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*He is not a secret agent. Not at all.



The Joker has always been one of my favorite characters ever, despite the fact that there are as many versions of him as there cards in a deck and most of them are just ridiculous. I am very critical of how he is used. I'm terribly possessive of him in an unhealthy way.

In the early seventies, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers created "The Laughing Fish," a story that has repeatedly been called The Definitive Joker Story. Denny O'Neil had just recast the Joker has having his own insane logic at work, not just having a clowny theme, and also imbued him with his casual attitude toward human life in such way not seen since his earliest days, if, really, at all. These guys were cementing that and refining it.

It's best exemplified by his off-handed way of pushing one of his own henchmen in front of a truck for his failure to be sufficiently amused by the boss's cracks. That was a new thing, then.

It's also since been made into an episode of the outstanding Batman Animated Series of the nineties. And while, less rampantly murderous, owing to the kiddies, still one of the few versions of him to really come correct in my mind.

In the eighties, Alan Moore, though thinking his own story is shite, nonetheless re-redefined him after several years of misuse since "The Laughing Fish," in "The Killing Joke." Also, for the first time, giving him a back story. Though one that has been, at times, taken to literally. One of the best parts of the character is he just is. The only fact about him was that Batman, inadvertently, created his own arch-nemesis. The Joker is an unreliable narrator, and while an excellent origin (which you'll have to read, I'm not recounting it for you), it should not be taken as the gospel.

In that last paragraph, there lies the biggest problem with the Joker. He's either a Royal Flush, or he's just a pair. And Royal Flushes don't get dealt out that frequently. Very few writers, for my money, have gotten the Joker to my satisfaction. I'm not saying that the only right version of the Joker is how I see him, but it is.

The fifties and early sixties were, surely, a bad time for the Clown Prince. They weren't great for Batman either. Both were just grinning cartoon versions of the characters that had only been created a decade earlier and in a decidedly darker, pulpier fashion. And that bore the Dozier TV series with Adam West.

And since the laughing fish, it's been consistently inconsistent. Some really get him and some don't. It's best when, for years at a shot, the Joker simply doesn't turn up in the comics. Let him come to the story rather than taking the story to him. Then, inevitably, he turns up anywhere and everywhere and frequently handled poorly.

I won't get into the ones I loathe, I will just mention (as I move off the comics topic) that the most recent Joker story that I felt nailed him with the fury of a meth-addled Bob Vila was the "sniper" storyline ("Soft Targets") in Gotham Central by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker. It's also, Batman-free. These are regular cops having to deal with him. It's totally Homicide meets the Clown Prince of Crime.

Jack Nicholson's Joker, to me, is an abomination. In fact, I'm not really a fan of Tim Burton's Batman movies. Flicks in which Batman is a supporting character, but with the Joker, he was stripped of everything that really made him what he is. As the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents, the creator/creation roles are reversed as to become humdrum, and it maims Bruce's drive to eradicate crime because it really, if only subconsciously, is now all about the Joker.

And he was just Jack in clown shoes. He never really seemed insane, it seemed more just an act with him. And that "Did you ever dance..." line. That never fit. It was just wrong.

Now, there is talk of an Oscar nomination for someone playing the Joker.

To be continued...
©2024 Michael Patrick Sullivan
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