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Scholarly-Cimmerian


A guy who loves movies, comic books, video games, and stories with colorful talking ponies in them.

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  • 1 week
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  • 6 weeks
    New Chapter Up!

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  • 7 weeks
    General Status Update

    Hello all.

    It's "good news, bad news" time once again.

    Bad news first. Just to get it out of the way... I haven't gotten to make any progress on the third chapter of Paranoid Pink in the past several days. Chalk it up to a busy weekend and some things going on off-site. (Nothing major, I was just rushing to deal with some stuff over on DeviantArt before Eclipse went up for good.)

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    4 comments · 83 views
May
4th
2020

What's the Joke? · 8:28pm May 4th

(This was originally posted on my DA account. A PM conversation I had yesterday inspired me to share it on here too.)


I grew up with comic books from a pretty young age, but it wasn’t until I was nearly in high school before I really knew anything about Batman and the Joker.

Oh, I knew who they were. I knew that Batman was Bruce Wayne, that he dressed like a bat to fight crime, and pretended to be an idle playboy to allay suspicion to his secret. I knew that the Joker was Batman’s archenemy, that he looked like a clown and had an evil laugh. But that was about the limit of my knowledge; I was not a reader of those comics, nor did I watch any Batman cartoons or shows as a kid. I was a Marvel fan for the majority of my early childhood and adolescence.

That began to change somewhat around 2008 or so. That year was when the second of Christopher Nolan’s big-budget Batman epics, The Dark Knight, came to theaters. I didn’t go to see it at the time of release, but the buzz and praise of the movie was inescapable. In particular, was the hype over Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, which eventually earned him a (posthumous) Oscar.

However, while Nolan’s film may have initially alerted me to that world of bats and clowns, I cannot solely credit The Dark Knight for getting me invested in Batman. For that, I’d have to credit two things. First of them, my father, for showing my older sister Tim Burton’s Batman movie from 1989, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson respectively as Batman and his clownish archnemesis. Burton’s Batman was my first big-screen introduction to the world of Gotham City, and I loved it for its grand operatic score, its moody and bizarrely timeless retro-modern Gotham City, and then there was the performances of its hero and villain. I was engaged by Keaton’s quiet, awkward Bruce Wayne and his terse Batman, while Nicholson’s Joker was a darkly comic delight. He was clearly having a ball with the part, and committed to every scene with zeal; whether it was defacing an art gallery while prancing about to Prince’s “Partyman” or gleefully dumping poison gas on the citizens of Gotham at a parade, Jack’s Joker did it all and with enthusiasm, and I loved that.

The second thing I’d have to credit for getting me into Batman, of all things, would be LEGO. Yes, LEGO. I enjoyed playing a series of video games that took iconic media like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and so on, and retold them in LEGO format, with comedic twists on the original stories. 2008 was also the year of a LEGO Batman game, and I got my hands on it and soon found myself hooked. Burton’s Gothic vision might have been my first introduction to Batman, Joker and Gotham City, but that game introduced me to the wider array of characters in that world: from villains like Clayface, Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, and Bane, to other heroes like Nightwing, I learned enough to get me interested in learning even more. And it helped that said game was (and still is) hilarious and clever in its presentation of its story and characters.

I say all of this in preparation for the fact that, a year later, I did ultimately see The Dark Knight, when in eighth grade. And that first time seeing it was jawdropping. I was blown away by the film’s story, its masterful cinematography, the riveting action, and Heath Ledger’s chillingly nihilistic depiction of the Joker – a scarred, mysterious nightmare of a human being with grotesquely sloppy makeup – was amazing.

The second time I saw it, I was still quite engaged. Maybe not quite as much as the first time, but it held my attention regardless.

The third time, less so. The fourth time, for sure, my focus started to drift. I started to notice some things I found myself having problems with; and I started to ask questions that fans of the movie really don’t like to have asked.

Such as: “If the Joker is just wearing makeup, how come the police didn’t remove it to see who he was when they arrested him?” Or “how did the Joker blow up the cell phone bomb and know it wouldn’t kill him too?” And “why are all these henchmen so willing to work for him when he kills them so freely?”

And finally, worst of all, “Why exactly is Batman so determined to keep the Joker alive, when he keeps doing all of these horrible things without the slightest shred of guilt?”

The Dark Knight is still a superbly directed and acted movie, don’t get me wrong, but as more and more time has passed since its release I find it a flawed product in the sense that its dedication to realism and "grounding" the Batman and Joker story in something as close to the real world as possible, actually ends up hurting its storytelling. After all, no matter how much work one puts into justifying why Bruce Wayne chooses to dress up as a bat and fight criminals (rather than, say, go to a therapist or invest his fortune in cleaning up Gotham), he's *still* dressing like a bat and fighting criminals with such outrageous titles as Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and so on. The Joker may wear makeup in Nolan's movie (or, most recently, in last year's Joker, an even bleaker and grittier vehicle by Todd Philips with Joaquin Phoenix as the title character) but ultimately he's still someone who styles himself as a clown and commits crimes. At the end of the day, Batman and Joker, and all their allies and enemies, are inherently "unreal" as characters, and I think that efforts in film or in print to try and make them more gritty and "real" instead heighten that unreality. At best, they expose some of the artifice necessary to make a good comic book story. At worst, the result is just something grotesque.

Admittedly, this turn towards realism and grit in comics isn't just the fault of Christopher Nolan. It's been ongoing for a long time now, since the 1980s at the earliest. Efforts to make the comic book medium "grow up" with works like Watchmen instead inspired what I'd call a protracted "angsty teenage" phase where superhero comics ended up embracing darker, more cynical, and more violent ideas. Officially this era is known as the "Dark Age" of comics, and with the way that Batman comics took to it, the label is easy to understand.

To wit: the Joker first began existence as a thief and killer with a gimmick, way back in 1939. Concerns about violence in the four-color world made him soften into a goofier, wackier prankster, for much of the 1950s and 60s; he'd embark on zany schemes to copy Batman's utility belt or deface Wayne Manor with his own outlandish "Jokermobile". Gradually, comics began to have more freedom with their storytelling in the 1970s, and the Joker took a more unpredictable turn - one of my favorite stories from this period is "The Laughing Fish" where Joker has the mad idea to chemically alter fish into his likeness, and then try to claim a copyright on them. Enraged when the patent office clerk tells him that he can't trademark a natural resource, Joker then resorts to violence and begins killing bureaucrats in "revenge" for being denied his "rightful due". It's both hilarious and disturbing in equal measure; outrageous in the way best suited to a comic book.

By the time of the "Dark Age" of comics, the Joker had graduated to crimes that were just disturbing: before the 90s were over, he'd shot and crippled Batgirl, murdered the second Robin by blowing him to smithereens, and also shot and killed Commissioner Gordon's wife. In the 2010s, during DC's "New 52" run of comics, his evil had grown to the extent that in the story "Death of the Family" he broke into Wayne Manor, tortured Alfred the butler, and was planning to kill or break all of Batman's friends and allies in the name of keeping Batman for himself. The story itself was well received, but by now there was also something of a growing backlash against the Joker's ever-darker persona.

And honestly, while I still have a fondness for the character, I completely understand the frustration others have with him too. I find the ultra-grim content of such stories to be damaging to pretty much all sides of the story: for one, it can be a chore to read through a story where the villain does such heinous acts and doesn't truly get punished for his deeds. And on another level, it also makes the hero look ineffectual too; as my dad once said in regard to the Batman-Joker feud, "it gets to the point where you just want to shout, 'Bruce, get off your high horse and just kill him already!'"

Last year, I watched the majority of episodes from the Adam West Batman show. They were goofy and campy, but in spite of (or rather, I'd say, because of) that, they were also quite fun. I've also gone back and re-watched episodes of the Batman animated series from the 90s, sometimes held up as the best Batman adaptation. That show handled its Joker the best, I would say for sure: voiced by none other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, in that show, the Joker struck the perfect balance between clown and killer. He could be hilarious, vicious, charmingly witty and loathsomely cruel in the course of a single scene, his schemes often being ridiculous (the Laughing Fish story was made into an episode, for example) but even that silliness still had an edge to it. At the same time, you could accept Batman's mercy in letting him live, as Joker hadn't done such atrocious things to his family or loved ones in that series.

There is a danger, I feel, in taking some of these stories and their characters, too seriously, or thinking that they could be better suited to be made more realistically in their nature, or in the scope or impact of their actions. Batman and the Joker are, as I said before, comic book characters, and comics are a very different world from the real one. Trying to apply real world sensibilities to a villain like The Joker might seem like a good idea on paper, but ultimately, I think it's one that needs some very careful consideration - whether as a writer of the material, or as a fan, or even as a casual observer. The character *is* called "The Joker" at all. He should, in some way, somehow, be a little bit funny.

Otherwise, there really isn't any joke at all.

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Comments ( 30 )

"So why can't you see the funny side? Why aren't you laughing?"

5256022
"Because I've heard it before. And it wasn't funny the first time either."

I love that exchange so much, and yet it also drives me nuts because it feels like everyone who's read the comic since then completely forgets the significance of it. That moment is really the lynchpin of the Joker-Batman feud in a nutshell. Batman looked into the abyss - and rejected it. Joker looked into it... and fell so far in that he's completely lost any clue of who he once was.
That whole climax is about the Joker's nihilism being disproven, being shown as wrong and weak and evil. Gordon didn't break under the torture, he wants the Joker brought in. To show that their way works.

And yet... we still have all these fanboys who blindly worship the Joker, and completely miss the nuance of that whole story.

5256028

Yeah. It's a great monologue, for sure. It's a fantastic Motive Rant, but, as Batman said in Brave and the Bold to Owlman, "We both stared down at the Abyss. But when it stared back, you blinked." But in this context, I meant the quote moreso as why can't people see the funny side of JOKER? Yes, he's menacing and psychotic, but he's a killer CLOWN.

5256030
It most certainly is a great monologue. And sadly, I imagine that compared to the simplicity of Batman's rebuttal, people missed the point. Because Joker makes this superb speech and uses his words so skillfully, and especially in the midst of all the other horror of that sequence, it becomes a standout moment (especially in the context of when it first came out) so everybody remembered it vividly... and sadly, Batman's comeback to it kinda got overlooked in the intervening years by fans.

But in this context, I meant the quote moreso as why can't people see the funny side of JOKER? Yes, he's menacing and psychotic, but he's a killer CLOWN.

My bad. :twilightsheepish: I just saw the quote and immediately felt compelled to finish the exchange. It's something I've been mulling over for a while, the way that the Killing Joke has both defined and also been misinterpreted for so many years now.
I'd really love to see a Batman comic that brings back the funny side of Joker.

5256037

I just saw the quote and immediately felt compelled to finish the exchange.

I don't blame you.

I'd really love to see a Batman comic that brings back the funny side of Joker.

I'd give for ANYTHING that gives us a funny Joker. Maybe even Joker 2 or whatever, will have a funnier Joker.

5256050
Thanks.

I'd give for ANYTHING that gives us a funny Joker. Maybe even Joker 2 or whatever, will have a funnier Joker.

Same. Though I will give that movie credit, I think they actually did a pretty good job. At least in part because the story kinda sets the stage for any number of subsequent Jokers, given how Arthur Fleck inspired all those imitators and rioters.

5256052
5256050

How about Lego Batman Movie Joker? He was funny. :rainbowwild:

5256151
That's a good point, admittedly. Now admittedly, I'd say that LEGO Joker was more funny than villainous, even with all the chaos he ultimately caused... but even with that, I also gotta admit - he won. He got what he wanted, which was for Batman to acknowledge him. XD

So points to him for that!

5256037
It's not a comic, but if you ever watch any of the Joker episodes from the 'Batman:Brave and the Bold' cartoon, in them the Joker has a sense of humor to go along with his more murderous side. And even that is downplayed given that B:BatB is a tribute to the best sort of Silver Age goofiness.

5256235
Oh, no, I've seen The Brave and the Bold cartoon! It's one of my favorite superhero shows, especially as time has gone on and I've really grown to appreciate its gleeful Silver Age lunacy. :pinkiehappy: I love the Emperor Joker episode, that was great work all the way through. XD

5256237
I loved the Emperor Joker episode, not least for how Batman beat him in that one. Really that show did a wonderful job of bringing so many obscure DC characters to the audience. Heck, who ever thought we'd see that very early MAD magazine story of 'Batboy and Rubbin' be animated?

5256252
Agreed on so many counts. They managed to bring so many obscure bits of DC lore to the screen, I'm constantly amazed by what all they slipped in.
Oh my God, yes, Batboy and Rubbin'. :rainbowlaugh: My God, I never expected to see *that* in an official DC cartoon, that's for sure!

It certainly doesn't hurt that the one time the Joker truly did go beyond the pale in the DCAU, he got what was coming to him. Twice.

5256292
You said it. It's pretty telling that two of my favorite iterations of the character (DCAU, and the Arkhamverse games) ultimately end with the Joker getting his just desserts. And the Arkham games even manage to do *that* twice, too! XD

5256295
Yeah, though I think in the DCAU, his last words were the most appropriate.

"That's not funny. That's not..."

That being said, I haven't played any of the Arkham games, so I might be going based on incomplete information.

5256336
Oh, I agree. Those were very apropos last words for him there.

So much so that the Joker's death scene in Batman: Arkham City references it!

Aha, I see. Well, I will admit, without much in the way of shame, that I am a huge fan of them. (Even Arkham Origins, which is kind of the contentious one since it wasn't made by the main developer, Rocksteady.) That being said, I will also admit that after the first one, Arkham Asylum, they also go in a deconstructionist route when it comes to Batman himself; especially by the time of Batman: Arkham Knight. Also, that last game is rated M, and while it's not gratuitous about blood or anything, it goes into pretty dark territory all the same.

5256343
So I've gathered. And I'd be happy to play them were they on a system that I owned. Alas, it sounds like the Sony version got all the really nice stuff, and I'm a dedicated Nintendo guy.

5256486
Oof, I see. That's understandable - I'm a PlayStation fan through and through myself, but that's just the luck of the draw.

5256683
No shame in that. That family of systems has good games, and I'll admit, I'm tempted. Alas, lack of time, lack of space, and lack of funds discourage me.

Seriously, I'll be lucky if I can get a Switch Lite before August as things stand right now.

5256806
Of course. And yeah, there are some really good games for the PS family out there... but I won't mince words either, it also eats into your wallet like nobody's business. I'm pretty much reliant on occasions like birthdays or Christmases for the big games I want for my PlayStation. Oh well. Story of my life in some ways. *shrugs*

Interesting take. I would argue it's not some much a case of the Joker getting darker (BTAS has him plotting to nuke Gothem City after all) rather the Joker has gotten much basic as a character. In BTAS on top of the usual sadistic laugh several episodes show that he has several human needs including fame and money ("Make 'Em Laugh" and "Joker's Millions" respectively) on among other things. Killing was just a small part of that, and the implication we're usually given is that the Joker's beliefs about nothing mattering is just a excuse for doing whatever he wants to do.

Recent portrayals have tried to take his beliefs a lot more seriously (if nothing matters why wouldn't you destroy the world society extra) and it's limited the portrayal of his character a lot. You start seeing more or less exactly the same stories being portrayed over and over again and it becomes a lot to slog through.

It's kind of how they started to portray Joker and Batman's relationship as being co-dependent. You actually look at episodes like "The Man Who Killed Batman" and we see that at the end of the episode Joker still goes about his business even believing Batman is dead.

BTAS ultimately portrays Batman's importance to the Joker as another would be victim. A special victim but not one worth caring about beyond the immediacy of their battles.

In fact with most of the series that lack the kind of "darker content" that you're talking about are the ones with less of the Joker being obsessive over Batman or with proving his own ideology.

Just look at the book that begins this trend; "Batman The Killing Joke", is all about to Joker trying to break Batman to prove his rhetoric to him. That's the whole plot of the book. It's melodramatic and grim-dark for the sake of it, while also taking the Joker's words a lot more seriously than little anything showcasing the character before ever did.

I guess what I am saying is it's not enough to make the Joker not grim-dark anymore because the Joker has always been grim-dark. To make him interesting, writers would first have to stop writing him in such a way where he takes him self (and his obsessions) so seriously if we really want anything close to a return to the BTAS Joker.

And on another level, it also makes the hero look ineffectual too; as my dad once said in regard to the Batman-Joker feud, "it gets to the point where you just want to shout, 'Bruce, get off your high horse and just kill him already!'"

At the same time, you could accept Batman's mercy in letting him live, as Joker hadn't done such atrocious things to his family or loved ones in that series.

But isn't that the whole point of Batman? His inhuman restraint in the face of cruelties presented against him? The fact that he does his level best not to make defending Gotham all about him?

Remember his parents where already murdered, not by the Joker but by a common criminal. If defending Gotham was about getting even, than most of it's criminal population would be fair game for a death sentence.

That's not what Batman does because in a word that's not who he is. And yeah it means he could be considered not as effective. Or it may strain our sensibilities at some point. But that doesn't mean theirs no merit in the portrayal because it can inspire us to be better.

Heck you may have grown up watching a Batman who's impulse is to let the criminals burn, but you've got to recognize that's not usually how Batman's been portrayed, not even a majority of the time. BTAS episodes show this as well. We see Bruce give jobs to criminals, even criminals who've tried to kill him in the past. (Double Talk, Old Wounds)

So if your looking for a more savage portrayal their are definitely a few out there, but you have to look for a while to find them. And it while it might make the character more effective, I doubt that it would necessarily be more interesting than what we have now.

5275130
You make an interesting point there about the Joker's beliefs moving less from things like money, or fame, to basic nihilistic cruelty or the like. I'd probably say that his defining trait as a character nowadays is basically that he's fixated on tormenting Batman through pretty much any means available.

Recent portrayals have tried to take his beliefs a lot more seriously (if nothing matters why wouldn't you destroy the world society extra) and it's limited the portrayal of his character a lot. You start seeing more or less exactly the same stories being portrayed over and over again and it becomes a lot to slog through.

Preach. It really limits the possibility of the Joker if you just have him exist as this, I like to say, "atrocity machine," because it just becomes the same old cycle again and again, and becomes not just repetitive, but also just unpleasant to sit through.

You also make an interesting point about the Joker and Batman's relationship in the DCAU, and then compared to lighter version of the character where basically Joker exists as a particular arch-criminal to Batman - but not someone *as* personal as he is in say, the main continuity comics or in the Arkham games or what.

5275168

But isn't that the whole point of Batman? His inhuman restraint in the face of cruelties presented against him? The fact that he does his level best not to make defending Gotham all about him?

Yes. But at the same time, let's not make Batman's victories pyrrhic ones. He may not be able to exterminate crime in Gotham City, but at the same time if he just keeps busting Joker and the clown's crimes get more and more monstrous, I feel it just strains the audience's willing suspension of disbelief, or just takes any sense of pleasure or excitement out of the story to have this type of vicious cycle go on.

Heck you may have grown up watching a Batman who's impulse is to let the criminals burn, but you've got to recognize that's not usually how Batman's been portrayed, not even a majority of the time. BTAS episodes show this as well. We see Bruce give jobs to criminals, even criminals who've tried to kill him in the past. (Double Talk, Old Wounds)

So if your looking for a more savage portrayal their are definitely a few out there, but you have to look for a while to find them. And it while it might make the character more effective, I am not sure it would be necessarily more interesting than what we have now.

Um... I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at here. If you're saying that I *want* a darker, more bloodthirsty Batman, that's not at ALL what I was trying to get across in this. :applejackunsure: I know that Burton's Batman is *willing* to let criminals die, but at the same time he's not Frank Castle. He doesn't kill every petty crook in his way. I might like Keaton-as-Batman, but I *know* he's atypical for the Batman mold. I just like the performance, and the mood, and the style of those movies.

5275183

Preach. It really limits the possibility of the Joker if you just have him exist as this, I like to say, "atrocity machine," because it just becomes the same old cycle again and again, and becomes not just repetitive, but also just unpleasant to sit through.

It's kind of like the writer's watched Halloween and decided hey, Joker's scare's people, Micheal Myers scare's people, their both functionally immune to death, let's just borrow that idea of a black hole villain and use that for the Joker.

You also make an interesting point about the Joker and Batman's relationship in the DCAU, and then compared to lighter version of the character where basically Joker exists as a particular arch-criminal to Batman - but not someone *as* personal as he is in say, the main continuity comics or in the Arkham games or what.

Thing about Villains? In order to reach a Boogeymen status (like Joker) they have to reach some threshold of success eventually, even if it's only in the background of the story. By seeking after money and fame the Joker had plenty of outlets to prove that he was number one. When Batman is the Joker's only goal, he is forced to prove how efficient he is at hurting him.

And since they won't allow Batman to cross the line for a number of reasons and so few writers have figured out how to use a heroic meltdown (although their's at least one example of them doing this pretty well in the new Batman:Hush film), they are left with trying to ratcheted up the gore to show that "yes the Joker is a successful villain". The irony is that with as little as Bruce seems affected by The Joker attacks in the comics, It reaches a point where quite frankly he no longer comes off as successful anyway.

5275194

Um... I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at here. If you're saying that I *want* a darker, more bloodthirsty Batman, that's not at ALL what I was trying to get across in this. :applejackunsure: I know that Burton's Batman is *willing* to let criminals die, but at the same time he's not Frank Castle. He doesn't kill every petty crook in his way. I might like Keaton-as-Batman, but I *know* he's atypical for the Batman mold. I just like the performance, and the mood, and the style of those movies.

Problem is even if Batman kills the Joker, if law enforcement looks the other way it sets a bad precedent. If they don't, Batman goes on the run and the whole story is made to change again. Now maybe it's time for something like that to happen, but it's still a pretty big decision to make, and one that won't be easy to reboot (from a emotional perspective anyway). You don't just jump into a decision like that.

I feel it just strains the audience's willing suspension of disbelief, or just takes any sense of pleasure or excitement out of the story to have this type of vicious cycle go on.

But why is it Batman's job to end that cycle? The Joker doesn't have mental illnesses (at least not the kind that appears to be reliably treatable), he suffers from no actual hallucinations, and if their really was a chemical imbalance somewhere in his brain they should've at least found it, if not figured it out, long before now.

He's more than competent enough to testify in his own defense and him sprouting garbage every few minutes doesn't change that. They have no shortage of evidence of either his crimes, or his intelligence and perspective. I mean the guy broadcasts his crimes on live TV and tried at one point to fry peoples brains on a international level.

Not to mention he engineers, constructs, and operates, incredibly complex pieces of machinery in his spare time. He's not stupid, and his certainly not out of touch with reality. At least not in the way that would spare him from a criminal trial.

Heck comics establish that they tried to execute the bugger before and he proved immune to death. He's had plenty of people come after him even in cannon, and Bruce is willing to let him die in some of the earlier material that sets up "Death of the Family", not letting him escape a cave in that buries them both.

So in many ways it's more unbelievable that more people haven't died in the comics (Including the Joker and the likes of Harley Quinn who lives with him) than the fact that Batman has almost never set out to kill anyone.

5275194

I might like Keaton-as-Batman, but I *know* he's atypical for the Batman mold. I just like the performance, and the mood, and the style of those movies.

I can understand that.

Apologizes if I came off as snippy. Your critiques of Batman reminded me of another ongoing series of discussions I've been part of, and I guess I came off a little heated, which is entirely unfair to you, since the arguments in this case don't even really have the same premise.

5275388
Good to know. And the apology is appreciated. I can understand it - this can be a contentious or heated topic to discuss in some ways.

5275390

this can be a contentious or heated topic to discuss in some ways.

Especially on this site.

5275390
And all arguments aside slogging through those episodes of BTAS where he was abusive to Harley was always a drag for me personally.

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