Batman: White Knight #1 (DC Comics)
It’s interesting. The Joker, I mean.
He’s nearly as old a character as Batman, debuting only a few years into Batman’s run as a character. He started as a sneaky killer who could get to people anywhere back in the early days, when Batman was as much a killer as the criminals he hunted. As the Bat solidified as a character and stopped killing and using guns, so the Joker also solidified into something more and, like the Bat, something easy to write badly or to write well by accident.
We’ve said this before, but the Bat isn’t about revenge – if he was, he would have stopped after finding his parent’s killer. The Batman is about protection, about making sure that no one else ever has to suffer the trauma that a young child suffered when his parents were murdered in front of him. He is, in a very real well, trying to instill order on a broken world. He tries to build and has a goal, a nigh impossible but achievable one.
The Joker works as his antithesis because the Joker is complete and utter entropy.
He’s chaos for its own sake, the destruction of systems for no reason other than to kick them over. He doesn’t even care what happens afterward, he just wants to destroy everything for the sake of casual destruction and because the world is a joke. Through the eyes of the Joker, civilization itself is a game of make-believe that we delude ourselves into playing, and anarchy is the truth that he pushes. His sanity is insane.
And he’s easy enough to twist and turn regardless of what society demands of him. He survives the comic code authority and retains his character because he doesn’t care about dignity, morality, or what anyone thinks – his only concern is the man in the cowl and dragging that man down to a place where he, too, sees the stark raving truth that is the heart of the character: every single thing that we imagine ourselves to be is a lie.
The Joker languishes in that place where the very worst human impulses deny everything we build. He’s patient zero, an infection more than a man, as inhuman as the Batman himself.
We’ve seen a few places where the Joker tries to be good, or someone takes the name and tries to do good with it. Some of them are better than others. But this…?
This might work.
Here, writer and artist Sean Murphy presents a Joker that has been cured of his madness while still keeping his perspective. He sees the joke of things but is now working to fix the damage he sees, but he’s still cracked and tainted by his vision. He’s trying to make amends and do better, facing down the mind-shattering horror he once embodied, and a big part of that is pitting himself against a Batman that has lost all compassion, all reason, all mercy…
Batman stories are, at their core, tragedies. Bruce can fight with everything in him and never win, not really, because he’s facing the force the Joker embodies. But if that champion changes than the Bat can as might, the symbols becoming muddied until the only thing that can purify either of them is the other. Sean’s got some experience with that kind of story – witness his work in Punk Rock Jesus – and it could be aces here.
It will be aces here. We’re in the midst of a Bat renaissance right now, with all the Bat-comics being about the best they’ve ever been, and this title is going to bring something fresh and new to the table. Do not miss it.