I want to discuss the Joker, and why he is one of the greatest comic villains we’ve known. The new show Gotham on FOX premiered this week, and it was magnificent. The reviews I’ve seen are overall pretty great. There are some diehard fans who have some issues, such as the fact that Selina Kyle is already half Cat Woman, and that she appears to be a street urchin rather than a bored socialite. I’ve heard major complaints about the fact that the Penguin is skinny. Mostly though, those are the major complaints.
I have no problem with any of the above mentioned things. I get that they can’t just do the same stories over and over, and that remaining the villains, and giving some long beloved characters a full backstory for the first time is new territory. I think this has infinite potential to be great. I also think they could irrevocably fuck it up.
I want to talk about the number one way they could destroy Batman, and his best villain. There has been an awful lot of teasing about the Joker, in columns and interviews and lead ups. I will never be okay with a Joker backstory, and here is why.
Let’s talk about his history. The Joker first appeared 74 years ago in Batman #1 (1940). He has never been given an identity other than the Joker. So we have 74 years of history of one of the best villains ever written, and he is no one other than the Joker. He’s had a backstory hinted at once or twice, he’s lied about it multiple times, but nothing has every really been concrete. I believe this is the thing that makes him the iconic and terrifying character he is.
Why does his lack of backstory make him scary you might ask. I shall tell you. Let’s think about fear, about everything you fear, and why you fear it. Are you afraid of the dark? Are you afraid of spiders, snakes? We all inherently fear death. What do these things have in common? They are all unpredictable and unknowable in some manner. Can you predict exactly what that spider is about to do? Why do we generally, as a species, fear the dark? We fear the unknown, the unpredictable.
The Joker, is an embodiment of all we are naturally programmed to fear. He is unknown, they can’t seem to find out anything about him. He’s unpredictable, he never really has a plan, and if he does he’s just as happy to watch that implode too. If you can’t find out anything from his history, you can’t find a weak point. How do you fight something with no vulnerabilities? The Joker is especially dangerous, because I believe at heart he is a coward, and the only thing you can take from him, is the only thing he would gladly give. His life. He can’t end it himself, but he always hopes someone else will. A man with nothing to lose is the most dangerous.
Let’s talk about speculating about his backstory. It’s something that is pretty wide open, but I think we have the pieces to place together what we need. He’s broken, thus the reason he hopes to die. He has no discernible background. He was probably a middle class man, law abiding, with a family so he has no criminal record. He lost everything and it destroyed him, so he has decided to destroy everything he can with what he has left. It is far scarier to imagine this, as he could be any one of us.
He draws a nice parallel to current events even. Why are Al Qaeda and ISIS such fearsome enemies? They are scattered, with loose plans, unpredictable movements, and have nothing to lose they wouldn’t gladly give. They can’t be reliably predicted, they can’t have anything taken from them. Much the same as the Joker. Much the same as Batman as well, I think. I don’t believe he values much of anything, besides a few people who he routinely pushes away. He’s a man who hasn’t decided if he would rather live or die. He is outside the law as well, and criminals fear him because he is unpredictable to them.
I think all this teasing of the Joker should remain exactly that, teasing. If they reveal the Joker I’ll be done, and I think Batman will be as well. Let sleeping clowns lie.