The Best Joker Yet!

Good day, everyone! It’s been quite awhile since you’ve heard from me, but I felt it was high time my Batman column here at Sourcerer saw another entry. Today, I want us to talk about Jerome Valeska (played by Cameron Monaghan) from the Gotham television series.

I know; the first season of Gotham was certainly a mixed bag. Personally, I enjoyed it despite recognizing its many weaknesses. I’m happy to see that the second season has started off rather strongly and is set to do greater justice to its source material while still forging ahead with its own story. I would say Gotham‘s greatest strength so far has been in its introduction of the character of Jerome Valeska, the show’s proto-Joker. Please note that from here on out, there will be spoilers for the show.

When Jerome and his bizarre circus family were first introduced last season, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Surely, the episode was visually stimulating and a murder mystery on a police procedural certainly sells, but it still seemed like there was something yet to be introduced. I was not disappointed; this episode ended on a surprise note that made my skin crawl, with Jerome transforming in an instant from a simpering child victim to a laughing psychopath that had any Batman fan worth his or her collection instantly on edge.

And the character has only grown more this season into the role set for him in that simple scene. Jerome’s appearance and demeanor are of a young man constantly on the verge of some sort of outburst, and he tends toward the morbidly dramatic. Further, Jerome cares little for even his own life, but cares a great deal about taking charge in a situation in order to insure that he gets his point across, whatever it may be.

The character’s showmanship coupled with Monaghan’s stage presence are a wonderful combination that plays out beautifully. Jerome isn’t a man who even pretends at a plan; rather, he is a true agent of chaos pursuing the greatest possible shock value with the highest possible body count.

On a final (and much appreciated) note, the writers of Gotham demonstrate that they are fully aware of the Joker’s irreplaceable, mythic role in the Batman mythos. This is worked in wonderfully with Jerome’s father (a blind fortune-teller played by Mark Margolis) reciting a prophecy concerning Jerome’s personal legacy of horror.

I find it a shame that Jerome had to be killed off after only four episodes. He was one of the greatest things about Gotham thus far, and that show has many, many great performances going for it, from Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth, to Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin, and of course Erin Richards as the broken Barbara Kean. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, and appropriately enough, the greatest treat, is that Cameron Monaghan gave us the greatest live action Joker yet, and he wasn’t even playing the Joker. I raise a glass to such a performance.

Cameron Monaghan as Jerome in Gotham. Image taken from https://www.facebook.com/CameronMonaghanOfficial?pnref=lhc

Cameron Monaghan as Jerome in Gotham. Image taken from https://www.facebook.com/CameronMonaghanOfficial?pnref=lhc

That’s it for this installment, everyone. Thanks for reading and welcoming me back. I plan on doing several more guest posts as the year wraps up, most especially once Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello’s Dark Knight III: The Master Race hits shelves. As for reading recommendations, I suggest that, Batman: Europa, and Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles once all three see publication. Each should offer up a different take on the character from what is currently enjoying mainstream publication.

I hope you enjoy those reading recommendations, along with Gotham. And please do check out my other posts on the Joker here, here, and here. Heh. See you all next time! Tweet me @quaintjeremy.

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Blogging A to Z Day 13: The Killing Joke

Greetings, everyone! Today, we’re going to be talking about one really bad day, the sort that can break a person entirely. This is the main thought at the center of 1988’s The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, which is often considered the quintessential Joker story. In short, the story focuses on the Joker’s origin told through ultimately false flashbacks to the worst day he ever experienced, coupled with his attempts to give his prime enemies, Batman and Jim Gordon, a day of horror designed to break them, their sanity, and their moral compasses.

That camera in the Joker’s hands on the front cover of the comic is not just a prop—it’s one of the primary tools in his bag of tricks. You see, this is the story that gave the DC Universe the character Oracle, the new crime-fighting identity Barbara Gordon assumed after the Joker shot her in the spine (leaving her paralyzed from the waist down), stripped her naked, and took photographs of her in this state in order to show her father, Jim Gordon (also stripped naked and brutalized) to try to destroy his sanity.

Some readers see a further implication of greater sexual assault at this point in the naked and prone Barbara Gordon (and this has become a rather popular viewpoint), though, as my girlfriend Candice pointed out to me after reading The Killing Joke, no one makes that assumption about Jim Gordon, though he is also beaten, stripped naked, and led around on a leash by the Joker’s incredibly creepy BDSM dwarf minions. I understand this is a touchy subject and I in no way wish to make light of it, so let’s move further discussion of it and the recent Batgirl cover controversy down to the comments below.

Though not as divisive as Barbara Gordon’s fate, the ending of the story has also sparked controversy among many fans, some of whom have developed their own theories about the arguably ambiguous finale. As you can see, Batman and the Joker share a rather disturbing laugh as Batman reaches toward his old, monstrous foe with approaching police lights framing them in silhouette. Then, darkness.

Some fans see the exchange as a mocking gesture on Batman’s part before he turns and walks away yet again, holding to his morals and keeping the game alive. Others, however, take a rather non-continuity-based view and postulate that Batman actually reaches out and kills the Joker at this moment, with Barbara’s fate the last straw that finally drives him to permanently remove the Joker as a threat to everyone he is around. Though a powerful and attractive theory, it has no basis in the stories that follow. Indeed, the Joker is still alive and terrorizing Gotham to this very day. After all, were this theory valid, it means the Joker would have won, even in death. He would have succeeded in finally breaking Batman by making him turn against his personal code.

Art by Brian Bolland. Image taken from http://images.sequart.org/images/joke1.jpg

Art by Brian Bolland. Image taken from http://images.sequart.org/images/joke1.jpg

Those large points aside, I do wish to make general comments on the story as a whole. Alan Moore’s writing really captures the nihilistic and horrifying mind of the Joker, and Brian Bolland’s artwork is superbly unsettling, especially when the Joker has any expression other than mirth, all of which can be seen in the image above.

And that’s it for the letter K. Thanks again for stopping by, and I look forward to speaking with some of you in the comments below. I strongly recommend reading The Killing Joke if you never have before. Be sure to check out more of my thoughts on the Joker in the Batman column on Sourcerer here and here, and check out my thoughts on Barbara Gordon over at Part Time Monster here. As a parting treat, here’s Troy Baker (the voice of the Joker in Arkham Origins) delivering one of the Joker’s best lines in The Killing Joke. Enjoy! I’ll see you all again soon.

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

Blogging A to Z Day 2: Batman

Good day, everyone! It wasn’t easy coming up with something to say on this topic today, given how much I’ve already said about Batman over the past year or so. That said, I decided to go broad, give an overview of Batman’s appeal to me personally, discuss the Batman of my heart (as we’ve spoken of our personal versions of Batman before), and open up discussion. Let’s dive right in!BatmanKungFu

Since 1939, Batman has gone through dozens, if not hundreds, of creative interpretations under hoards of comic book creative teams and film producers. Extrapolating from that, there may be as many personal views of Batman himself as there are fans of the character. My own view of the character is manifold.

In his youth, he was as Frank Miller presented him in Year One, and as he grew older he became Denny O’Neil’s adventurer of the late 60s and early 70s. As he approached middle age, he became Grant Morrison’s version of the character, and that is roughly where he stands in my mind. I prefer to imagine Batman as gruff and angry, perhaps in his early to middle 40s, still possessing the strength of his youth but tempered by experience and the harsh education of his mythic role. His later years, to me, have always been a convoluted mixture of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Beyond. Oh, and through all of this he always speaks with Kevin Conroy’s voice.

While all of that is well and good, why do I attach myself to Batman with such fanboy enthusiasm? No, he does not have any superpowers. No, I cannot identify with his wealth or the depth of his early personal tragedies. So what is it?

I believe it is his fearlessness, his ability to direct his own fate. For someone of meager origins, those aspects of the character are enough, but everything else on top of that makes Batman effectively godlike. He is the example to strive toward, the dark and troubled soul with the means to do so actually fighting back against the night itself. How could that not stir that little bit of heroism that lives within all of us? It’s certainly worth thinking about.

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Thank you for stopping by during your A to Z Challenge perusals. I am honored that you chose to read some of my work. Please come back later in the month to hear more from me on fear and fearlessness. Be sure to strike up a conversation in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

.ed — Read more Jeremy! 

Batman image by Chip Kidd, from Death by Design, via KungFuKriticism. Characters, their likenesses, and images thereof © DC Comics or original authors.