras, since you did a review first and I’m a gentleman, you go first.

(Seras): How very chivalrous of you. The Batman in Mask of the Phantasm is a little younger but still a great detective and fighter determined to bring justice to Gotham and keep it safe.

(Nitsuj): The Batman in The Killing Joke appears to be a little older, more mature and experienced while also being a great detective and fighter trying to keep Gotham safe. But what do we know about these Batmans? For the starters the Batman in The Killing Joke seems to be more professional with his work and not let his personal feelings get in the way of it. He’s very in control of his emotions not letting them show and trying to stop others from going to the edge of the abyss like he’s been. He strikes fear into the hearts of criminals and has a presence that draws you to him. Other than that we see that he’s a person who thinks ahead realizing that if he and The Joker continue their game one of them will most likely kill each other which is something he doesn’t want to do and wants to try and stop it before it happens.

(Seras): Interesting. But that’s nothing compared to my Batman. The Batman in Mask of the Phantasm is more open with himself. We get to see Batman on a more personal level and see his life before he became Batman.

(Nitsuj): So? My Batman is cool, cooler, and the coolest-

(Seras): And something we already knew.

(Nitsuj): Beg your pardon?

(Seras): The Batman in The Killing Joke is a Batman we’ve seen before. We’ve seen this Batman in the Arkham games and in the comics. He’s a Batman we’ve all come to expect to see. There’s nothing new or interesting about him. The Batman in Mask of Phantasm is something new. We actually get a chance to see Batman at his most vulnerable. We get an inside look into his psyche as a man who has discovered happiness for the first time in his life and doesn’t know how to handle it. He’s beside himself and unsure of what to do. Even seeing happiness as a sin to his parents pleading on their grave asking them to allow him to be happy. This is a Batman who has loved and lost but still continues on with the mission knowing he has a job to do and pushing his feelings to the side to continue said mission. This was a Batman we came to know on a personal level and felt sorry for him. This was a Batman we got to know and respect. We all see Batman as this unstoppable superhero and forget that deep down he’s just like us, human. What can you say is new about your Batman?

(Nitsuj): Plenty! He’s. . .and he’s. . .he can. . .ragh~ but he looks so badass.

(Seras): My point exactly. The Batman in Mask of the Phantasm is by far the better Batman because we got a chance to get to know him. While it’s true the Batman in The Killing Joke is badass it’s a Batman that really brings nothing new to the table and because of that he doesn’t leave much of an impact on you. Now what say you?

(Nitsuj): Point goes to Mask of the Phantasm.

(Seras): Damn straight.

Mask of the Phantasm: 1 The Killing Joke: 0

(Nitsuj): Okay, I’ll give you that point. But a hero is only as good as the villain he faces. Get ready for the next round, the best Joker.

The Joker

(Seras): The Joker is one of the greatest villains of all time and the complete opposite of Batman. He’s comedy, Batman’s tragedy. He’s all about anarchy, Batman’s all about order. The list goes on. So what’s there to say about The Joker in Mask of the Phantasm? Well this was a Joker that was not only energetic but downright cruel and evil. At the time most kids didn’t read the Batman comics and just saw The Joker through the animated series as a crazy clown. The movie changed all of that. While the movie kept him a deranged clown they made his acts all the more deranged such as killing people and giving them that horrible smile as they die or giving them Joker venom that made them laugh nonstop. On top of this they also told an intriguing story of his past such as how he was a hitman for the mob which does match up perfectly with the series and isn’t such a bad idea.

(Nitsuj): Yeah, it’s not a bad idea. Too bad it’s not original. Need I remind you that The Batman movie also explored this idea? If Mask of the Phantasm allowed us to explore Batman on a personal level than The Killing Joke allowed us to do the same with The Joker. This Joker is not only deranged but he’s also a deep guy who is so long gone that not even he’s sure what caused him to become the person he is today and even if he did he says it’s far too late to save someone like him. It’s with that line that The Joker is fully aware that he is a madman fully aware of his acts. Even his past is sad. Once again we’re not sure if this is his true backstory or not but it’s a sad story nonetheless. We see him as a down on his luck comedian trying to provide a better life for his wife and future child only to have it all come crashing down on him all in the span of one day. The Joker as a mobster is interesting but we never really explore his character as a mobster. How’d he get into the game, what was his personality like, what were his skills, stuff like that is never explored because he’s not really a central figure in the grand scheme of things. He’s there to serve as the object of vengeance. The Killing Joke gave us an inside look into The Joker’s deranged insanity and it’s a trip that sticks with you and makes you believe that yes, this could have been what happened to him. So, got any rebuttal for your Joker.

(Seras): *Thinks for a second* I’ve got nothing; you’ve trapped me in a box here.

(Nitsuj): Point goes to The Killing Joke.

Mask of the Phantasm: 1 The Killing Joke: 1

(Nitsuj): Now that we’ve got the main characters out of the way let’s focus on the side characters for each movie. Which ones left the most impact and impression on us.

Side Characters

(Seras): Well then, I say I’ve got this one in the bag.

(Nitsuj): How? The Killing Joke had side characters such as Jim, Batgirl, Alfred, crime boss, and. . .oh shit I am screwed.

(Seras): Exactly. The first half of The Killing Joke was indeed a Batgirl story but just like you said it added nothing to the plot at all. The whole point of it was to pad out time. As the main movie the whole focus is mostly kept on The Joker. The only side character used effectively is Jim as The Joker is trying to break him and Batgirl has a small part of getting paralyzed and possibly raped but after that she takes a backseat for the rest of the movie. Alfred and the other side characters only have like one scene and then they’re never seen again. Now let’s take a look at the side characters for Mask of the Phantasm. First up, Andrea, the object of Batman’s former love. The girl who showed Bruce that happiness does exist and that he can have it. We see them fall in love only to be torn away because of vengeance and how it left them both sad and lonely. Arthur the corrupted politician who tried to catch Batman in the hopes of increasing his approval ratings only to find out he plays a part in the large scheme of things. The mobsters whose part may be small but the tiny connection they all had in common and their part in the story is done well. Every little factor we see in the movie contributes to the story. The side characters aren’t there to waste time they’re there to help move the story along and to show us how they play a part in the overall story. These were side characters who left an impact and served a purpose in the large scheme of the story. Now give me my point.

(Nitsuj): Damn it.

Mask of the Phantasm: 2 The Killing Joke: 1

(Seras): Well that was an easy round, so what’s next?

(Nitsuj): Good question. The fourth round is usually the wild card round. Let’s let fate decide what we judge next.

*Nitsuj pulls out a tiny slot machine*

(Nitsuj): Give it a pull Seras.

*Seras pulls the lever and it stops on animation, music and voice acting*

(Nitsuj): Looks like the next round is animation, music and voice acting.

Animation, music and voice acting

(Nitsuj): So for this category we’re gonna be judging the animation, music, and voice acting. It goes without saying through the years, animation has come a long way and the animation for this movie is good. The characters in The Killing Joke really do look very realistic and the attention to detail and backgrounds is very good. The expressions are very life-like and convey the feelings of the characters. The music also matches up with the animation quite well. It’s suspenseful, dark, and fits perfectly with the movie and what’s happening in each scene. Plus, it’s always great to hear Mark Hamill sing. Speaking of Mark Hamill the voice acting in this movie is top notch. It’s great to see the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return as Batman and The Joker showing us why we love these voices so much and that even though age has set in for both of them they can still deliver on their lines and performance. Tara Strong as Batgirl is also pretty good as well. She totally fits the character and captures that smart girl character of Batgirl.

(Seras): The animation in Mask of the Phantasm follows that of the animated series only on a bigger budget. Thanks to the bigger budget the characters and backgrounds do pop out more and the use of blood is a welcomed addition. They could of easily gone the 3-D route like everyone else at the time was doing but no they kept to their roots and what they were familiar with. The music isn’t that much different either. Besides adding in a chorus for the main theme the music remains the same but that chorus just sends chills down your spine whenever you hear it. As for the voice acting there’s a lot of emotion throughout the movie with each one delivery on their lines and giving us the best Joker laugh to this day.

(Nitsuj): So which side is better? Let’s do a quick comparison. I have to admit the even though the animation from Mask of the Phantasm is dated it still holds up to this day and still looks good. The animation of The Killing Joke is good but at times it can make a mistake such as a character design not really looking all that great. The music for both these movies is great but The Killing Joke’s movie can be quite forgetful. I remember after watching the movie not really remembering the music all that much except for The Joker’s song number. The music in Mask of the Phantasm sticks with you for a while after hearing it. That chorus is still beautiful and continues to send a chill down my spine whenever I hear it. Finally the voice acting. Despite age taking a hold on the VAs in this movie Kevin and Mark do a good job voicing their respective characters and Tara is a very believable Batgirl. However, at some parts the VAs lack narrative on how they should sound. For example, The Joker’s one bad day speech, there is no emotion in it whatsoever. I don’t blame Mark for this because he’s a great VA and has shown multiple times that he can put a lot of emotion into the characters he voices but here he just had no direction on how to say this speech and it’s mostly the director’s fault. He didn’t give Mark direction such as telling him to sound sad at this part, be angry at this part, or sound happy at this part and there are quite a few parts like this with the other VAs throughout the movie. Actors put a lot of trust in the director with their scenes and here it’s obvious that the director just didn’t feel like going back and reshooting the scene or taking advice from the cast members and asking them how they felt about the scene. In the Mask of the Phantasm it’s the exact opposite. You can sense the passion, energy, and emotion with these VAs. Because this group had worked before in the past and were very passionate about what they were doing as well as trusting each other, everyone had a sense of what to do and how to say it. Point goes to Mask of the Phantasm.

Mask of the Phantasm: 3 The Killing Joke: 1

(Nitsuj): Well now that the wild card round is done let’s move on to the final round. Story and theme.

Story and Theme

(Seras): The story of Mask of the Phantasm is that a mysterious phantom is going around killing mobsters and Batman is being blamed for it. On top of this Batman has to deal with his old girlfriend who he wanted to marry coming back into town. The two are obviously hiding information from each other and as the story goes on we see the mobster killings are acts of vengeance on the part of Andrea trying to avenge the death of her father and the people who stole her happiness. Near the end where Andrea has a chance to walk away and forget vengeance she chooses vengeance and with that burns the bridge of having a life with Bruce the person she loved. The movie is a psychological journey into Batman’s past as we see him at his most vulnerable. We see him struggle on what to do with his life now that he’s found happiness and doesn’t know how to handle it. It’s an interesting story that shows the fragile nature of Batman’s character. The theme of the movie is vengeance. Alfred said it best at the end, vengeance blackens the soul, in another life time it could have been Bruce who went down the same path as Andrea. In the end this movie is the ultimate tragedy of Batman as a person and as a character.

(Nitsuj): The story of The Killing Joke is The Joker trying to prove to Batman and to everyone that they’re no different from him. The only thing separating them is a bad day and if they had that bad day they would end of just like The Joker. So in order to prove this The Joker goes after Jim and gives him the worst day imaginable. He shoots his daughter paralyzing her for life and then kidnaps and subjects Jim to a series of horrifying events meant to break him mentally. Yet, despite all of this Jim still comes out of it sane and tells Batman to bring The Joker in by the book. He could have asked Batman to kill him or killed The Joker himself and it would have been justified but he doesn’t because he knows that if he were to take The Joker’s life right here and now in the name of vengeance he be proving that The Joker was right about him and everyone else. Yes, I admit life sucks, we’re gonna have bad days in our lives and if we’re really unlucky we’re gonna have really bad days that drive us to the brink of insanity but at the end of it all it’s how you response to that bad day. I could get mad and take it out on everyone and everything around me just like The Joker or I can be like Jim and endure it all not letting it break me or stop me from being who I am and what I believe in. If Mask of the Phantasm was Batman at his most vulnerable than The Killing Joke was Joker at his most vulnerable as he opens up about his views on the world and how we see a possible past into how he became the person, he is today. It’s the tragic story of a man who had a bad day and chose to respond to it in the worst way possible.

(Seras): So which movie wins because in all honesty I felt you made a good argument for The Killing Joke.

(Nitsuj): Yeah and I felt you made a good argument for Mask of the Phantasm. Both of these movies have great stories and themes and they execute them well. On top of that both movies do a good job representing Batman. Mask of the Phantasm gives us a thrilling mystery while also taking a look into Batman’s past and The Killing Joke gives us a dark action story while taking a look into The Joker’s possible past and us wondering if this is really what happened to him or if it’s just him messing with us. Hmm~, wanna just go for broke and say it’s a tie?

(Seras): Really? Can we do that?

(Nitsuj): I don’t see why not. It’s our blog, we can do whatever we want. Besides, you’ve already won. Show a little mercy to your enemies.

(Seras): Alright. Point goes to The Killing Joke.

(Nitsuj): And Mask of the Phantasm.

Mask of the Phantasm: 4 The Killing Joke: 2

Winner: Mask of the Phantasm

(Nitsuj): So in the end Mask of the Phantasm maintains its position as the best Batman movie out there and I’m totally okay with this.

(Seras): Now this doesn’t mean The Killing Joke is bad. It’s good, like you said The Joker is great in this movie and exploring his possible past is interesting. It’s a dark movie that sheds a small spotlight on one of the greatest comic book villains of all time.

(Nitsuj): And Mask of the Phantasm does a great job diving into the psyche of Batman, with memorable music, excellent voice acting, and a cast of memorable side characters. But the most important thing of all is that these two movies deliver on the story and theme. Both these movies capture the darkness and tragedy that a Batman movie should have and deliver on great voice acting from two legends. Well guys that it for us. If you’ll excuse me, I owe someone a Wii U.

(Seras): You’re getting a black one right?

(Nitsuj): Oh you know it. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time on Project Nitsuj.

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