He has been written as a twisted killer, a harmless prankster, a petty thief with elaborate plans, a sadistic murderer bent on revenge, and an anarchist. In any incarnation, though, he’s been completely and utterly insane. He is the Joker, and he is Batman’s greatest foe. There has been a resurgence of recognition and interest in this character in the past year mainly due to Heath Ledger’s amazing portrayal of him in THE DARK KNIGHT. The same thing happened in 1989 with Jack Nicholson’s portrayal. The Joker is obviously an interesting character, and whenever he is brought back into the public conscious by a great actor, people pay attention.
What makes the Joker so interesting? There are several things to me. Surprisingly, his intelligence is one of those things. The Joker, despite his obvious insanity possesses an amazing intellect. The Joker is also scary. He is a twisted version of something that is supposed to bring joy to people, and that adds to his freakiness factor. Finally, in his insanity, and his scariness, and even his intellect, he is a perfect foil to Batman, but he is such a good villain (oxymoron) that when he shows up against other heroes he works really well too.
One cannot deny that the Joker is insane. He is. While it’s not an insanity that I feel should absolve him from his crimes, no one can tell me the guy isn’t completely crazy. Methodical? Yes. Conniving? Yes. Crazy? YES!!!!
What makes the Joker crazy is not the fact that he doesn’t realize that the atrocities he commits are bad. Rather, it’s the fact that they are bad and he enjoys every minute of it. From killing Jason Todd to crippling Barbara Gordan and everything in between, The Joker relishes the chaos and pain he causes. Especially if it’s Batman feeling the pain. His laughter is the laughter of a madman truly enjoying his work. His scemes, or “jokes,” make him laugh and that’s all that really matters. He’s kind of like the Andy Kaufman of criminals. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is angry, or doesn’t get the joke. He is amused, and that’s what matters to him. It’s almost narcissistic. No one makes The Joker laugh except The Joker.
In the midst of his insanity, The Joker possesses a twisted intelligence that is mind boggling when one really thinks about it. He makes what he does seem so easy. One of the more compelling stories involving The Joker in my opinion takes place after he is presumed dead. Two Face begins committing crimes all over Gotham taking his instructions from a radio. After several issues of Batman attempting to catch Harvey, and finally thwarting his plan, we are taken to a hospital bed where someone is speaking into a microphone broadcasting a signal to Two Face’s radio. As the panels pull back, it is revealed to be The Joker. While the concept is very “comic booky,” the thought that The Joker could pull off that type of maneuvering while convalescing in a hospital bed reveals an intelligence and a resourcefulness that belies Joker’s obvious insanity. In fact, all of his schemes, while seemingly spur of the moment “fun,” reveal a certain ability to figure out all of the angles in a give situation. Intelligence.
When it comes to the bottom line, though, the Joker is downright scary. He’s not scary because he is a mass murderer who takes pleasure in his crimes. Though, certainly, that is scary enough in and of itself. He’s not scary, because he lurks in the shadows or seeks to strike fear into the hearts of those he terrorizes. He’s scary BECAUSE HE’S A CLOWN! I’ve never had a fear of clowns. In fact, I’ve never quite understood that fear. Clowns are funny to me. Clowns bring joy. The art of being a clown is like any other. It requires a certain discipline and knowledge. It requires the ability to evoke a whole range of emotions from sympathy to laughter. By taking the guise of a clown, The Joker takes something meant to be innocent and fun and turns it into something twisted and diabolical. That is scary.
The fear he evokes is a broken reflection of the fear that Batman employs. However, while Batman employs fear to paralyze the criminal element, Joker uses it to paralyze the good people of the world. AND HE ENJOYS IT.
While most people place The Joker high up on their list of favorites, I can’t say that he’s ultimately my favorite, but he is definitely one of the best.