Monday, September 02, 2013

The grim jester called... The Joker!

When people talk about whether or not Batman should ever kill, the discussion inevitably comes around to the Joker, a homicidal maniac who continually breaks out of custody to murder again and again. The government is helpless to stop him, so the only way for someone to end his terror is to end his life.

Batman seems tailor-made for the job. He's outside the law, has a supposedly unquenchable thirst for vengeance, and has experienced in very close, personal ways the Joker's capacity for murder. He knows without doubt that this is an unrepentant person incapable of rehabilitation who will only be stopped by being killed. That Batman's "code" prevents him from doing what needs to be done is frankly a massive impediment to suspending disbelief about the dark knight and his world.

One way of relieving this untenable tension is to ease off on the Joker's murderous impulses. I like the Silver Age Joker who was more interested in pulling off capers with panache than spreading terror, but that's not exactly true to the character's Golden Age roots. As presented in Batman #1 (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson), the Joker is definitely interested in showing off, but he's just as into murder. The original Joker isn't a fun character, he's a horrifying madman.

He's also a massive hit and his creators seem to know it. He appears in two stories in Batman #1; jailed at the end of the first one and... well, we'll look later at what happens in the next. But I'm curious to see how the Golden Age storytellers kept the Joker around before Batman's "code" created an easy, ridiculous out.

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