Mad Love - humanising The Joker for better or for worse?

Posted by Mistermorriss (32 posts) - - Show Bio

High praise indeed!

I first found out about Dini and Timm’s Mad Love from listening to cult, Jay-and-Silent-Bob director, Kevin Smith’s FATMAN ON BATMAN podcast. Any of the character should check it out. Anyway, I’m not here to plug Fat Kev’s stuff, but given his love for Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) is what spurred his show, I thought it worth mentioning as I happen not to go all giddy over it as I know some of you do. A lot of the episodes range from average to poor with only a handful stand-out episodes worthy of praise beyond the confines of ‘it’s a Batman cartoon’. Yeah, I know, shoot me.

Mad Love was been mentioned alongside one of the all-time must-read Batman graphic novels and admittedly not having heard of it before listening to ‘Fat Kev’, I Googled, and yep, the internet seemed to agree; ‘bona fide classic’. And here’s me thinking I’d read them all. So after paying unfortunately well above the odds for a second printing on Ebay the book turns up and lo and behold, even Mr. Dark Knight Returns himself, Frank Miller, is quoted on the back as saying, “Mad Love is the story of the decade.” Praise indeed (if you, of course, factor in that he’s now a far-right psycho who can’t write comics any more and is living off the work he did 30 years ago).

From the very first page I felt uncomfortable. I know Bruce Timm drew BTAS but the style was too vibrant, rounded and cartoony when on a page as opposed to the square talky-box. It was too bright, too ‘comic’ in both senses of the word. Anyway, I soon adjusted I thought I’d just concentrate on the story-telling itself, which in fact, is nothing short of superb. Paul Dini has told a tale battered wife syndrome within the Batman universe and he’s told it convincingly. Harley Quinn (pictured)’s refusal to accept the man she loves values her no more than thousands of innocents he’s colourfully killed in his crazy life, and blames Batman by proxy is a well-thought-out, intelligent story remaining true to the characters…oh wait, no it doesn’t. There-in lies my problem: nothing about The Joker resembles humanity as we know it. According to the Joker I know and love Harley Quinn would be dead within seconds because it would be too boring not to murder her. He’s The Joker. Not only would he kill her, he’d do it brutally and without care. I realise this attitude is intimated in the book, but the playful nature of the colouring and the prites don’t cut to the bone as they should do. We are dealing with an incredibly serious, and tragic part of human life. Many women suffer. Many are mis-treated. Perhaps the story ending with her death would have hammered the point home more resoundingly? The indication of any great graphic novel is that the artwork actually matches the story in terms of tone (see my Kingdom Come review), here there is a complete mismatch.

I appreciate the book’s narratve qualities but I don’t think it fits the Batman universe. Comics need more stories like this to be told, but it needs to go all the way. I can’t take Harleen Quinzel seriously because her name is bloody Harleen Quinzel for a start. I’m puzzled every time I read E. Nigma for The Riddler, or get shivers when Victor DeFries’ name is mentioned. It’s jokey, hammy and not the Batman universe I fell in love with. Why do their real names somehow have to be a kind of nominative determinism? Instead of Victor DeFries (pronounced dee freese) being Mr. Freeze’s real name, why can’t it be just any other ordinary name? I’m not 12 years old. Fair enough if you want to keep it within the realms of the BTAS universe but unfortunately these characters have bled over to the comics and have gone some way to removing the ‘detective’ element from the books in favour of yet-another-twisted-genius super-villain with seemingly-super-powers-but-not-really. A wrong turn in my opinion.

Quinn covered in dog filth with slapstick animations and goofy features. It doesn’t just work.

I don’t want Harley Quinn in the comics, I don’t want her there because her character adds nothing and doesn’t fit in with the image of The Joker that’s been portrayed for the best part of 30 years. I don’t want her there because The Joker would never allow anyone to remain in his private sphere for any length of time. I don’t want her there because I start using human psychological terms like “personal sphere” when thinking about The Joker, when the whole essence of the character is that he isn’t human. He may have been, sure – if you class The Killing Joke as cannon – but he isn’t any more. “HA!” You cry, if you cut him, does he not bleed?” “Yes!” I answer, “but that’s as far as it goes.” As soon as The Joker is personified, he looses his edge and that’s why Hamill’s Joker never really resounded with me as it has with others. It’s simply too relatable; too human.

Nothing this hyped could ever live up to my expectations, I know that. I also factor in that BTAS, although the closest cartoon to the DC universe was never as lovingly lauded by me as with, well, just about everyone else. However, The Joker portrayed by Dini is not a choice I would have made and Mad Love fails on that level. The Joker must remain as exclusive as he is elusive; he has no gang, no sidekick, no shoulder-to-cry on (as with Brian Azzarello’s The Joker) and absolutely no place for Harley Quinn.

#1 Edited by SupBatz (1446 posts) - - Show Bio

@Mistermorriss:

I think it's a pretty bold claim to make that there's no place for Harley Quinn in Joker stories.

You definitely made some valid points about the Joker and how he is and ought to be shown. And I agree that it is dangerous to make him to relatable and human because, well, he's the Joker. Probably the most inhumane character in all of comics.

That being said, the relationship between Joker and Harley adds a whole new flavor to his character. Undoubtably, the Joker is monster. He'd kill a person on the street or his own mother if he thought he'd get a laugh out of it. And there's no doubt on mine or anyone's mind that he would kill Harley if he saw it fit. But at the same time their relationship has the potential to bring out the best in both characters. Writers often, in recent years, have taken the lazy route of depicting Harley as completely love-sick (as in Mad Love) all of the time and willing to run back to the Joker who just accepts her and takes her in. That is lazy writing. The story worked great for Mad Love - as far as I'm concerned, that is the perfect origin story for Harley in that it shows the core of their relationship. Sadly, some writers took this to mean that it's how their relationship is all of the time.

The entire purpose of Harley Quinn is to play off of the Joker. In his schemes she always has her role. She's certainly never the star of his scheme but she's someone he can share the laugh with. She sees the funny as well as he does. That, in my opinion, is the exact reason why he hasn't killed her.

As previously stated, he would easily kill Harley if it gave him a chuckle. But having her adds another dimension to his schemes. She always has a part to play in his big picture and she is the closest thing he has to someone who can see the joker as well as he can.

This explanation may sound like it's an attempt to humanize the Joker, and maybe it is a little bit. But at the core of their relationship I find that the dysfunction of it fuels it. Harley may have the role of the "battered wife", as you put it, at the core. But the flip side of it is that she has her role at his side and she helps him tell his jokes to Batman.

So, while I would never go as far as to say that Joker needs Harley, I make the claim that he will always have a place for her in his schemes. And the reason he never killed her, as one might expect (I'd even call it the obvious punchline), is because on some level he realizes that she enhances the big picture. And that he always has a place for Harley Quinn/

#2 Posted by Mistermorriss (32 posts) - - Show Bio

I see your points, and they're very well argued, but I don't think The Joker should have anyone to "share" his life/crimes/evil with. He should remain alone, as should Bruce. It's that very element that highlights the symbiosis of the characters and even underlines Scnyder's Death of the Family arc about it being much more fun when it's just Batman and Joker. (also as the story of The Killing Joke investigates).

I admit that Azzarello does Harley well in The Joker, but still, her being around brings The Joker down to earth, and I don't want him there. :)

#3 Posted by SupBatz (1446 posts) - - Show Bio

You've made some fair points as well. I guess it just boils down to a difference in tasteand opinion.

I think a mix is fair. Give me stories where its just Batman and Joker with no side-kicks or Harley. Those are definitely classic and necessary to highlight to everlasting conflict between the two chaarcters. But also give me stories where some side-kicks and/or Harley are thrown in the mix. Adds diversity and new elements to the mix.

Good review ^^

#4 Posted by Mistermorriss (32 posts) - - Show Bio

Thanks! :)

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