Inspired by the fact that this week is "Batman Week", I've decided to do a series of pieces on various characters and elements of Batman. Tonight's piece, as you might have guessed by the title, is on Batman's arch-nemesis, The Joker.
The Joker is a villain that continues to frighten me even today. He is without a doubt one of the greatest villains of all time, simply because of the fact that he is STILL so terrifying after all these years. Sure, a normal man who is both a killer and a psychotic is scary enough. But when you add the clown makeup and that hideous grin, the scare factor goes up by several notches. He is a man with no moral code, a person who delights in the pain of others. His origins have always been largely unknown, so there is no one true answer as to how he became the crazed lunatic that he is. In one of the most famous (and best) Batman graphic novels, The Killing Joke, Joker even says that "..if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha Ha!!" Was he burned by acid? Tortured by abusive parents? Who knows…perhaps the imagination of the comic book reader is enough.
The Joker has always been such a perfect foil for Batman, because where Batman seeks to restore order and justice in Gotham, The Joker seeks to create chaos. This is illustrated so clearly in Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight, where Joker in fact states that he is indeed an agent of chaos, as he sets about rampaging through Gotham. What's so frightening is that because of his clownish personality, the "games" that he plays often vary between being both threatening and at certain times non-threatening. He uses all of the clown gags…but those toys hide a much more sinister creature. While Batman has his one rule not to kill, Joker has no such rule. Life is a trivial thing to him, a big gag where he gets to deliver the punch line.
There have been many interpretations of The Joker, some of them more comical and clownish than others. One of the more recent was, of course, Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. This Joker was almost devoid of mirth, a much more sadistic portrayal than even I expected at the time. Yet it made sense considering the realistic world that Christopher Nolan had placed these characters in. Another of my favorite interpretations came from Batman: The Animated Series, in which actor Mark Hamill voiced The Joker. While this Joker was also quite evil, there was a lighter and more playful side to his character as well. The number of different laughs that Hamill offered as The Joker is still amazing to me. There were cackles, giggles, roars, and guffaws of laughter that contributed so much to the overall feel of the character.
One thing that I've found fascinating is that even though Joker has always been Batman's main foe, he has never posed a serious physical threat to Batman. The Joker, in person, is usually not a physically intimidating presence. He often relies on the use of weapons, his other henchman, or traps set in advance for Batman. By himself, with all of the artifice stripped away, The Joker is a pathetic human being. Like all of our worst fears, The Joker folds like a house of cards (pun intended!) once confronted. Watch Jack Nicholson's Joker in the original Batman….while he isn't my favorite Joker, he illustrates the deeply pathetic nature of the man in the last fight scene within the bell tower.
As long as there's Batman, there will be a Joker out there causing mayhem. They are drawn together, two opposite and opposing forces, inevitably leading to conflict. And what a joy it is to watch that epic confrontation.