Into Batman's psychological conditioning comes the Joker. The Joker realizes that Batman is his own complete person, independent of any alter ego or secret identity. Several times throughout the comics the Joker has the opportunity to take off Batman's mask and see the person underneath, yet he never does. He does not need to. The Joker already understands that Batman is a concept, and that the idea of "Batman" needs to remain. For the Joker is the conceptual opposite of Batman, and each concept (life/death, order/chaos, shadows/light, etc...) needs the other to survive.
This is the key to the Joker's character. He is not just some random Bat-villain.
In my previous Batman article, I discussed that Bruce Wayne had completely transformed himself into the concept that was Batman, and his mental state and lifestyle reflected this transformation. However, just as Batman is rapidly approaching a level of abstraction, the Joker is becoming a concept as well. The Joker knowingly and willingly takes on this antithetical concept (chaotic crimes) in opposite of Batman's central defining concept (calculated justice). The reasons why he does this can be debated (sees Batman as a spiritual brother; is in love with Batman; sees Batman as a reflection of himself, etc...). However, now instead of being some random gimmicky villian, the Joker has recast himself in the role of Batman's opposite, and everyone knows it. He is now giving in to that psychological pull that caught Bruce Wayne, and the Joker is now operating on the same psychological level as Batman, albeit at opposite ends.
This is why it bugs the hell out of me when authors try to introduce new "origins" for the Joker. The Joker is a concept, and thus has no need of an origin. We do not need to know his name. We do not need to know what his previous "pre-Joker" life was like. None of that matters. At worst, it can only detract from the symbolism of his eternal fight against Batman.
That much said, I will return to the fact that there are so few good Joker stories anymore. The most recent appearances of his character (as of 11-6-06) are rather sad and even pitiful to what his character once was. I am therefore proposing several solutions in order to save the Joker and make him awe-inspiring again.
How to Save the Joker:
Step 1: Limit his Appearances:This has been a problem for the Joker ever since he was introduced in 1940. He is simply overexposed. When he has too many appearances, it becomes harder to write original stories featuring him.
The Joker Thinks
Step 2: Make him a Criminal Mastermind (once more):Early on, the Joker was presented as a master criminal, with a phenomenal intellect. Many of the better Joker stories played on his "dark intelligence" rather than his "psycho-clown" persona. Older comics that feature the Joker have him quoting from literature and clearly displaying great intelligence.
Step 3: Make the Other Villians Fear Him:This is closely related to step 2. When an author introduces a new villain for Batman to fight, the quickest and easiest way to give this villain "street-cred" is to have him beat up on the Joker. (see the villain Hush for a good example.) This can not happen. The Joker needs to be a terrifying figure, and all the other criminals within the DC Universe need to understand this. As Batman's archnemesis and opposite, the Joker needs to be on a completely different and higher level than any of the "normal" criminals. By having him engage in a petty street brawl with heroes or villains, the Joker comes off as weak and inept. To correct this, the Joker should never physically fight with anyone, except for Batman on occasion. The other villains need to view him as being untouchable, and should never be willing to fight against him or any of his plans.
Final Step: Have Him Win:The two most memorable Joker stories are The Killing Joke and A Death in the Family. Why? Because the Joker wins. He cripples and kills Batman's friends and companions, and gets away with it. No other Batman villain has ever done that, and this is what makes the Joker Batman's archnemesis. He is capable of hurting Batman on an emotional level, and he knows that he will be able to do it again. This creates a situation where Batman fears going up against the Joker, and that is the dynamic that needs to occur.
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