Tuesday, February 24, 2015

the Joker in Gotham Central

The Joker is a touchy subject because no one seems to understand this character. 
One person who understood him is Ed Brubaker in his 
Gotham Central. 

I think that Bill Finger nailed it when he first created the Joker but it seems that he has been misunderstood since. Ed Brubaker has managed to to capture the essence of Finger's Joker in his Gotham Central and made it his own.
There has been so much misunderstanding around the Joker. He's not a homicidal maniac that enjoys torture or killing for it's own sake. He is not out to steal millions or to get power. He is a man in pain and is just looking for some attention. He is thumbing his nose at the world that hurt him so deeply, looking for someone to empathize with him, someone to fill this void in him and make him feel alive for once. 

The Joker is a genius who feels very alone and very much in pain. He looks for some kind of connection with others and can only relate to their fear which is where the Joker lives, in fear of that torture that he experienced as a boy. His intelligence makes it especially hard for him to relate to others because any attempts at empathy toward him are taken as others trying to fool him.

He is a tortured soul that was always told that he was bad and so he acts out as such. For him it's not about the end goal of killing or getting rich and powerful, it's about the game, the chase. It's about being legitimized, about having his sickness recognized, and about having societies sickness, the society that let him be so mistreated, recognized. And if they can't empathize with him then that society will be punished for their hypocrisy. 

The Joker knows that he is worthless and no one is going to convince him otherwise. The thing is, so is everyone else worthless, even more so than him because they aren't as intelligent as he is, though people just don’t know that they are worthless and that’s the job he has taken upon himself, to show others their worthlessness and the worthlessness of life in general.

Batman is his greatest advisory because the Batman is the only one that can match the Joker’s feelings of terror and worthlessness, though instead of showing others their worthlessness, Batman attempts maintain the illusion of sanity and order for the general population, though he doesn't believe that there is. He is in denial of his pain, desperately trying to keep it all together.
In a way Batman, is his best friend as well. He is one of the only people that is worthy of his friendship, one of the only people that he feels can understands his pain, that can engage him and keep up with him step for step. The only one willing and able to play with him. Maybe he doesn't understand him yet but he will, someday, he will.

Brubaker understands the Joker. In Gotham Central's Soft Targets (#12 - #15, Dec 2003 - Mar 2004) Brubaker writes a great Joker who commits his crimes for the game, the chase and he has the whole of Gotham City Police Department chasing at his heals. Soft Targets starts out with the Joker going on a killing spree, shooting random people just to put the city on alert for fear for their lives.

When that doesn't get the response he wants, he surrenders himself to the police. 

They beat him and he laughs, the more they beat him, the more he laughs. 

It's really interesting how Brubaker has the Joker talking about children, as if his inner child was hurt and all this acting out is because of some pain that he received as a kid. When he talks about how the parents don't care, you get the eerie feeling that he's talking about his own parents not caring, about how he didn't get anything under his Christmas tree.

And when he is tired of that game, he frees himself and kills some cops. 

The Joker is one of the greatest super villains ever created. He is iconic with his clown make-up, something that has proliferated our culture since the Renaissance. And he is sadistic which is at the same time, despicable and yet understandable, being a feeling that many have felt but few willing to admit. He is the only one step removed from Batman with him acting out towards criminals, only the Joker has taken it one step further and made it about society as a whole. 

It’s an epic mythos though one greatly misunderstood by most creators. And Brubaker does it all kinds of justice here to it. Though reading through it I keep getting the feeling that I'm reading Miller/Mazzucchelli's Year Two. There is a gritty realism here that I have only seen before in Batman: Year One. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Year One is a favorite of mine and it's thrilling to see someone take up the reigns that Miller and Mazzucchelli dropped so many years ago. It's awesome that they took over from them. If only others would have such good taste. 


  1. Finally someone gets it, and that's why I'm writing "Interview With The Joker," because I'm tired of pandering to that wimps daddy issues in all this pretty though mis-represented "fan art." I'm an idea man, because it's always been the idea men that "get the joke." Ha. Ha. Ha. -TJ
    PS Let me know if you'd like to get involved.

  2. I can't say that I agree with your interpretation of the character. When Bill Finger created him, he was very much a psychotic killer who killed people for the sake of killing them. His first origin story (also by Bill Finger) had him as a evil criminal mastermind who simply switched from one gimmick (Red Hood) to another (The Joker) after he fell in the chemicals.

    The entire "nihilist with a tragic past" aspect was introduced in The Killing Joke, which came out in the late '80s. While that's a perfectly acceptable interpretation of the character, I don't think it's exactly fair to say that other interpretations "don't understand" him when they're often much closer to how he was originally presented.

    More to the topic, I don't think Gotham Central Joker fits into your interpretation especially well. There's definitely a "child" theme to the character, but I think it's supposed to be more along the lines of Joker being a freakish, psychopathic manchild who thinks killing people is funny than it is him lashing out because he was abused as a child.