The animated film Batman: The Killing Joke—an adaptation of DC Comics' iconic graphic novel of 1988—comes to life at San Diego Comic Con on Friday. The highly-anticipated cartoon will be showing at select theaters all across the nation beginning Monday, July 25. Originally scheduled for a one-night-only release, it was announced just yesterday that the viewing availability for The Killing Joke will be extended through Tuesday, July 26, the same date it will become available digitally on-demand.

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Batman: The Killing Joke was released after another Gotham City-based graphic novel, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Featuring many of the same characters and published within two years of each other, the stories are drastically different. Not to be confused with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises films, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a four-issue comic series detailing a futuristic Gotham City where Bruce Wayne is starting to age and a gang of mutants are terrorizing the city. 

Now that both The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns have animated films to accompany the nostalgic literature, one question of Batman lore remains: which one is better? 

The Killing Joke

If you're pressed for time, The Killing Joke is much easier to get through.

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Whereas Dark Knight was originally a four-part collection, Killing Joke was a one-shot. In animated form, Knight lasts nearly two and half hours—the Joke runs just just 76 minutes. If you're a fan of The Joker, the shorter story is more focused on the green-haired villain and the incredibly heinous things he'll do to get under Batman's skin. It also provides a full origin story for the homicidal maniac. And while the Knight shows both characters in more advanced stages of their lives, the Batman vs. Joker feud in The Killing Joke takes place while both men are still in their physical prime.

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The Dark Knight Returns

DKR requires a little more time than TKJ, but a much bigger chunk of the DC Universe is explored. Whereas The Killing Joke is a short story highlighting the unique interactions between Joker and Batman, Dark Knight also includes his battles with Two-Face/Harvey Dent, Superman and an entire gang of Mutants.

If the FOX show Gotham highlights the beginnings of many of Gotham City's supervillainsDark Knight shows their end. Two-Face and The Joker both bite the dust, while Catwoman has lost her looks and runs an escort service. And we discover how Batman and Green Arrow spend their retirement after the Wayne Mansion is destroyed and Bruce's death faked.

Which Batman story is better?

The Dark Knight Returns has a few themes in common with a lot of today's Marvel- and DC Comics-based film franchises.

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The people of Gotham City (and America in general) aren't sure whether they can trust superheroes like Batman, and the government tries to intervene. Several characters from the DC Canon are used throughout the book and film, so fans of the DC Universe who like a "big story" will probably prefer The Dark Knight Returns.

For viewers like myself, however, who prefer a fast-paced story that doesn't require a ton of prior knowledge, The Killing Joke is probably the safer bet.

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The scandalous story crosses a lot of lines that older viewers may find intriguing (the film is Rated R) and the somewhat ambiguous ending allows for fans to interpret the fallout as they best see fit.

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