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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Social Media Sunday: Some Thoughts on the Direction of This Here Blog

My quarterly stats are past due. The old stats page that I was using to take the simple screenshots and do quick-and-dirty trend analysis went away (thanks a big fuckin’ lot for that, WordPress gods!), and I’ve just not had the time to crunch numbers lately. I’ll discuss how we’ve done here this summer at some point. In general, we’ve taken a traffic hit and our engagement is down since June. That’s mostly because I’ve not been around enough to keep up the chatter.

social media

Today I am more interested in discussing what’s worked here over the last 21 months and why. This is important because we’re one quarter away from our two-year blogiversary, and because I think we need to do more of what’s worked best.

What’s Worked Best

Batman

Worked because Jeremy blogged Batman (an insanely popular character) here every week for almost eight months, and he did a good job saying interesting things about Batman characters.

The Walking Dead Recap/Reviews

Worked because Luther is one of the most entertaining bloggers around, TWD is very popular, and we timed his reviews to catch people at the right time to offer them a recap of the previous episodes before the next one aired.

Penny Dreadful Season 1 Reviewspenny-dreadful-ep-6

Worked because Diana is just plain good at writing about anything involving monsters, has an engaging, easy-to-read style, and picked a winner — a show with a small but engaged audience as it was airing for the first time.

Marvel Comics, especially Marvel Cinematic Universe blogging

Worked because Marvel is growing in popularity and David’s made good choices about what to focus on. Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy both did very well; and Melissa’s Ant-Man post has also done well.

Sourcerer’s 11 Interviews

Work because they’re fun, easy-to-read, entertaining, and are good for capturing the attention of both this blog’s normal audience and the friends/readers of whomever is being interviewed.

A Handful of Blogging-Related and Social Posts

survivor-atoz_by_RetroI’m thinking of the Geek and Greet post, some of the A to Z organizational stuff, and a few of my Blogwanking posts. The Geek and Greet worked because I offered to do something for people who joined in and the event was an opportunity for people to get their blogs seen by other bloggers. The rest worked because they grabbed the attention of bloggers who are trying to up their games — and I say this a bit. Whomever else your target audience is,  it’s mostly bloggers who read and share blogs.

What’s Not Done as Well as Expected

Doctor Who Reviews

Will reviewed the latest season here at the same time I was reviewing it at Part Time Monster and Hannah was writing about it at Things Matter. That was a lot of fun, and it didn’t do so poorly that I’d rule out more Doctor Who. But it didn’t do what I expected, even though we timed the posts well. I think that’s because Doctor Who is so well-established that the competition for audience is just too intense for us to handle.

Penny Dreadful Season 2 Reviews

Again, not so poorly that I’d rule out a third go. But it didn’t do what the first season did — especially not with search traffic. Lots of reasons this could be. Penny Dreadful hit us just as we were wrapping up A to Z and neither Diana nor I had time to do much in the way of interacting because of offline stuff. But I think either a lot of people lost interest after the first season, or a lot more people were writing reviews this time around, and so we had a tougher time getting into searches.

House of CardsHouseofCards

Diana and I just plain played this one wrong. Everything about House of Cards says we should be able to work it for traffic. We got the timing wrong and we shouldn’t have done extensive recaps. I think the time to post about a Netflix series is either immmediately after it’s released, or AFTER everyone’s had time to binge on the whole thing. I don’t see episode reviews being an effective way to blog about series that are delivered all-at-once. Because no matter when you choose to publish them you don’t have a weekly timeslot generating internet buzz on a predictable schedule. I think the way to go with these is to do one to three posts per season and publish them either on Mondays or Saturdays.

Arrow

The performance of these reviews was the biggest surprise to me in all the time I’ve been doing this. I expected them to do way better than they did, because I know a lot of people who love this show, but the audience isn’t absolutely huge. And I don’t think the problem has anything to do with Melissa’s blogging. Everything else she’s published here has done just fine, and she usually gets good comments. I think we timed them wrong. We didn’t have a lot of choice, because we had to work around the UK air date. But Friday morning has always struck me as a bad time to post long-ish, serious posts. That’s why I mostly do music videos on Fridays. I also think we overestimated our ability to compete for searches, and we expected too much, given that Arrow was into its third season before we ever started blogging about it.

Actual Music Blogging

I’m not talking about the posts where I share a YouTube video and write a paragraph or a personal note about what it means to me. Both David and I have tried serious music blogging, and it’s just never worked for us. Could be that we’d need to blog about music once a week for a year to gain the traction to make it worthwhile. It could be that music blogging is just not a good fit here, or that people who like our comics and tv posts have different taste in music than we do, so aren’t interested in what David or I have to say about music.

Arrr, mateys!

Arrr, mateys!

Everything else has been within the bounds of my expectations. I don’t always make content decisions based on the traffic I think it’s worth. Sometimes I approve things for the fun and the mischief value. Sometimes I just want to give another blogger the chance to step onto the stage here and try to find a few new readers, which is a game of ones and twos no matter how you go about it. But I always have some idea what I think a series of posts should do, traffic-wise. I don’t approve things that have no chance of getting read, and when a post does exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly, I try to figure out why.

The Takeaway

Consistency, not Content, is King

Content quality and topic selection are vital, but the most important consideration, if you are trying to build an interest-based audience, is to offer the quality content on a schedule and do it so consistently that people just come to expect it. The most successful thing we’ve done here is comics, and we blogged about Batman every Wednesday for the better part of a year, then once the Batman run was done, we moved into Marvel without missing a beat just as the MCU was getting crazy-good. There’s no coincidence here.

Timing is as Important as Topic

It’s true that you have to write about things people are interested in if you want readers. But you also have to publish when people are looking for it. This is the lesson of The Walking Dead, Penny Dreadful, Arrow, and House of Cards.Arrow-arrow-cw-fanpop

Consider the Competition

If only a handful of big sites are writing about something, it’s possible for a blog the size of Sourcerer to get a slice of the search traffic (see Penny Dreadful above). But if everyone from io9 to the New York Times entertainment section is writing about a thing, best make sure you’re getting a lot of personal enjoyment out of your own writing, or bring friends along (see Doctor Who above).

Multiple Voices are More Compelling Than One on an Everyday Blog

If I had to, I could shut down my personal blog and run Sourcerer by myself. I could even keep the focus on pop culture and do comics every Wednesday. But if only I had been blogging here these past two years, I’d not have seen even the modest success we’ve achieved by publishing contributions from 12 to 15 bloggers.

What’s Next for Sourcerer?

Tl;dr version: Do more of what’s worked and less of what hasn’t.

Keep it up with the Comics

Comics is obviously the core interest at this point. Maintaining the quality of our Wednesday posts and finding ways to expand our comics offerings are the smartest things we can do for this blog over the next year. Since both comics and significant content from me are essential, it makes sense that I should find a way into comics. I’ve not written much about them here to this point because we’ve had so many contributors here who are better-versed and better at writing about the comics than me. That’s gotta change.

Get Smarter about the Television

I’d like to move away from blogging tv shows just because we like them. The time to blog about a tv series, honestly, is during its first season, unless you have a lot of advantages to work with (like we have with The Walking Dead). This means, for example, that while I might blog the next season of Doctor Who, I’m not twisting myself in knots to give it a prime posting slot, I’m looking at as a “just for fun” series, and I’m not asking anyone else to do it (though I’d certainly consider volunteers, because if someone else blogs Doctor Who here, that frees me up to do the same at Part Time Monster and we can link to one another in our posts).

I think we need to concentrate on Marvel Cinematic Universe series and promising new series (see what I said about Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy above), and we need to figure out how to blog Netflix effectively. TV viewers who also read blogs are moving decisively to a “binge on instant video when you can find the time” way of interacting with television as opposed to the old “drop what you are doing and watch at the same time every week” pattern.

I’m thinking the way we’ve been blogging tv is eventually not going to be a sound scheduling strategy, no matter how well we do it. We’re approaching the point where the behavior of our tv audience has changed so much that posting a review the day after a tv episode runs, in and of itself, doesn’t get us anything we couldn’t get on our own by sharing on Twitter and Facebook.

More Book Bloggingtolkien2

Our book blogging has always been sporadic, but given that we’ve never done it consistently, it’s been successful. Some of our most popular posts in 2014 were book lists written by a variety of contributors. Rebecca Bradley’s reviews did well here, and the fact that our first few Sourcerer’s 11 interviews were author interviews timed to coincide with releases has helped that feature a lot. All this tells me that people who read and follow this blog are interested in books — and interested in the same sorts of books we are. This is our easiest and most promising area for real growth. There’s traffic here to be had for the asking, and we’ve not fully tapped into it yet.

Marvel Movies, Please

It’s just essential for this blog that we review every Marvel movie from here on out within a week of its release, publish those reviews at a prime time, and share them around, for as long as we continue to hang together. Absolutely essential.

More Collaborative Posts.

See the Hannah-Melissa collaborative review of Age of Ultron. That’s a sweet post — quality-wise, one of the best we’ve offered to date. And this is something we can do that very few blogs can. We’ve got a dozen contributors, easy ways of communicating with one another behind the scenes, and this blog to post on. Collaborative posts could be a thing for us, and I think readers will love them. This is a genuine advantage. It’s something we have that almost no one else does, and it’s compelling.

Sourcerer’s 11 Reorganization

SourcererCollageEventually, I want to have more than one interview per month. For now, though, I just want to keep them going. They’re good, but the “tag, you’re it!” model just isn’t going to work for a feature that comes around once a month. We set these up from the beginning so we could not only interview authors to coincide with book releases, but could also sometimes interview interesting bloggers who don’t have books publishing. I’m starting the blogger interview thread of these next month.

What we need for this is a pool of contributors who like to do these interviews, and we need to have a once-a-month discussion about who’s doing the next one and who they are interviewing. If, on occasion, I want to offer people we’ve interviewed an opportunity to interview someone else, I will. But just not something we can do with every interview, because it puts too many constraints on the schedule and limits the pool of potential interviewees.

More Contributors

Not a lot more, but a couple. People come and go here. We’re in a phase now where a lot of the people who have contributed over the last year are ending runs and have other projects they need to prioritize. We have a rule that contributors come and go as they please, and that once you’re to the point where I trust you to schedule a post, you’re free to pitch future contributions to me at any time — a week from now, six months from now, doesn’t matter. We’re ok to get through the fall as we are, but I’d be a lot more comfortable if we had another blogger or two in the mix here.

And that’s it. This is where I think this blog is, and this is my vision/direction statement for the next phase. I thought I needed to do this today, because we’re certainly moving into the next phase.

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