Fair warning: This self-indulgent, borderline pretentious looksee WILL contain spoilers pertaining the characters of Batman and the Joker in comics, games and other media. Avoid like Joker Toxin if you do not want your own experience to be spoiled.
I repeat. SPOILERS. SPOIIIIIIIILEEEERRRRRS!
Everybody loves Batman. Well, mayhaps not everybody, but the general consensus says that The Bat is pretty awesome. In the weirdtacular realm of comics, Batman has found himself romantically linked to quite a few female characters, two of the most consistent being Catwoman (Selina Kyle) and Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul. Throughout time Bat/Bruce has had his ups and downs with both women, there remains one crucial, important relationship that has seen him through the ages- that with the Joker. Truly, I don’t believe I can think of any antagonistic yet ultimately symbiotic relationship between two male characters in comic books that have the same impact as the connection between the Bat and the Clown. Granted, I’m not that heavily into comics, but even to the most academic fan, Batman and Joker is totally OTP… in a way.
Permit me to explain.
Although so many books, films and comics have attempted to build this type of tenuous yet endearing thread between two dynamic and radical characters, I feel Joker and Batman are perhaps the perfect example of this element because they are the same yet different. The only thing that is stopping the other from joining the other side’s cause is their own sanity or lack thereof. Batman is convinced that how he does is right, that it makes sense. To the Joker, order was never part of human nature and humanity should embrace its destructive nature because that is all the human species knows how to do. What will be the end result, who frickin’ knows, it’s all about doing what and to who you please because it’s simply in our nature. The Joker is an extreme avatar about what Batman could have been if he let go of his moral coil, discarded the teachings of his compassionate parents and shot Joe Chill himself. He may not have smeared on a clown’s make up, but he would have laughed at the cruel absurdity of the world and reacted to the instability of the planet by being unstable himself. Batman meanwhile is who the Joker could have been if he didn’t just decide to wake up one morning and throw up his hands. He would have been somebody who turned the destructive impulses within him into positive ones by helping the community open their eyes… in a way, Batman and the Joker are virtually the same person, just in different bodies and different aspects of psychology.
Although this doesn’t give grounding to a romantic entanglement, both are obsessed with each other, whenever one pops up, the other can’t resist in tracking him down and showing him a rollicking good time. It’s a date from Hell that only they choose to embark on again and again because deep down, they just cannot get enough of each other. I recall a line uttered by the Joker in the supertastic “Batman The Animated Series” after the alleged death of The Batman: “Without Batman, crime would have no punchline.”. Similarly at the end of “Batman: Arkham City”, Batman showed absolutely no joy or relief that the Joker was gone from the Earth, in fact, he indicated that he was genuinely lost. Not because he will no longer have to fight crime full stop, but arguably the only person who could understand him, the only person that he could relate to, was gone. In some twisted, unimaginable way, they are a symbiotic entity, stigmatic twins.
In all three of the “Arkham” games, whenever the player gets a Game Over screen, the villain that killed them has last words, and with Joker, framed by Batman’s darkening vision, he seems disappointed, he honestly thought Batman would have had more fight within him. In “City”, the Joker fundamentally forces Batman into becoming Blood Brother by infecting Batman’s body with the affliction that his is suffering due to the deadly virus. Throughout the course of that particular game, the Joker really opens up about his feelings because he knows he can be frank with the Dark Knight on his darkest day- he asks Batman if he has somebody to return home to every morning, if he has ever thought about how his life would be like without him in it. Another fascinating insight into how highly the Joker thinks of Batman is that he knows Batman is more than capable enough to go on what is basically an elaborate suicide mission to retrieve the cure to the retrovirus. Sure he is fully aware Batman has his own motivations to retrieve that sacred serum, but nothing was stopping Joker from contacting another skilled recruit to do his dirty work. He trusts Batman with his life, and he knows that Batman will do everything he can to ensure the Joker lives because of Batman’s guilty conscience. Joker is professing his unwavering confidence in his foe’s abilities by making him embark on such a perilous assignment.
Note: The dialogue said by the Joker in the picture above reads as follows: “All this- all this rage. All this rage directed at me and for what? You know if you’d actually let me finish a sentence, you might learn something. You might learn we’re not so different.”
As for Batman, well, despite telling himself that he is in no way like the Joker, he has not fully convinced himself of this fable that he incorporates in order to sleep easy. In “Arkham Asylum”, Batman finds himself being drawn into the izumakazi of madness cooked up by the Joker designed to make him look into the abyss of his soul. And wouldn’t you know it, apart from what his moral center is trying to scream, he is actually enjoying the mayhem his counterpart is coercing him into. Madness is the ultimate drug for Batman, one he knows he should not take and avoids at all costs, but the call is far too loud to ignore.Given he assumed the guise of a bat to prey upon his enemies’ fears, it wouldn’t be stretching the tendon to suggest that Batman has more in common with the demonic nature in us all, would it? A part of Batman really gets off in this ceaseless passion play, as does the Joker. It’s almost like sex, it’s a give-and-take type of affair, one attempting to dominate the other while alternatively reveling in this opportunity that stimulates their minds and bodies. Something Catwoman and Harley could never truly awaken in either of them. Penetration and foreplay for them takes the form of combat and mind-games, blood and sweat is… wowie, was that ever Freudian! The Joker’s most pressing desire is to make Batman succumb to his wiles while also maintaining a chaotic upper hand. He ain’t gonna change who he is and what he does for anybody, not even the one he loves most. Batman has absolutely no intention on allowing the Joker to turn Gotham and the world for that matter into his own personal carnival fun house. It’s such a vexing yet intense stalemate.
In 2013 upon the release of “Batman Arkham Origins”, the game explored Batman as a younger man, forging relationships with friends and foes alike, one of them naturally being the Joker who was also just starting his career in crime. Toward the very end of the game in their final confrontation, in a prison chapel of all places, the Joker confesses that Batman has opened a great many doors for him as a man and how they are not so different. When Batman is beating his face to a pulp, the Joker laughs with something akin to pure ecstasy, encouraging Batman to kill him “Come on baby, beat me some more until your knuckles bleed! We both know there’s only one way you can stop me!”. It’s so perverse yet at the same time it basically sums up what their relationship would become.
Another example of the profound and the profane between these two men is in Frank Miller’s controversial and considerably adult “The Dark Knight Returns”. Batman has officially retired from his Knightly duties, but he finds that crime in Gotham hasn’t desisted, in fact, it has intensified. He takes it upon himself to bring his own notion of balance to this disorder, but he also does it to prove to himself that he is still worth half a damn. Bruce is no longer the young buck in a cape and mask, but a burdensome weight. Training is a chore to him, with only his muscle memory to assist his will to survive as well as his cognitive resources. Despite wiping the streets clean, he has an upfront extreme notion of what is right and what is wrong- there is no black and white for him, only the absolute good. So fanatical and almost lunatic his methods are, he is once again reported as a scourge on Gotham, despite all he has done for it in the past. Apart from the fact his endurance is tested night after night, he feels as if a certain something is missing. The Joker. The Joker meanwhile has been confined into a sanitorium after the disappearance of the Bat. When Batman makes his jaded return, as does the Joker’s higher mental functions. In fact, when he sees footage regarding his adversary on the television, he whispers “Darling…”. In the second part of the story, the Joker, with reinvigorated purpose wrecks havoc on the city he once terrorized inevitably to bring Batman to his doorstep. When the twain meet, a violent confrontation occurs in a theme park (in the Love Tunnel no less, could you BE any obvious, Miller?) resulting in perhaps the most shocking revelation. While not by technicality, the Batman puts an end to the Joker by breaking his neck. The Clown Prince of Crime rejoices by taunting him before turning his neck just that little bit more. My own thoughts on Miller are very polarizing, but by God that sequence is astonishing because Batman had overstepped that singular line that separated him from saint to sinner. You get the sensation that the Joker staged every act of terror and wretched violence just to get Batman’s undivided attention, even jeopardizing the aged Selina Kyle who was at that point the madam of an escort agency by ‘seducing’ her, forcing her to dress as Wonder Woman and trussing her up like a stuffed pig. Frank Miller totally has a Madonna/Whore complex in his writing, doesn’t he?
On countless occasions, the Joker has made a deliberate effort to make Batman play in his expanding house of horrors- he launches personal attacks against the Batman. A major example being the fateful incident involving Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s beloved daughter as chronicled in “The Killing Joke” written by that dick comic maestro Alan Moore. Joker has his goons all but violate Barbara, trussing her up half-naked and taking compromising pictures of her. Batman rushes to her aid, only for Joker to shoot Gordon in the spine, resulting in permanent paraplesia. Despi stages elaborate plots for absolutely no particular reason but to cause deadly mayhem and to conduct some ersatz social experiement- half of the method why he did this was to push Commissioner Gordon over the edge, as well as the Batman. In the end though, Batman manages to regain that tenuous upper hand by telling the Joker something he did not want to hear- he was alone in his insanity and that there is still a way for him to be saved. Apart from knowing Batman’s words had absolutely no conviction, Joker ruefully states “It’s too late for that.” before summing up his feelings and the relationship he feels he has with Batman with the joke, the KILLING joke:
“See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum… and one night, one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light… stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend did not dare make the leap. Y’see… Y’see, he’s afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea… He says ‘Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!’ B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says… He says ‘Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across!”
Perhaps the most shocking moment afterward is the punchline of Batman’s cold facade cracking and allowing himself to laugh at the folly before the GCPD arrives on the scene. While Batman may have re-aligned the status quo for the good of Gotham, he allowed himself to submit to the Joker’s madness by sharing an intimate moment with him.
“The Killing Joke” is renowned for how it explores the Joker, what with him concocting story after story regarding his history. We don’t know he’s telling the truth and naturally Batman chooses not to believe him. All of what has happened has all been for the amusement of the Joker, and once again used as a vicious ploy to entrap Batman in his web.
Yet another substantial grain of evidence comes from DC Animated’s feature “Under The Red Hood”, arguably one of the best game-changers in Batman lore. Joker was instrumental in the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin after Dick Grayson graduated to Nightwing. Despite having been instructed by Ra’s Al Ghul not to kill Batman or his assistant, Joker does not follow instructions and ends up beating Todd savagely with a crowbar. At the end of it all, the reason why Joker did it was because he knew he could get away with it, no matter how hard Batman took the tragedy. He knew Batman, with his stoic ideas of justice and preservation of human life, would not enact mortal retribution upon him. By the way, have any of you seen the wonderful DC animated feature “Under The Red Hood”? It’s amazing, please, do yourself a favor and check it out- John DiMaggio (Bender! Jake the Dog from “Adventure Time”!) voices the Clown with truly dark psychosis and timorous humor. When Jason Todd (the titular Red Hood) confronts Batman/Bruce, he establishes that he had long forgiven Bruce for not saving him in time, but he could never forgive his mentor for not doing away with the scum that caused this. Although Batman understands Jason’s plight, he refuses to kill the Joker because that would forsake his own solemn vow even though he reveals he wishes he did to avenge Todd’s murder. It is an incredible story, plus the fact they took what had previously been a universally despised character (Todd) and turned him into arguably one of the best foes (Red Hood) is a masterstroke in retconning a previously established universe.
As for Christopher Nolan’s little indie movie “The Dark Knight” (seriously, did like anybody SEE that?), a particular scene features the Joker revealing why he did all he did- to push Harvey Dent over the edge and corrupt his morality. But he also gleefully reveals that he could never do away with Batman simply because he completes him plus he’s just too much fun! Honestly, did anybody see that film? I just can’t find anybody who has.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of their relationship is that neither really care about who the other is- Batman has never made an active effort to dig deep and far in order to uncover the true past of the Joker, and Joker just doesn’t care about who the man under the cowl is because that would spoil the fun and take away the mystery. No relationship is complete without an element of suggestive mystery between parties- in my opinion, without that enigma, there would be no long-lasting connection. As Joker tells Harley in “Arkham City” when she attempts to unmask Batman as he is coming to from a bludgeon by baseball bat, “Nobody’s who they say are, my dear, why spoil the fun?” I have a feeling that if both knew each other’s actual identity, that intense relationship would simply diminish into simple cop and robber.
While I highly doubt DC Comics will take such a daring, potentially fatal risk with their stories, such a relationship between two dynamic and alpha-grade characters is too obvious and wonderful to ignore. What makes this dance so compelling is that neither is willing to give the other the lead, thus it will never end until both are dead or have succumbed. Methinks the latter will not, and may it never.