Blogging A to Z Day 11: Joker

Geeks. Batman. It’s a thing. He’s already taken up several letters of this Geek Pastiche, and I have a hunch he’ll appear in a few more before the alphabet is through… But heroes are only as good as their villains, so it’s fitting we take a moment to address one of the most famous supervillains in or out of comics: The Joker.

Ever since his first appearance in 1940, the Joker has been wildly popular. Like most villains, he was first written as a one-story character. He even died at the end, but when Batman got a solo comic, the Joker became one of the first comic characters ever resurrected in order to boost sales. Since that time he’s been a mainstay of Batman stories in all kinds of media — from constant appearances in the comics, to endless animated variations, to the movie versions we all know and fear. Where you see Batman, you soon will see the Joker. Fans even complain about overexposure, but I contend that the Joker is such an integral part of Batman that they’re narratively inseparable — where there is Batman, there must be a Joker.

From the beginning the Joker has reflected Batman, and not in a superficial way. (That would be Man-Bat.) The Joker is Batman’s thematic funhouse-mirror reflection… In some ways, the two are always identical. In others, they’re opposites.

JokerOriginBatman famously lacks superpowers. Because of his appearance, it’s sometimes forgotten that the Joker isn’t “super” either. They’re both human men, driven to transform themselves into larger-than-life characters for dramatic effect. They’re both, for lack of a better word, insane. On the other hand, even in the lightest and campiest of stories Batman is a fundamentally serious person, and you need something wild to counter that. There’s one vision of total control and another of complete anarchy. One man whose origin is so codified as to be mythical, against another whose whole life story is constantly changing even in his own memory. One wealthy gentleman in a manor house, and one spectre happy in urban squalor.

On still another thematic level, the Joker is the perfect Batman villain because, while he is Batman’s equal and complement, he is also everything Batman fears: Meaningless and unknowable. He’s the monster who kills children and laughs about it, for no reason at all. Someone who can’t be punched into submission, because he has no motivation. He’s the ultimate challenge to Batman’s fundamental desire not to kill — because what else can you do with him?

Plenty of other great Batman stories exist, and there are any number of fantastic new stories waiting to be told. The Joker will forever reappear, though… Because you can’t tell the perfect Batman story without him.

ed. – Hannah’s Blogging A to Z this month at her own blog, Things Matter, and you can find her on Twitter at @HannahEGivens

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38 thoughts on “Blogging A to Z Day 11: Joker

  1. Reblogged this on Things Matter and commented:

    The first of three J posts I’ve got running today, and my first contribution to Sourcerer! Your LGBT comics character will arrive later today, followed by a lady monster this afternoon. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Love the Joker, but the recent controversy over that cover reminded me, starkly, that he’s not so much a villain you “love to hate” but a villain that needs to be hated. He is written to be so vile that the reader can not allow themselves to become sympathetic. Killing Robin, assaulting Batgirl… these things can not be forgiven… It definitely is a “what else can you do with him”? As always, wonderful post, Hannah. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, you’re very right there. I probably could’ve written a whole post on how he’s one of the few villains who has actually done terrible things where most villains just have schemes. And the fact that he has NO backstory or motivation helps keep him at a distance for that. Thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Good point about the lack of backstory and motivation… there’s really no space to sympathize or empathize with him.

        Some men just want to watch the world burn. For those men, the Joker is already pouring fuel…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. And I think that’s why he works so well as Batman’s opposite. Batman does questionable things at times. Batman needs a nemesis that is absolutely unsympathetic and leaves no other option but violent resistance to justify the way he operates.

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  3. Great post! I am personally quite intrigued by the Joker ever since I read the comic that showed how he became the way he is. In some odd way, it makes you feel sorry for the guy that lost everything, and you begin to understand why he went insane… Love the way you illustrate that there is indeed kind of a dependent relationship between Batman and the Joker.

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  4. Your author category is now on the bylines menu, and you can feel free to pitch guest post ideas any time you have something that fits here, even if you don’t do another one for several months. Welcome aboard, matey! 😀

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  5. I agree with all the comments today and, of course, with the points you highlighted in your post. The Joker has been played by two wonderful actors in the movies and the only problem with actors like Jack Nicholson is that you can’t help but like him! Still, he did make for a winning villain and gave a classic example of just how well he pushes Batman’s buttons!

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  6. Yes! I love Mr. J!!!!! He is my #1 favorite comics villain!!! And you are so right: what else CAN you do with him besides kill him? I mean, you can put him in Arkham Asylum… and if my memory serves (and it may not), in the 1970s comics (his own series?), he had a personal escape tunnel out of there… so… yeah. Kind of futile. The Joker is, as you point out, the ultimate challenge to Batman’s no-kill policy. Jason Todd is not pleased about this, among others, but what is a Bat to do? He can’t even let him be convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and executed, apparently.
    It must be very awkward, having a Bat-Conscience in Gotham.
    I also love the point about not having super powers. Even without them, The Joker (like Batman and The Midnighter) is the one to watch out for, in any company. In The Joker’s case, I think, his dangerousness comes from his utter ruthlessness and his unpredictability.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I don’t remember that in the 70s series, but I believe it. Usually there comes a point in any series where they just stop even explaining how he gets out of Arkham!

      I always love to see the Joker against a powered hero. He’s not disadvantaged at all. 😀

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  7. Okay, I know nothing about Batman and didn’t even know the Joker came from there (I thought it was a card in a card game, LOL). I actually love the fact that he got resurrected to boost sales, LOL. Happy #AtoZChallenge.

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  8. I like it that the Joker has no motive or reason behind him. He is also probably a lot more conscious about the symbiotic relationship with Batman than Batman is. And yeah, I still hold it that Bats is pretty much as insane as the Joker is, just in a different way… 😀

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

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    • Oh yes, I think the Joker is entirely aware of their relationship. 😀 I’ve seen some really fascinating arguments that the Joker is actually aware he’s a comic character, and acts the way he does to keep himself interesting AND because he knows all the people he kills don’t really exist. Food for thought.

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  9. “They’re both human men, driven to transform themselves into larger-than-life characters for dramatic effect. They’re both, for lack of a better word, insane.”
    That right there…truth.
    Well said.
    Heather

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  10. Pingback: A to Z Reflection (and an announcement!) | Things Matter

  11. Pingback: Ten Bloggers. 26 Blogging A to Z Posts. All on One Blog. | Sourcerer

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