Warning: DC Rebirth Spoilers
“This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
-Joker, The Dark Knight
Out of all the familiar hero and villain relationships the one shared between Batman and Joker probably serves as one of the more iconic ones. What makes their seemingly perpetual conflict with one another so interesting is that that even though they both serve as polar opposites, they are—to some degree not so different from one another. Despite this, their feud hasn’t always worked this way. From Joker’s very first appearance to now, their relationship had evolved from the more simplistic duality of good and evil, to a much more complex and philosophical one—with a newer twist thrown in recently.
It was during the 1940’s first issue of Batman where the Joker was introduced. In his debut appearance Joker was portrayed as a murderous clown who disposed whoever he pleases with his now-iconic laughing gas. It was originally envisioned that within his first appearance he would be dispatched by Batman, by knife to the heart. Bill Finger, the man who helped create Joker alongside Batman creator, Bob Kane, believed that it would make Batman appear to be inept if he had reoccurring villains. Despite this, the comic’s editor, Whitney Ellsworth, shot-down this idea, seeing potential in this character. Joker would then appear in nine more issues of the original Batman run. It’s amusing to think that what was meant to be a single-use villain would eventually become Batman’s most iconic villain; and from there these two characters would find themselves locked into a never-ending battle against one another—one that is physical, mental, and even philosophical.
In 1988 famed (comic) writer Alan Moore sought to flesh out relationship shared between Batman and Joker in the (in)famous graphic novel, Batman: Killing Joke. Within this dark story Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in order to break Commissioner Gordon just to illustrate to Batman that anyone can become like him, and all it takes is “one bad day.” Despite this, Joker was unable to drive Commissioner Gordon “loony” as after being psychologically tortured he still wanted Batman to bring him in “by the book.”
It was during the comic’s ending “killing joke” where the parallel between Batman and Joker is made clear. The joke goes along the lines that there were two inmates at an asylum who have decided to finally escape their confines. When they reach the rooftops at night one of them jumps the ledge and successfully lands on the next roof over. With the other inmate being too afraid to jump the roof the other tries to help him out by telling him that he found a flashlight and could use it to shine on a beam, connecting the two rooftops, believing that it would suffice as a bridge that the other inmate could use to walk across. To this the other inmate would reply, “’Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across” (Alan Moore, Batman: Killing Joke)! This joke helps illustrate how the two insane inmates represent Batman and Joker, and how the inmate with the flashlight—Batman, tries to help show Joker that there is a way out of their seemingly perpetual state of insanity. By having the inmate with the flashlight believing that the transparent light beam would help the other inmate get to his side Joker illustrates how not only are they both equally mad, but he uses this to address the utter futility in Batman’s hope of saving him (“If you have to explain a joke, there is no joke!”).
In the end, Batman and Joker aren’t so different, as it really did take one bad day to create both of them, which had set them both on a self-destructive course: for Batman it was the death of his parents, and for Joker it was when he fell into a vat of chemicals that drove him insane.
A few decades later Scott Snyder brings in a Joker with an entirely new outlook—as well as a literal new look. After the end of the first issue of New 52’s Detective Comics, Joker has the villain, Dollmaker, cut his face off in order to help usher in a newer, and much darker personality. When describing this version of Joker, writer Scott Snyder stated that the Joker imagines “himself as a court jester to his Bat-king. Historically, the jesters’ role was to give the king the bad news. What the Joker thinks he does is bring the worst news to Batman’s heart to light by delivering these nightmares to him” (Scott Snyder, Batman’s Scott Snyder). Within Snyder’s “Death of the Family “arc Joker re-surfaces with a new dark goal in mind, to kill off each and every one of his allies. His reason? In his own twisted mind he believes by killing Batman’s allies/family he is making him stronger as he sees them as a burden to Batman, and that through his over-reliance on them he is growing weaker.
With his allies at risk Batman reveals that Joker once followed him into the Batcave, somehow dodging all of its security, and left his iconic calling card within the thought-to-be secured facility. When revealing these details to his allies (Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, Red-Robin, Robin) a sense of distrust and tension erupts between them as Batman refuses to believe that there is a possibility that Joker knows any of their true identities despite his protégées begging him to see that that may be a possibility.
Joker later gets the upper hand on Batman by having him knocked out and tied, up with the rest of his “family,” within the Batcave, gathered around a mock dinner. The Joker attempts to psychologically torture them by making his allies believe that he cut their faces off by placing convincing facial replicas in front of them. Eventually Batman breaks from his bonds and confronts Joker. As they fought Batman tells Joker that he took time to investigate his past, and claims that he knew Joker’s true identity. Before Batman could say his real name the Joker purposely falls down the edge of the cave and out of sight, leaving his fate vague (or the famous rule of fiction, no body=not dead). Although Batman once again comes out victorious, Joker in a way still won as he was able to make the rest of Batman’s allies mistrust him after Batman’s underestimation of Joker. From there the Bat-family would end up breaking away from Batman, and thus “killing” the family.
At the end of this arc Batman reveals to Alfred that he once visited Joker at Arkham Asylum as Bruce Wayne. When he confronts Joker outside of his cell Bruce holds up the card he found in cave. Although Joker looked at the card, he avoided looking at Bruce Wayne. This led Wayne to conclude that Joker didn’t care who was under Batman’s mask, believing that he acknowledged so it would ruin his fun. This very scene reveals how Joker had romanticized their conflict with one-another, refusing to see himself or Batman as mere mortals.
This is eventually followed up within the Scott Snyder’s “Endgame” arc where (surprise, surprise) the Joker comes back, this time hoping to kill Batman once and for all, stating that he has gotten bored with him, possibly being due to him being broken-up when Batman attempted to break the illusion that Joker was just a normal human prior to his dive into the vat of Ace Chemicals. Before doing so he once again sets out to destroy Gotham through a newer strain of his “Joker toxin.” When investigating this toxin, Batman is lead to a hospital where he runs into a recreation of the death of his parents, revealing that Joker does know that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one-in-the-same. The kid gloves were finally off, Joker finally gave up his romanticized view of each other and was ready to move, starting off by finally killing Batman. On top of this the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is immortal, leaving behind historical evidence that he was around since Gotham’s conception. Although this was kept vague on whether on not this was true, it does display that even though Joker gave up on seeing Batman as more than a mere mortal, he is still pushing the narrative that he is inhuman (not the Marvel kind), and even immortal (ironically being immortal means nothing special in the DC universe as there’s Vandal Savage, Ra’s Al Ghul, Madame Xanadu, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, Etrigan, and plenty others…). As Batman investigates the mystery behind Joker’s supposed immortality and inhuman regenerative abilities he is led to a pool with regenerative properties– Dionesium (which is totally not a lazily recycled Lazarus Pit…). As the two face off the Joker sets off an explosion within the cave they’re in and the two begin brutally beating each other, without holding back. Eventually the two collapse, on the verge of death, by the pool of Dionesium. As Batman stares at a dying Joker he tells Alfred, via comms, that he is “[J]ust going to rest for a while with my friend” (Scott Snyder, Batman: End Game). Although meant to be sarcastic, this displays that Batman is highly aware of the irony that is his oddly close relationship with his most-hated enemy—especially with them both about to share the same fate. Soon the cave collapses around them and they are both presumed death (or in comic terms, a vacation).
With Batman and Joker presumed dead Commissioner Gordon unofficially takes on the hero’s mantle, by donning a Mech-Batman suit. It is later revealed that Batman survived (what a tweest!) his last battle with the Joker, but retains no memory of his life past. Free of his past, Bruce Wayne is finally able to live a happy live and settle down with a new girlfriend. It isn’t until Br. Bloom, a slenderman-esque villain, tries to decimate Gotham (Gotham’s Forecast for today is cloudy with a chance of destruction, followed by red skies and a 90% chance of another retcon) that Bruce Wayne is forced take on his role as Batman once again. Before he does so he runs into a smiling man—or to be more straightforward, a cured Joker, at a park bench who comes to him with a simple plea, to not go back to his “former self.” With Bruce Wayne at the crossroads and unable to decide whether or he should return to his life as Batman, here’s a newly-sane Joker essentially telling him “Listen, I know you feel down and you feel like none of it means anything. But it does mean something. And if you died right now, it’d be OK, because you meant something” (Scott Snyder, Newsarama). Even though Joker is telling him to stay put with his happy life he is subtly giving Bruce Wayne license to go back as Batman, as his mission as Batman meant—and will continue to mean something. In a way this is wholly unique role reversal shared between the two enemies, as opposed to Alan Moore’s Killing Joke, it is Joker’s turn to show Batman that there is meaning in what he is doing—there is hope. Scott Snyder would state that at whatever point Bruce Wayne/Batman is in life, “Joker will always show up to contradict that” (Scott Snyder, Newsarama).
Although this version of Joker is at a point where he is content with life and bares no ill will towards anyone, it is later subtly implied that he is slowly returning to his old psychotic self. As Bruce takes back his role as Batman after aiding Commissioner Gordon in defeating Mr. Bloom, he spends a night watching over his enemies to see what they’re up to. As he watches each and everyone one of them closely, the Joker is back calmly sitting on the same bench where they last met, telling himself “Not yet, not this night.” In a way, Batman and Joker’s fates appear to be forever intertwined, and with him taking back his role as Gotham’s protector he is essentially dragging Joker back to his old life as well. To sum this up, there is no Joker without Batman as he believes that he gives him purpose (#RelationshipGoals).
Although the relationship between Joker and Batman has evolved throughout the years, adding new layers to their complex antagonism, it has been recently revealed that all of this may not be as it seems through a new revelation. In the more recent Justice League arc, “Darkseid War,” each Justice League member briefly gains the powers of a New God—with Batman gaining the power of omniscience through Metron’s “Mobius Chair.” With this he ponders on the question on the true identity of Joker (Didn’t Batman tell Joker he knew who he was? Was that a bluff or a terrible continuity error? You decide!). Upon asking the Mobius Chair this question he instead learns that there are three different Jokers running amok in the world, each with their own unique personality. To add to this, when trying to analyze the difference between the three Joker’s the images on his computer screen include the Golden Age Joker, Alan Moore’s Joker, and Scott Snyder’s Joker. It’ll be interesting to see where this revelation leads, and just how much different the relationship between Batman and these supposed three Jokers will change in the future.
Betancourt, David. “BATMAN’S SCOTT SNYDER:.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
Cohen, Alex. “The Joker: Torn Between Goof And Evil.” NPR. NPR, 16 July 2008. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
Moore, Alan, Brian Bolland, and Richard Starkings. Batman: The Killing Joke. New York: DC Comics, 2008. Print.
Rogers, Vaneta. “SNYDER: BATMAN #48 ‘Culmination’ Of His BRUCE WAYNE Story.” Newsarama.com. Newsarama, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
Snyder, Scott, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion. Batman. New York: DC Comics, 2013. Print.