“Oooh, The Dark Knight is such a good movie! And the *Joker*, man, was AWESOME!”
Everyone and their sibling who has seen the movie has said this, in some form or another, over the last month. Even I said it, and I have issues with the portrayal of female characters* and the annoyingly artistic camerawork**. Every time someone says “magic trick” I twitch.
The fandom has been saying the same thing, usually with much handwaving and references to things like “The Killing Joke” and when fansquee*** meets normal people, normal people get a glazed look in their eyes.
What normal people don’t get is that fangirls like myself are not consuming this media project in a vacuum. We are measuring it against 68 years of media that has come before it, and some can argue that we’re actually measuring it against all media since someone stood up in Sumeria and started telling a story about Gilgamesh and his sidekick Enkidu fight the boss Humbaba.
Chris from Chris’ Invincible Super-Blog spends a lot of time thinking about Batman. He and I share in the fact we spend a lot of time thinking about what we’d do if we were attacked, too, although he focuses more on ninjas while my focus is OMGZOMBIES! But more specifically, he recently asked himself this question:
Looking at the character today, it’s obvious that he’s not only Batman’s arch-nemesis, but that more than any other villain, he’s evolved alongside his opposite number to become something more. In a review of Dark Knight, Ken pointed out that comics–especially DC–are built around archetypes. Superman, for instance, isn’t just a good man with super-powers, he’s a symbol of everything that’s good and selfless with a face and a logo on his chest, and as much as Batman’s come to symbolize the relentless, single-minded pursuit of justice, the Joker’s done the same, becoming chaos itself. As Ken says, he doesn’t believe in chaos, he is chaos. He’s less a criminal and more a force of nature.
The question I’ve been mulling over, then, is why it’s the Joker and not someone else.
Chris doesn’t bust out the ancient literature references, probably because he wasn’t a history major (history majors are fonts of esoteric and useless knowlege that they will bust out at the drop of a hat. Actually, I think it can be argued that history majors were the first fandom) However, despite my little fall into desperately attempting to justify my college studies, Chris analyzes all of the Joker’s portrayals from 1940 to the present, even dipping his toe briefly into the pool that is the Batman tv show from the 1960s and Batman: The Animated Series. It is a beautiful piece of writing, and really delves into why the Joker from The Dark Knight film is a distillation of all the Jokers who have gone before, and how the Joker evolved into what he is today, on screen.
I think it also lays out the foundation for a good argument that, while most of the normal folks out there are saying that Heath’s performance was a pinnacle, that it’s actually just a jumping-off place. The Joker isn’t going anywhere. Even when he’s dead, he’s still around, in the back of our minds, biding his time.
As lont as there’s a Batman, there will always be a Joker.
*HELLO! BARBARA WAS RIGHT THERE! Why didn’t she get any of the hero worship, considering who she grows up to be and her connection to the Batman, let alone THE JOKER!?!?! Also, RENEE MONTOYA was nowhere to be found. I HEART RENEE. BRING IN RENEE!
**I’m one of the most oblivious people in the history of ever when it comes down to the mechanics of moviemaking. So if a scene jumps out at me and screams “Look at me! I’m a cineographic ARTISTE!” then you know it’s pretty stinkin’ blatant.
*** A murder of crows. A herd of elephants. A squee of fans.