We all know that Batman's greatest enemy is the Joker. He has caused havoc and destruction in Gotham City for years. Besides the countless murders he so easily commits, he has also struck close to home with Batman by killing Jason Todd as well as shooting and paralyzing Batgirl.
It's been a constant struggle in trying to keep Joker's destruction to a minimum. Whenever he is locked up in Arkham Asylum, he is able to pretty much come and go as he pleases. With the authorities convinced that he is insane, being locked up in an asylum is all they can do.
There appears to be a greater purpose to Joker's existence in Batman's world. He may be a pain in Batman's rear, but during the past year when Joker was away, Batman faced his biggest challenge. Joker has now returned to make up for lost time and to actually help Batman be a better hero.== TEASER ==
Joker understands that it's Batman's mission to rid the world of evil. He exists to stop crime and protect the innocent. What Joker realizes is Batman is not alone in his fight. He has gathered a large extended Bat-family in his fight against crime. This could be seen as a way to assist Batman in fighting criminals but it also serves as a distraction and weakness.
Scott Snyder recently said the following:
I was really fascinated by the idea that he's sort of accumulated this family of people he cares about. As a father of young kids, you know how scary the world can be once you have a kid and family. I felt like the person that would come after him the most and say, 'You've become slow, weak and old. Don't you remember when you used to be so strong?' would be Joker. And how terrifying it would be to have him finally come and say, 'I'll do you a favor. I'll kill them all because it's what you really want deep down, to go back to just you and me. Look at all the great times we had.
Batman may not exactly wish for his 'children' to die, but they do serve as a distraction. He may have the utmost confidence in their skills and abilities when he gives them his blessing to fight crime under his roof. But they can be seen as a weakness.
If a villain can't harm Batman directly, targeting one of his disciples might give them some leverage over Batman. When it was just Batman fighting crime solo, he didn't have to worry about the welfare of his partners. He could go out and take down the criminals without any repercussions threatening others around him.
Having the Joker around keeps Batman on his toes. Without Joker around, Batman could get too confident. In BATMAN #13, Joker said the following:
You've gotten fat. Soft. Soft enough you can't even stop a bunch of old birds from roosting in your spires without help?
I look at you and I want to knock on your skull and ask 'Who's in there? Who is this? Where's my old friend?'
Why was Batman able to be captured and pretty much defeated during the Court of Owls story? It could be argued that he simply didn't know what he was going up against. This could be why he so easily defeats Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, etc. He knows everything about them and how to put a stop to them.
Then again, you could also say Batman doesn't know what he'll be going up against when it comes to the Joker. How many different versions of the Joker have we seen over the years? He's been goofy and harmless sometimes and completely deadly and psychotic at others. Joker makes Batman think. Batman knows he needs to take the Joker seriously. The fact that Joker's schemes could go in any direction at any time is what makes him such a problem.
If the Joker were ever to be removed permanently from Batman's rogues gallery, Batman could simply dial in each threat. With all his contingency plans, he would be prepared for any new threat. This isn't saying that Batman is unstoppable, just that we know he can win over his other foes. Joker is constantly mixing things up. There has to be a reason he was gone for a year as well as why he would allow his face to be cut off. Now he's back because he is unhappy with the way Batman has turned out and how easily he let the Court of Owls play him.
Facing Joker makes Batman a better hero. Who is Superman's biggest threat? A rich and intelligent bald businessman. Who is Hal Jordan's biggest threat? Most likely Sinestro but they've managed to work together in the first year of the New 52. Who is Wonder Woman's biggest threat? That sort of depends now that her backstory has been changing.
None of the other heroes has a nemesis on the same level as Joker. Whatever doesn't kill Batman makes him stronger. Having Joker around definitely makes Batman stronger. Without Joker, Batman would become soft. His mind and skills would lessen just as an athlete's muscles would deteriorate without continued exercise. Batman needs Joker. It's just unfortunate that the world around them often has to suffer from their encounters.
Tony Guerrero is the Editor-in-Chief of Comic Vine. You can follow him on Twitter @GManFromHeck. Life can sometimes be a joke and he's perfectly content to not have an actual Joker trying to make him stronger.