Know Your Villain: The Joker

Brought to life by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane in Batman #1, in the spring of 1940, the Clown Prince of Crime can perhaps safely boast of the most warped mind in the whole of the comic book universe. Highly intelligent and of course insane, the funny thing is, he does justice to the infamy.

The Joker is the villain Batman first encounters. A seemingly harmless clown faced character who is perhaps the most sadistic and violent sociopath in all fictional history has had different personalities surface throughout his convoluted history. Originally conceived as a highly intelligent sadistic psychopath, the golden age of comic books saw his character dwindle down to a mostly harmless trickster in the 1950s thanks to the regulation of the Comics Code Authority. However, as with all great things, the 70s saw a resurgence of the dark, twisted and positively scary manifestations of the Joker’s disposition.

The amount of variety in Joker’s origin stories practically match his numerous aliases! The most cited accounts from The Killing Joke are also fragile, much to the dismay of most readers. In fact, The Joker himself, in all probability, does not accurately recall what made him who he is. The fact that throughout DC’s chronology, the Joker has seen his demise, innumerable times, only to be revived, sometimes with explanations (even as ludicrous as being revitalized chemically), and sometimes inexplicably, substantiate the idea that he the personification of a concept, rather than merely a super-villain. He is essentially the very embodiment of chaos. This also fits in with the other theme most of the authors like to reinforce – he is the opposite that completes the Dark Knight, because Batman, himself is an idea. “Anyone can be Batman”. The irony of that one, however, is not lost on us. Precious few of us are born into the kind of money Mr. Wayne inherits.

Another subtle idea that pervades the Joker narratives is his “super-sanity”, originally conceived to explain the changes in his personality throughout his history. It insinuates the Joker has an ultra-sensory perception, being fully aware of reality, so much so that he is the only person who remembers events from various Marvel/DC crossovers and reboots of the Marvel universe vis a vis Crisis on Infinte Earths. The writers exploit that, occasionally presenting the Joker as someone who is aware that he is in a comic book. The “super-sanity” idea posits that the Joker has no real personality of his own, and can therefore, one day wake up as an innocuous trickster and as a sadistic psychopath, the next.“It’s all a Joke. Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for… It’s all a monstrous demented gag! So why can’t you see the funny side?

Let us consider that, for a moment. If the Joker actually does see the world for what it is, it would be profound indeed to see what he believes and what he fears. The Joker’s true fear is simply illustrated in Knightfall, which shows us Scarecrow gassing the funny man with his fear toxin to find out what scares the man who laughs. The Joker, after being gassed, proceeds to beat the sh*t out of Scarecrow with a chair. The Joker transcends fear. He truly fears nothing. And that is because he attaches no meaning to life or morality. He recognizes the essence of existence is randomness and he merely pushes that along a little, in his own twisted way. The Joker is a moral and existential nihilist. And it is overwhelmingly exhibited in The Killing Joke.

– by Kushagra Udai
A comic book buff who loves physics, computers and technology. He loves facts and practical ideas, and appreciates books, music and movies.  He also believes that self-descriptions are generally inaccurate.