Editors Robert Moses Pleaslee and Robert G. Weiner assert in the introduction that of all the comicbook villains, the Joker stands head and shoulders as the most memorable. I imagine he has a laugh about that, too. The runner-up is Marvel’s Magneto, so it would be interesting to see a serious book on the magnetic mutant sometime.
However, for the moment we have ‘The Joker: A Serious Study Of The Crown Prince Of Crime’, with 16 essays examining the Batman’s arch-enemy. Oddly, most of the emphasis is the Joker’s career in the films as depicted by Cesar Romero but especially Jack Nicolson and Heath Ledger. When it comes to comicbook, one essay by Roy T. Cook is more interested in the length of the Joker’s teeth. Those that focus on his four-colour career, have focused more on his later career than his overall history.
Generally, all super-heroes and super-villains have evolved over the decades and these writers seem surprised this also includes the Joker as if he should be immune to change. Part of the Joker’s softening leading to the mid-60s was largely because he was popular and having him kill all the time wouldn’t have been a good idea but it also reduced his use. If anything, comicbook writer Steve Englehart gets it right in the foreword, describing the Joker’s role in life is upsetting the Batman in as many insane ways as possible.
Other aspects of the Joker and how he’s affected the society at large is interesting. I hadn’t realised how much effect the Tea Party had with making Obama’s image as the Ledger Joker which was practically nothing over here. In many respects, the ‘V For Vendetta’ mask has had a stronger impact in my opinion.
The analysis of Harley Quinn by Tosha Taylor is nearly spot-on, although she did miss out on the fact that she does frequently also team-up up Poison Ivy and they’ve had some comicbook mini-series together.
Richard D. Heldenfels observation that the Joker is more intent in not destroying Batman but the system he is protecting is also very astute. It’s a good thing he’s never made the connection to a certain multi-billionaire although think of the conflict that would cause in him. He needs to keep Batman after him and that needs a certain amount of wealth and if he destroyed the source of that wealth badly then no more Dark Knight.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Ryan Litsey was looking at the wrong character comparing the Nietzsche superman to the Joker which is over-complicating things. More so, as I’ve never heard of any comicbook writer using Nietzsche as their source for villainy.
What no one hits on is coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. People might have it only slightly but it can have equal measures of attraction and fear and the Joker certainly relies on the later to get his way.
I do have to wonder if the Joker’s appeal would widen had he targeted other super-heroes, even if it was purely because they were getting in his way with his obsession with the Batman. Then again, DC Comics tend to keep their galleries of villains confined to any particular super-hero than spread them around like Marvel Comics does.
Although I have been critical of some aspects of this book, there is certainly a lot to learn and even if you argue against some points it shows you’re thinking. I can’t help think that there’s too much emphasis on the two main Batman films with the Joker as the villain, with them forgetting that these are distilled from the comicbooks. Granted more people have seen the films than read any of the Batman titles for an extended time but there’s a fair bet that comicbook readers would pick up this book and would seek out more. It isn’t as though the material isn’t out there, even in book collections.
One last thing, don’t have the Joker on your friends’ list. He always gets the last laugh.
(pub: University Press Of Mississipi. 261 page indexed enlarged hardback. Price: £28.50 (UK), $30.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4968-0781-6)