Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bring on the Bad Guys: The Joker

Real name: (see comments)
A.K.A.: Jack Napier, Joseph Kurr, Jack White, the Red Hood, Oberon Sexton
First Appearance: Batman I#1 (Spring 1940)
Abilities:  Chemical genius, thief
Weapons: Acid, guns, gags
Quotes: "If the police expect to play with the Joker, they had better expect to be dealt from the bottom of the deck!"
Worst Act: Too damn many to mention
Created by: Bill Finger (writer) and Bob Kane (artist-credited), Jerry Robinson(pencils/inks)

At this point, what can one say about the Joker that hasn't already been said? He's been everything from playful to homicidal, a clown prince of crime to a mountebank of mayhem. He's been terrorizing the good people of Gotham for 77 years and it's doubtful he's going away anytime soon.

In the 40's, the Joker was a killer, racking up a decent body count with his first appearance but mellowing out slightly throughout the decade. The 50's and 60's saw him more goofy and less homicidal. Cesar Romero's portrayal was spot on, but most of the character's manic ticks went to Gorshin's Riddler.

The 70's saw a return to form with the story "the Joker's Five-Way Revenge", but it would be Alan Moore that would cement the character's characterization for better or worse. 

I suppose that's my biggest gripe with the character. Since the 80's nearly all the stories have been the same; the Joker shows up, kills the equivalent of small city, Batman argues that while he really wants to kill the clown he won't, (sometimes a supporting character dies), Joker goes to Arkham, wash rinse and repeat. There have been some exceptions, but when you can predict how a character is going to act exactly it takes the fun out of the story. Plus writers have been building him up so much you honestly wonder why anyone would live in a city where the chief cause of death is clown.

With the old stories there was usually something at the end (the Joker falling off a cliff, being in a burning building, etc.) with an explanation in the next story showing how the Joker survived. Now they just put him in Arkham. Next time he's out and there's nothing.

Writers back when the Comic Code was put into place were warned that reoccurring villains made the hero look ineffective. In the Joker's case I'd say they were right. Sure, Batman stops him, but he'll break out again/kill four digit plus number of people. When the straw man characters/violent parodies make a better argument than your hero, you have some problems.

There is something about the character though. His origin or lack thereof actually does work. Who cares what his backstory is? His present is what the character focus on, but then that ties into his current problems.

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