There is a character who is really like no other in the world of comic book villains. It would be hard for a person to actually find a character who is this deep and this disturbed in the world of comic book villains. The mind that concocted him, Jerry Robinson, must have been a very twisted person indeed. This character represents a theory about existence that part of me believes that all people wish we could embrace, in our own way. Don’t start thinking I’m crazy just yet. Hear me out, as I explain one of the most intricate and complicated people who has ever appeared in fiction.
Let’s break this down into categories. First, the Joker’s history. Now, there is a bit of argument as to where he actually came from. Different comics and movies have had different points of view. But there is no definite back-story for his character. He has always had a long-standing history of crime, that is a constant. Of course, his history is equally twisted as his character. Back when he first appeared in the comics, he was just a homicidal maniac, but over time, his character quickly evolved. Even how he was disfigured is often contested. Sometimes he was dumped into a vat of chemicals, other times he is the victim of self-mutilation, or in the case of The Dark Knight, the stories contradict one-another and there is no definite story at all.
Whatever the reason for his transformation, he quickly takes a liking to Batman. The great philosophical debacle of the Batman series is that the battle between these two never ends. The Joker has even said in the comics and in film that they will keep at it for as long as they live. Personally, I think that the Joker believes him to be the only enemy worth facing. When the comic series first had him in it, he was nothing more than a lunatic, like every other villain, but his character quickly evolves into a criminal genius.
This brings us to the second part – his character. The Joker is the definition of pure evil. Really, there is no way that one cannot believe that he is anything less. Some people believe that he is a psychopath, but that is not true. The Joker feels emotion, and the definition of psychopathy is that a person feels no emotion whatsoever. His emotion may be sick humor, or anger, and occasional sadness when one of his plans doesn’t go right, but he does feel genuine emotion. But even with his insanity, the fact is that he is a brilliant criminal mind. He is not only able to think up complicated schemes very quickly, and set up all the necessary tools to get these plans going, but he can also adjust them very quickly when he needs to, as he often does since Batman is messing them up. The Joker has claimed that Arkham Asylum is just a resting ground where he can chill out, since he is always able to leave the place at will.
Another sign of his brilliant mind is that he doesn’t rely on a single way of getting the job done. He uses multiple methods, such as elaborate traps, explosives, guns, anything that is on-hand, or that he cleverly has hidden on his person. There are also some pretty nifty little tools on him, like a flower in his lapel that can shoot acid, venom, fire, exploding toys, such as dice and countless other things. He has a little shocking device that he wears on his hand. Sometimes it is just a harmless prank, other time it is a great deal more serious.
Speaking of serious, there is a debate as to how mad the Joker really is. There was a part in the comic when he was teamed up with Scarecrow. Out of general curiosity, Scarecrow gasses him with his chemical that can induce fear. He wondered – what is the Joker afraid of? A good question, to be sure. However, after hitting him with the gas, there is no reaction at all. Nothing happens. The Joker proceeds to beat him with a chair, but it is the fact that there is no reaction whatsoever that is interesting. He feels no fear at all. Even the idea of his own death doesn’t frighten him. It was one of the most hardcore moments in film when, in The Dark Knight, Batman throws him off of a building and he just laughs the whole way down. Nothing scares this character, and in a way, that is even more terrifying than his natural inclination to do as he pleases.
The Dark Knight showed the Joker the way he was meant to be portrayed. It really captured him in the best way possible. The film showed a brilliant criminal mind who got bored with doing what normal criminals do. His boredom led him to seek out Batman. He spent that whole movie just trying to make a point – that Batman was just as corruptable as the rest of us. He nearly destroyed half of Gotham to in the process, but that was the extent of what he wanted to do. The little dialogue between Batman and the Joker at the police station showed it best. He didn’t care about anything, other than chaos.
The Joker is a catharsis about the dark side of a part of us that we don’t acknowledge – the part that doesn’t want to obey the little niceties of society. There is a reason that characters like Gregory House and Eric Cartman are so popular. They represent the idea that we all, in some way, wish we could be a part of. They don’t obey society’s rules. They don’t follow the set way of thinking. They do their own thing, and to hell with everybody else. Let’s be honest, all of us wish that we could do that. But the Joker is part of the darker side of that way of thinking. Not only does he not want to follow the rules of society, but he actively seeks to destroy the rules as we understand them. In his mind, chaos is the only actual truth in the world. He may have a bit of a point there, but that is not important.
Another contradiction of this character is his physical prowess. Some comics show the Joker as being a very capable combatant. Others have him as being a very weak character, almost too frail for his own good. All comics have him being very agile and quick, able to escape an area when things go wrong very quickly. This contradiction is meaningless in the broad scheme of things, because it was never his muscles that he was attacking Batman with. It was always a war of brains between two very brilliant characters who were both driven by impossibly complicated mental problems and even if his history was never explained, it is pretty much a given this the Joker’s way of doing things, he must have some pretty hardcore problems himself.
Another side that gives some interest to this is in how he treats his side-kick, Harley Quinn. Harley genuinely loves him, even though he is openly abusive to her and seems to regard her as just a fun time between his jobs, or to kick around whenever he wants to. However, he also seems to have some genuine affection himself for Harley. It is a very strange perspective, which the animated series in the early 90’s added to an already complicated character.
This character is one of the most heinous of the villains that has ever existed in any comic book. It was hinted in one that he has over 2,000 kills to his name. His evil truly knows no bounds. But he is also an example of what humanity could indeed become. Mental madness means one thing, but when people are taught that mass killing is worthy of being canonized, then it may just be what happens to society at large.