Arguably Batman’s most iconic villain. A clown-faced prince of crime, dealing in chaos and unpredictability. We’ve seen him in comic books since 1940, cartoons and tv shows, and even movies. It’s safe to say he’s one of the most recognisable pop culture figures. As a long-term reader of comics and absorber of all things geek, I consider myself remarkably familiar with the character. I’m a big Batman fan, and the Joker comes as a part of that… So how did I fall utterly out of love with him?
He’s been done time and time again. We’ve had hammy, 60’s Joker. We’ve had gothicy Tim Burton Joker. We’ve had super serious gritty ‘realistic’ Joker. We’ve had a cross between gothicy, hammy AND gritty in the Arkham Asylum video games, and we’ve had just about every incarnation in between thanks to the multiple renditions. We’re about to get Jared Leto Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and The Killing Joke Joker, according to DC’s Animation Studio. We’ve had every Joker. We’ve done it all, and it’s getting old hat. He’s always the big reveal, the ‘surprise’ bad guy who’s been running the whole show (despite his lust for chaos, he’s clearly very organised.) It’s always supposed to be a shock moment when the big bad is revealed to be the Joker, but it almost never is, because the concept has been done to death.
Lately, it seems the option preferred is to insert shock tactics into comic book writing. Oh my God, the Joker’s face got cut off! Now someone else has it! Now he’s got it back! … Really? The character is so overdone that his story arcs are resorting to shock tactics and gore. That sucks, and it’s not the fault of the writers involved either — they’re fine, great, in fact, — it comes down to the fact that Joker stories have been done over and over again — there’s not a lot left to draw from such a shallow character.
He’s not all that interesting.
We’ve been given a handful of different Joker origins, and none of them are particularly enthralling. I mean, sure, they’re fine for your standard villain origin but there’s a handful of Batman villains with far greater beginnings and backstories. Mr Freeze is all kinds of tragic, he just wants to bring back his beloved Nora. Killer Croc, often painted as a rampaging monster, is capable of being a sweet gentle giant. Bane, another one shown as a mindless thug, is super-intelligent and hispanic. The Joker is just another crazy white dude. He either fell in a vat of acid, or watched his mother get her face cut open, or any number of origins that spin out of the different renditions… They all land on him being crazy. Snore.
The only perk that remains, is his relationship with Batman. It’s borderline obsessive, and there’s a long running suggestion that neither can exist without the other. It’s a great Ying-Yang, light/dark, evil/good parallel, and it’s probably the Joker’s one redeeming feature. He has a long-running relationship with Batman, which is more than can be said for the majority of Gotham’s villains.
The Joker’s violent acts are often excessive and troubling — somewhat expected from a clown-faced lunatic. The death of Jason Todd in A Death In The Family, was particularly brutal, as were his actions against Barbara and Jim Gordon in The Killing Joke. However, the most questionable of all his relationships undoubtedly lies with Harley Quinn. He’s extraordinarily abusive to her for seemingly no reason — it’s even played off as comical on occasion. He’s emotionally, verbally and physically abusive, and often ropes her into his ridiculous, near-suicidal schemes. His relationship with her is not deep, interesting or admirable — it’s downright awful. She’s a character written by men, for men, a seemingly ‘crazy’ and dominant character who whimpers into submission every time the Joker comes near her — I’m yet to read a story where she’s even remotely likeable. It’s a little troubling that she remained with him for as long as she did, her liberation only partly coming with the introduction of her recent self-titled run, and it’s odd that her terrible relationship with the Joker is never explored properly. There’s definitely space there for some serious storylines, perhaps even ones that parallel real-life abusive relationships and how Harley ultimately escapes the one she has with the Joker. She’s always been better suited to a loving relationship with Poison Ivy, if anyone.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the Joker. At one time, I’d have called him my favourite villain… But now, more often than not, I find myself groaning when he’s revealed. My face twists at mention of The Killing Joke, and I breathed a heavy sigh when they cast him in Suicide Squad, alongside a Harley Quinn brandishing a top that reads “Daddy’s Lil Monster.” (Really? Like… REALLY? What was wrong with the red and black? The diamond motif? Anything else? LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.) I even brushed off his mention in Gotham, a show I adore, because he’s approximately 500 times LESS interesting than Gotham’s Penguin.
The clown prince has lost his charm.
Originally posted on Need To Consume in September 2015