Celebration of Wickedness Day 12: THE JOKER #atozchallenge
So my letter K is a stretch today—we’re going for the K in The Dark Knight—because it would be a travesty to omit one of the greatest villains to smile his crooked smile in comics and on film: The Joker.
For the one of you who’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years or had mean parents who didn’t believe in children smiling, the Joker is Batman’s arch-nemesis. You have to add the word “arch” to make it official. Heroes are often defined by their villains—who is Superman without Lex? Who is Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader or Strawberry Shortcake without the creepy guy? (I can’t remember his name but you know who I’m talking about and he was waaaayyy too old to be messing with fruit-flavored girls). Batman has certainly been defined by the Joker.
My first foray into the Batman mythos was the groovy 60s TV show with Adam West, where we’d get the animated BAM! or BIFF! during the fight scenes and no matter the predicament, Batman conveniently had the Anti-Bat-Thing-A-Ma-Bob on this utility belt. There was a movie where Batman and Robin are hanging out a helicopter and a great white shark is literally gnawing off his legs and Batman says, “If I can just reach the Bat-Anti-Shark Repellent in my utility belt…” So forgive me if I wasn’t impressed by a purple and green, skinny little clown in a velvet suit.
Then I saw Jack Nicholson’s version in the Batman movie with Michael Keaton. Well well well, right? This Joker was definitely off his rocker, his schemes elaborate and creative, and he had great, great punchlines: “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” I had to see more and Jack gave me plenty but I couldn’t understand the whole art angle of why the Joker was doing what he was doing. It didn’t make any sense and I chalked it up to he’s just insane.
Until I saw the comic where the Joker killed Robin. I HATE Robin. I always have. He sucked as a sidekick, he sucked in the movies, the TV show, the cartoons. I would have been happy if they wrote him out. But the Joker took it to another level: he caught Robin, pistol-whipped him, beat him with a crowbar, then tied Robin up and stuck him in a room with his mama. And blew them up. By the time Batman showed up, there were only pieces of Robin left. Did I mention Robin was a kid? Damn, right?
It gets worse. The Joker did it—and did it that way—simply to screw with Batman.
This entire sentiment is captured, and lauded, in Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. This version isn’t insane (I don’t believe he is); he’s a psychoanalyst specializing in fear and its effect on the masses. He simply experiments with Gotham City, treating its inhabitants like lab rats in a maze. Inject a stimulus; let’s see what they do. He and Batman are cut from the same cloth, both use fear for the motives. Batman uses his for order; the Joker uses fear for chaos. They are the yin and yang of one another, inextricably linked.
There is a long-standing perception that, if you are a sociopath, you also are dumb. I think the Joker turns that idea on its head: in every iteration of the Joker we’ve seen, he is incredibly intelligent, manipulative, calculating, persuasive, innovative, and has a winning smile. The Joker is a walking treatise on human behavior: he does what he does to push buttons, to influence action, to place people in incredibly abhorrent situations to see what they will do. You can see a variation of this theme in the Saw movies. But what really makes the Joker the awesome, chilling villain he is, is his sense of humor. It’s all funny to him. Laid over a brilliant and unbalanced mind, over that calculated sociopathic persona, is a truly wicked sense of humor. This is a character that finds glee in the pain of others, finds joy in agony. The Joker truly is a sadistic clown. It’s all a game to him. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? The outcome doesn’t actually matter; the fun is in the game.
As an aside, I’m a little concerned that the Joker makes sense. To me. I think I need to make an appointment…
Tune in tomorrow, back on my blog (http://christopherstarr.net), where we’ll looking at a villain who is near and dear to my heart: the true Prince of Darkness, the Fallen Angel himself—Lucifer. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, my novel The Road to Hell, will be free (for the Kindle) all day Friday the 13th, on Amazon.
That was great, thank you, Chris!
Christopher C. Starr is the author of The Road to Hell: The Book of Lucifer, the first novel in the Heaven Falls series. These stories examine the God’s relationship with Heaven and Earth, told through the eyes of the angels. The next book in the series, Come Hell or Highwater, is scheduled for late 2012 / early 2013.
Chris makes it a point to look at the dark side of his characters, both heroes and villains, and his work explores the “grey”—that place where good and evil come together in all of us.
When he’s not being chased out of churches, Chris enjoys comic books and movies, staying away from cemeteries, and poorly participating in P90X. He lives in Seattle with his wife, two kids (The Boy and the Honey Badger), and his husky, Rocky the WonderDog.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
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