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All it takes is one bad day: A deep dive into the mindset of ‘The Joker’

Check out Brendan Rooney's thoughts about the hit comic “Batman: The Three Jokers” from creative duo Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok exploring how the Joker has evolved over time.

21 mins read

Remember a few years ago when ‘Batman’ sat in the Mobius chair during the events of the ‘Darkseid war’ comic event? It was an interesting choice nonetheless. The sequence of the narrative took our stoic, yet mortal hero, Batman and gave him a key to the conundrum he could never solve. 

The premise and identity of who or what his arch-nemesis ‘The Joker’ truly is. Well, this is where things should get simple in premise but it gets a little murky, thanks to the juxtaposition weaved by the response of the Mobius chair. I’m referring to the concept and intrusion of thought surrounding the mystery and intrigue of the three Jokers. It came as a surprise to everyone at that moment. 

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

Then this project was announced with duo Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok being recruited to write and pencil out the mystery which would unfold over the course of three issues. I remember seeking out every source behind this project and would turn to the internet to see if any traction has started. However, it was a slow project that was in constant dismay due to the series getting delayed the majority of its life. Now I want you to flash forward to August 25 of this year. The day has finally come and you pick up the title and notice it’s only the first in a pack of three. 

Then it hits you — how is this possible? ‘The Joker’ has never had an origin or any evidence about his story. When you read the title it immediately grabs your attention with amazing writing from the meticulous mind of Johns and breathtaking art from Fabok. Johns has truly brought his A-game when it came to this title. ‘Three Jokers’ is not only a mystery in ways, but it’s also captivating and will leave you with more questions than answers after you finish. 

Spoilers Ahead!

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

“Batman: Three Jokers” is predicated on the principle of breathing life into the tragedy of three members of the infamous ‘Bat-Family.’ The comic decides to play role management for a majority of the reader’s experience.

First, we are greeted by Batman who has just been in a brawl with the Penguin and he is on the verge of passing out due to blood loss.

This is where the art from Fabok mesmerizes you with a gorgeous array of panels showcasing the injuries and scars that Batman has sustained over the course and longevity of his career. Needless to say, it’s quite a bit. We see scorn marks from the riddler’s cane burning him. You notice the break in his back where bane broke him in two. Which canonizes the events of ‘Knightfall’ in this continuity. 

However, one aspect of this dissection of the character was the immediate flashback of the night where Bruce Wayne died in the mausoleum of crime alley. It may seem pointless to bring up that moment of lore, but Johns has a line of dialogue from Alfred and he says “This wound is deeper than the others.” 

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

The quote conveys, to the reader, that even through all the pain and torture Bruce has endured during the span of his career, it’s clear to see that the death of his parents still haunts him every second of his life. 

Then, just as you think that Johns would keep the spotlight on Bruce getting patched back together, the story transitions to victim number two — Barbara Gordon, also known as the original Bat-girl. She is at a local gym testing her body’s limits. Until something retracts her motion of being. She hears that the Joker has claimed another victim. Then Fabok puts a highlight on the bullet wound of Barbara being crippled during the events that transpired in the ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’. 

Photo courtesy Of DC Comics

Unfortunately, the perspective changes once again now to Red Hood, also known as Jason Todd, who’s in the midst of a brawl with a few Joker guards. It seems like an ordinary panel until you keep reading. Then you notice the remnants and scars of the crowbar that took young Jason’s life during the infamous arc ‘Death in the Family’. 

In all truth, it was quite interesting to see the scars still remained and were weaved into these three after all the encounters with the villain. However, if you have a keen eye at the end of each vignette, a footnote with a number and alias can be shown. 

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

The Joker’s titles are The Criminal, the golden age incarnation of the villain. Then there’s The Comedian, the killing joke version of the character. Lastly there’s The Clown. This incarnation killed Jason Todd. A shocking discovery to say the least but I think the panel of seeing all three versions in the cabin was truly mind-blowing. Not only it gave validation that this character is in fact three different people, but they are all connected to their victims in one aspect. Their scars.

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

Each has a memento wound still left on the connective Bat-family member. Moving on the book consists of expositional dialogue of how the Joker has been spotted all over Gotham and Gordon can’t believe it. 

Due to his rational mindset, there can only be one. If you venture further through the breathtaking art you come to the point where the trio is at the aquarium and Joker has poisoned the water supply with a toxic agent from ACE Chemicals. A fight ensues and Joker’s sidekick, Gaggy (a staple from the golden age) arrives and they engage in combat. 

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

It’s a good exchange and serves as a break from the main plot until it speeds up in quality again towards the closing pages of the novel. Joker number three, The Clown, finds himself captured by Batgirl and Red Hood. They have an exchange discussing how “he looks different” from the other day. This where Johns pulls the reader back in. 

Johns has a dark tone to this version of the clown. He reveals that Jason Todd, when he was begging to die, told ‘Joker’ “stop, please stop and I’ll be your Robin.” A surprising discovery that is sure to have fans debating. Then Jason pulls his gun out and fires. Where in that instance Batgirl misses the bullet. This gives life to an arrangement of panels perfectly illustrated by Fabok that showcase the brutality of the kill and the expression of conflict painted on the face of Batgirl. For a brief instant, she appears to be torn about what just happened. Then the comic ends and it dawns on you that ‘Three Jokers’ is a glimpse and sample of satire comic books. 

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

Then you finish the tale and ask yourself the main question: have you ever really wondered who the Joker really is? 

Due to the fact we have just discovered this iconic character is actually three different people, I ask once again: who is ‘The Joker’ or what made him into the clown prince of crime? Well, if you are still interested, I ask you to join me on a trip descending into the psychological observation of the subconscious of the comic-book villain.

The only origin we have recorded of the Joker is in the novel “The Killing Joke,” by Alan Moore. Moore paints and illustrates a period piece of the underbelly of Gotham City. The timeline is a little fuzzy but the artwork of Brian Bolland and the tone and direction of writing from Moore brings the graphic novel to life. 

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

The clown was just a normal person trying to get by, struggling to pay bills, and living in a run-down apartment. Interestingly enough, he was never given a name in the novel. Joker had a wife pregnant with his child. The emotion was painted on the panels and he was terrified internally. So, to alleviate the pain dragging down his well being, he soon made a choice that would affect his life by turning to the mob. The man was tasked with being the fall guy. He was also given a new code name — Red Hood.

Then you know the history that follows. Batman chases him and Joker falls into the vat of acid at ACE Chemicals. The chemical bath changes his mind and personality, peeling away at the persona that was once present. Now all that is left is the poor tortured soul plagued by society. A man with pale white skin and the affinity to bring laughter in horrific fashion. The question to bring forth into context: Does he truly have any sliver of memory before undergoing his monumental cosmetic change? 

The answer is a tricky one. To understand the mindset of the Joker you have to understand the other incarnations of the character. In Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS), where the clown is brought to life by Mark Hamil, he seduces the mind of Arkham Psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quinzel. He makes up a fabricated backstory of him and his father going to the circus simultaneously stating he grew up in an abusive household. This new “truth” is quickly dismissed as false fact. Then Batman tells Harley that Joker has a million stories, just further exploring the identity crisis hiding beneath the pale skin of a clown clad in a purple tuxedo with a top hat to match. 

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros animation

In addition to the critically acclaimed BTAS, the Arkham-verse from rocksteady stands on its own, being told time and time again that it’s a separate canon from the cartoon. Many would coin it as a continuation of the animated series due to the inclusion of the original remaining cast voicing the iconic roles. Kevin Conroy as the Caped Crusader, and Hamil as the Joker. The game even brought back the talented Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. 

This is a darker, grittier version of Gotham City. A world that is woven together by the seeds of Arkham spanning a timeline of Arkham Origins all the way to the night the Batman died on Arkham Knight. The games touch on certain Joker centric moments and thematic events leading the clown down the path to destiny. 

Photo courtesy of Rocksteady Studios

Joker continuously commits roles of unspeakable action, such as showcasing the events of ‘Killing Joke’ and crippling Batgirl, to referencing the comic ‘A death in the family,’ which leads to the execution of Jason Todd. It just goes to show that the Joker is just a person who wants to see the world burn. 

“The Joker represents many things and it is the filmmaker/comic writer’s responsibility to depict the character in a way that never idolizes what he stands for”

Joseph Torres

It boils down to the justification that every incarnation or vision of the Joker is different in almost every aspect. It could change from the tone or sense of realistic nature, being a social commentary brought to the light in the comics. Allegories into the mind of the writer stepping into the shoes of the Clown Prince of Crime. 

However, the inclusion of a name could complete the tragedy and give something to the audience to sympathize with. An idea director Todd Philips weaved for a darker realistic take of the ‘Joker.’ The film premiered in 2019 and starred Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck. A man drove to insanity by the corrupt and evil society around him. The film is a blend of color tones and wonderfully crafted shots that incorporate no CGI. 

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros

Reflecting on the ‘Joker film,’ I loved the laugh. Phoenix was terrifying. Another sense of praise was the stunning visuals. Even still after watching this film multiple times the only sense of context I could piece together is that it’s a period piece like the Killing Joke. Also, the mention of social commentary on those afflicted and plagued by mental illness could be brought to the forefront. 

“I don’t believe that in the real world if you fell into a vat of acid you would turn white and have a smile and your hair would be green. So you start backward-engineering these things and it becomes really interesting”

Todd Philips

The acting was phenomenal, hence why Phoenix won an oscar for his performance. One aspect I enjoyed about this film was that Phoenix felt like a combination of major versions of the character.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros

For example, his laugh has hints and moments of Mark Hamil. His color scheme feels reminiscent of Cesar Romero from ‘Batman 66’ and the outfit, along with the makeup, pays homage to Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight’. 

Just one gripe I had was how could you make a ‘Joker’ movie work without his moral juxtaposition of the Dark Knight. ‘The Joker’ needs ‘Batman’ to thrive. It’s like Heath Ledger said: “anarchy needs order.” 

Photo courtesy of DC Comics

Essentially meaning Batman needs Joker and vice versa. Of course it was intriguing to see this character be dissected on a level that was vital to the foundation and future of the icon going forward. 

The Joker is the most important villain in all of literature. There’s something about him that resonates with the reader and fans alike. Every version of the character will be different because it just depends on the vision and direction of the narrative. It’s the director and writer’s job to cement themselves into the mindset of The Clown Prince of Crime, thus explaining the perfect reason why the Joker’s real name should never be revealed due to the role of human psychology. For example, you know “how anybody could be Spider-Man and wear the mask”. Well, anyone could be the Joker because all it takes is one bad day to descend into the madness that awaits.  

After reading ‘Batman: Three Jokers’ I felt like something was out of place or the narrative was too simple. Now, of course, that being said The Joker and Batman are two of the most popular icons in pop-culture.

Photo courtesy of DC Comics animation and The Hollywood Reporter

However, the sudden reveal of multiple versions almost takes away from the appeal and mystery of the villain. Of course, then again, it is only the first book and all I can do now is wait for the arrival of the second installment in September. 

If I had to give a rating for this first installment I would honestly give 4 Joker cards out of 5.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Photo courtesy of DC Comics

So I ask, did you enjoy the title and how do you feel about the concept of the Joker? Do you think the direction of the character should be left to the higher power bringing him to life? Let me know in the comments.

Also, list your favorite version of the character in the comments. 

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