The Joker: the playing card that is thrown out of most decks and seldom used in games. When it is used it is usually “wild.” It is the most distinctive in design; attractive, strange and intricate to the eye. Bob Kane choose wisely when he developed a villain based on the playing card and the love hate relationship we have with clowns. The silent film “The Man Who laughs” was with no doubt a major influence as Kane molded his “Joker.” The film’s star; Conrad Veidt seemed to go deeply into Kane’s psyche as his “Joker” is a near duplicate of the film’s character; Gwynplaine.
A hero is only as intense and compelling as his antagonists. The Joker as imagined by Bob Kane became an instant hit and a star in his own right, unique in the world’s greatest comic book rogues gallery. The Joker even won his own comic book title and was a best seller. He was always a real threat to Batman and anyone that crossed his insane path. Like Batman he has evolved and gone through changes and flowed with the changes in society and the core readership of the comic book fan.
In the lengthy history of the character the Joker has created his own utility belt, a joker-mobile and a lethal laughing gas that causes his victims to laugh themselves to death while leaving the unmistakable distorted grin of “The Joker” on their faces. Within his time The Joker has caused the death of Robin, crippled Batgirl and had many bloody hand to hand (though very much one sided) confrontations with Batman himself. The joker is unquestionably insane but there has always been a true sense of the comic and the ridiculous as part of the character.
Along with Batman The Joker has moved to other mediums. He was a special part of “The Sixties” TV version. Caesar Romero was television’s “Clown Prince of Crime” as he had become known to that generation. He remained in the role throughout the duration of the series and he played the part with much delight. The next screen “Joker” would be Jack Nicholson in the Tim Burton darker, psychologically charged film version. Batman was darker but The Joker kept his sense of humor intact. “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” The Joker ponders as Batman attacks in his “Bat-Wing” stealth flier. This has become one of the funniest and most memorable lines in modern film.
|The Men Who Laughed|
It is with the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films that The Joker has seen his most demented and disturbing incarnation. As envisioned by Nolan and portrayed by the late Heath Ledger “The Joker” is sadistic and vile; a remorseless, soulless beast. His face has the look of the victim of a serious accident or beating. It is disfigured, difficult to look at and devoid of any humor. Nolan’s “Joker” commits an unusual number of mindless, inhuman acts. He kills without discrimination or pause. His sick mind rationalizing everything he does as he explains many times in his dialogue. Sadly a deranged gunman chooses to immulate this “Joker” in real life at the opening of the Nolan film “The Dark Knight Rises.” We continue at this date to mourn the death of twelve individuals and we pray the remaining injured will recover. “Why so serious?” is the question The Joker asks in Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” It is the gravity of the times…perhaps it is the times.
In the comic book world of Gotham City The Joker is Batman’s foil supreme. He is the clown of macabre laughter, mayhem and mirth who contrasts Batman, the man of dedication brilliantly. We go to the realm of imagination to escape a sometimes torturous and senseless world. I hope we can return there again.