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Off My Mind: What Makes Joker Evil
by Tony 'G-Man' Guerrero on
Let's try to look into the mind of Batman's greatest villain.
When it comes to evil, Joker takes the cake. It may be hard to try to pinpoint a single moment that made the Joker turn into such a evil fiend since his true origin is open to debate. In 1988's The Killing Joke, he even admits he's unsure of his past. "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another...if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice. Ha ha ha!"
Joker first appeared in Batman #1 in 1940. He was introduced as a crazed homicidal villain. He announced on the radio that he would kill and named his victim. Despite police protection, the unlucky fellow died on cue at the precise moment the Joker predicted (Joker injected his Joker Venom which took 24 hours to kick in). Killing without remorse, he even came close to ending the life of young Robin, who was saved at the last moment by Batman.
From his first appearance Joker was a ruthless killer. What about his other portrayals and what do they say about his motivation?
== TEASER ==
In 1951's Detective Comics #168, part of the Joker's apparent origin was finally told. Batman was invited to be the guest lecturer for a course in Criminology at State University.
As part of his lectures, Batman presents a ten-year old unsolved case. When trying to track down a thief known as the Red Hood, Batman discovered his foe's face was covered. The Red Hood revealed the reason was to prevent being identified by his ears, color of his eyes, shape of his chin, etc. He pulled a gun on Batman but rather than shooting Batman, he shot a pipe that caused choking ammonia gas to be released. As Batman gasp for air, the Red Hood made his escape.
Red Hood's crime spree continued for a month. When trying to escape from the scene of a crime at the Monarch Playing Card Company, he dived into a catch basin that contained the waste from the chemicals at the plant. Batman later discovered that the chemicals had bleached Red Hood's face and hair. Seeing that he looked like an evil clown, he felt the joke was on him. This revelation could have been what caused Joker's mind to snap, driving him into insanity. He went with the guise of the Joker figuring his new appearance would be terrifying and named himself after a playing card, citing the Monarch Playing Card Company as being responsible for his creation.
The Joker's killing spree lasted until the time of the Silver Age. When the Comics Code Authority cracked down on comic book writers, Joker became more of a harmless crackpot. His appearances became rarer until his return in 1973's Batman #251. Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams returned Joker to his deadly ways. After escaping from the "state hospital for the criminally insane," Joker was determined to get revenge upon his former gang. Believing he was ratted out, he begins killing them despite Batman trying to prevent the deaths.
Joker's return in this issue took him back to his darker roots. The whimsical joke crimes were replaced with deadly joke crimes.
Even though his true origin may never be known, it's pretty much accepted that jumping into the chemical waste caused Joker's mind to crack. There's no way the Joker could be sane, right? He's done too many wacky things and while he may have had bad intentions before becoming the Joker, he can't necessarily help it if his mind is a jumbled mess.
There is another theory explaining Joker's madness. In Batman: Black and White Volume, Paul Dini and Alex Ross delivered the "Case Study" story.
When the Joker is caught once again and about to be sent back to Arkham Asylum, a couple doctors prepare for his arrival. One has uncovered an old file bringing a different look to what makes Joker who he is.
The file by an unknown doctor suggests Joker isn't insane. In interviews with other criminals that worked with him before he became the Joker, he was described as an ambitious and upcoming gangster. The doctor's report described him as possessing a "cunning mind melded with a pronounced sadistic streak, that did not necessarily classify him as insane." He carefully plotted schemes that would prevent him from getting caught. Taking the guise of the Red Hood was another to prevent anyone from recognizing him.
The report also suggested that the night he became transformed by the chemical waste caused him to become more rational than before. As the Joker, he was now able to hide behind a "mask of madness" to carry out his crimes. Hiding behind this mask, the sane man known as the Joker would be able avoid being declared sane and executed for his crimes.
Doubt was cast upon this theory when it was revealed that the report was actually written by Dr. Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn. The question remained whether there was any truth to this file or if Joker orchestrated the file to be found in order to play yet another joke on the world.
Going back to the original question, what makes Joker so evil? Unfortunately we may never know for certain. We can conclude that Joker was a bad man before his transformation. In some ways it may be somewhat comforting to think that his chemical dive drove him insane. The thought that all his deadly crimes were from a sane and calculating individual adds a whole new level of creepiness to his character.
Do you believe Joker is criminally insane or just an evil and calculating man?