Some say comics are for kids or adult-children. We disagree, obviously if you are on this forum. So what's behind the success of it? What is it that makes Batman so attractive? More than other comics, and it's not just that he doesn't have special powers, lots of other heroes don't have powers, but they don't have the sticking power of Batman or near the fan interest. I find them to be like the modern version old the old Heroic religions. Myths are important reflections of the society as a whole. What is it that makes Batman and Spiderman the most widely sold characters and read in the world? One of the reasons (and I'll address the others in different threads) is their bad guys. Both Batman and Spiderman have the most developed and numerous bad guys in the comic universe. And in each the top rogue is a bit of a genius nut. (Norman Osborne/Green Goblin) and the most famous evil doer of all, The Joker.
Joker is perhaps (arguably Luther) the most enjoyed and famous rogue in comics.
I'd put him first and Luther second.
The Joker is a really misunderstood character. He's not the opposite of Batman. He is, if you just list off adjectives, but in a way Batman is the closet thing to Joker in Joker's world. I've seen people pick up on the psychological angels of Batman's series but not so much the philosophy or political angles. And it's the philosophy that makes it tick. Obviously a psychology based reader is going to search for classic psychological tags for characters. It's like doctors looking at an unexplained sick patient, they all see whatever that doctor specializes in. And yet people turn to psychology buffs for explanations on a comics appeal, assuming it must be a psychological issue. (which is totally arrogant). I'd like to have a swing at the under analyzed philosophical components. Not to knock psychology, just trying to break it's monopoly.
Let's go to a dangerous place. Let's go inside Joker's head for a bit. First we have to go back to the road that eventually lead to existentialism. To the Joker pointing out ideologically hypocrisies through manipulation is an unending game. Just how does a person/society get its values anyway? Objective thought or truths are existentially indifferent, yes they may be true but they have no essential relationship to existence. They're more like discoverable descriptions. AKA 2 + 3 = 5 but so what. George Washington was the first US president. There are recognized standards that can be use d to determine the truth of those assertions. But so what? Subjective thought, however has no criteria for truth. And yet this is precisely where we derive our values. If I tell you for example that it is immoral cause unnecessary harm to others and if you challenge my assertion, ultimately there are no objective standards for me to appeal to and I cannot prove my claim. There is no objective criteria of truth to justify my assertion. None the less "subjective truths" are essential to my existence in the way that objective truths are indifferent. That's because we pretty much ARE what we do and we do -the actions we preform- are the results of decisions which are the embodiments of values chosen. Yet those value are not grounded in certainty but in acceptance. These values if you step back and look at history with a broad view flip and change around so much and often what is vital to one era is totally absurd to the next. Joker grasps the absurdity and contingency of existence. An individual who has looked profoundly on the w orld of men and seen that at the deepest level we are alone in "absolute isolation" an aloneness that constitutes a kind of madness or divine madness. To him values of the social norm is a joke a temporary agreement largely kept together by true absurdness. They're barely floating above acting like chimpanzees and they'd fall apart and kill one another given enough fear. You're life is a joke. Joker is not irrational, he's psychotic and there is a difference. Batman who also lives well outside the social norms albeit for justice, is the closest to getting the joke. Joker is fascinated with him. A grown man dressed as an armored bat. Now that fits perfectly into Joker's head. Almost.
It's a man above the social mores and conformity. A man with his own value set, from his own subjective truth and not part of just conditioning. He's not part of the plan. Joker tends to pattern smash and destroy all things common and makes it a point to treat people like they're part of a game. If he can change their social values then he wins. He can show how quick "moral" people will change given the right circumstances. It's not about money, it's not about fame, it's not about revenge, it's about controlling human will. That is his game.
Sometimes he'll shoot you, sometimes he'll give you a flower. Sometimes the flower has acid, sometimes it's full of money. His unpredictable behavior is what makes him seem crazy. He intentionally breaks the patterns or roles of human behavior even for criminals. His subjective tru th is that because there are so many simultaneous subjective truths, then there really isn't any and thus it's all a joke. Batman gave
him a direction, a meaning. He is battling him philosophically which is what makes the comic so interesting. If it was just a guy driving a s chool bus blowing up buildings he wouldn't be so famous.
He is that useless card in the deck. the one that doesn't make any sense the one that doesn't fit with the rest of the pack which is restricted by rules no matter what game you are playing 2,-10 J, Q, K, A all have relationships to one another. The Joker, he's the most free of them all and unpredictable.
Both he and Batman construct themselves as agents of change for society and use fear, one for confidence/hope, justice and personal betterment, and one for confusion, primal honesty, and violent hedonism. Joker manipulates anyone the same way Batman manipulates his foes through fear and cunning, but for different purposes.
Batman is hyper rational, and has strong values, but way outside of social norms, He's a vigilante. But for him, just because you can move outside norms doesn't make them all meaningless for everyone else. The self is enough authority to bestow meaning and there doesn't have to be an ultimate meaning or some facts in nature to appeal to for confirmation. His thing is, you are what you do. And what you do may be de
rived from values and that from subjective truths, but the will for him is to avenge his parents, thus even if it is not objective, the emotional reasoning is reason enough, not to be considered "true" but to cause him to act and then it doesn't matter because it's the actions themselves that make you what you are and not the beliefs that lead to them. "It's not who you are underneath, it's what you DO that matters"-Batman
You don't think your existence you live it, the thoughts are a descriptive reflection. Lots of people believe things but do not act on them. Thus it's got to be a total package from will. If you really believe (from experience not rhetoric) , then you will have the discipline and self regulation to become
the embodiment of those values. And that is what Batman is. He is the ultimate man.
Joker is the opposite of Batman (philosophically) in that he starts with the subjectivity and works the way up to actions and Batman starts with actions and works his way down to values. For him the actions of one, be they from personal values or whatever, will ironically instill those values in others just by observing the actions. It's a kind of leadership through doing rather than explaining. That the values don't arrive from contemplation but from experience and there is no other way to get at them, not language, not teaching or deduction, only through living/actualizing. Thus by making himself the example (because of his experience) he is working it all "backwards" making actions lead to values (his own) in others. They're both "crazy" contrasted with "normal" people.
1 [arbitrary beliefs (collectively values) =>decisions=>actions]
2 [actions=>observation of those actions=> altercation of decisions=>new actions AND beliefs]
Thus more than anyone the Joker needs to break Batman's will. Joker sees him as a (fellow) lunatic, but is incapable of understanding his attachment with people, especially people who despise him (as much of Gotham does). Crime isn't rebellion however. It's more of a game. Joker is intellectually board just messing with cops and the mob. Batman is his only true challenge and the people of Gotham are like a live stage. Who will they turn on, him of the bat? Both because that's what they do. Anything outside the norm is simply hated and feared. That's Joker's lesson. And he loves to point out ideological hypocrisies through amoral manipulations.
But Batman has advantages. Like the scene in Manhunter when the detective is talking the Hannibal Lector.
"By that reasoning you think you're smarter than me because you caught me."
No I know I am not smarter than you.
"Then how did you catch me?"
I had advantages
You're insane (I'm not)
"... you know what I think, you know why you caught me... You're just like me. You're..."
Guard open the door!
Everything about the Joker is symbolic of his philosophy.
He even dresses like a clown and yet he's not the entertainment (and isn't there to make you laugh) it's everyone else who is his entertainment and they are there to make him laugh. (as he kills them and controls them) He has a permanent smile, not something usually associated with murdering people, usually that's anger. But for him it's just funny. He just enjoys knowing how predictable everyone else is. And he is there to smash it all up and create complete chaos. Something maybe more like the true nature of human beings. Only they don't realize it. They're wars are organized but they're no more absurd than civil wars really or street vs street violence.
For him a city wide mad house like after the earth quake in Gotham that Luther made, was paradise. People reverted right back to their own real values. Everything was chaotic. He was happy as a clam.
That is what makes him so evil and so frightening. He has no normal motives. He is way outside of norms and comfortableness. His randomness is what make him the most impossible to understand and that is what makes him the most feared. People fear what they don't know. Also he makes them face sides of themselves that they try to hide.
And he challenges us. Is the Joker happy? Is Batman?
Now I just said " ...he's not the entertainment (and isn't there to make you laugh) it's everyone else who is his entertainment..." This is true however remember that Joker unlike any other comic book character, (I know of) other than Deadpool in Marvel, who knows he is on a comic. So it's true and yet this is what is genius. Him being their entertainment is what is his entertainment. He's always on TV. And to prove how sick people are, he knows there are people secretly rooting for him. They give in to his demands and turn on those (like batman) who try to save them because they are afraid of the Joker. And they admire the Joker. Little Joker cells of "clowns" spawn up doing crime in his image. Pure anarchy [for freedom but not fairness or justice more like greed] He kills the mob and the cops. To him (an in Gotham he is kind of right) there is no difference, the cops are just another gang in blue. Even criminals are afraid of the Joker. He is pure chaos. His intellect is admirer-able, but his actions are atrocious. But the better the villain the better the hero. And it isn't powers that make villains better/stronger, it's the philosophical backdrop.
The curiosity that the writers breed in the reader is a must to keep a story going. However it's not really a wonder in what will happen, ultimately we all know Batman will win. (in at least 675 in a row) it's how he does it and the process on these ongoing battles of intellect and philosophical and sociological reflection. Unlike gods in mythology, each of Batman's mastered disciplines is a possibility. We can strive for excellence but not perfection. Batman is the peak of Shinto-Bushido, self actualization, self regulation, wealth, looks, brains etc. He is our self idealized and we need him to win.
RIP Bruce Wayne.
Wow you read all that? Thanks!
Please see my other posts
Dissecting Batman, is not mine, it's Babs's post. It's more a what could happen next kind of write up. Hints have been dropped in prior Bruce stories. I think she maybe onto something with her conclusion.
(Bruce is deadish, explain why a body was left behind from the Omega beams and dug up in Blackest night yet another one is back in time/way forward in time. could it be way forward in time and way back in time?)