A Descent into Darkness: Inside the Joker's Head
For over 70 years, The Joker has been seen as an icon for not only Batman lore, but madness, insanity, and evil itself. He has been regarded as a personification of chaos and anarchy and one of the most unique villains ever to grace media. His dark humor and persona have taken on various forms over the years with several amazing performances from the likes of Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Mark Hamill, all giving their own spins on the character. He has gone from a homicidal psychopath to a harmless prankster and back to his dark roots in full force in the last decade or so, becoming his now dominant image.
What is it exactly that makes this man tick, however? Why does he not value money, power, or revenge and simply lusts to watch the world burn? Is he legally insane or just an evil abomination hiding behind a mask of insanity for his own ends? Does he actually hate Batman? These are some of the questions that most fans have asked when examining this villain and there have never been any true conclusions based off of concrete evidence. His origins vary from a broken family man, to a stand-up comedian, to a sadistic hit man who eventually started his own gang. The only constant in any Joker tale is this: he is obsessed with Batman.
Why though, why Batman? This is the perfect question to open up with because Joker is truly defined by his eternal battle with Batman; a battle between two legendary icons both born on very bad days and seeking to make a difference in the world. On one side is Batman, who suffered a tragedy and dedicated his life to ensuring that no one would feel the same torment he feels. A man driven by anger and vengeance, but who controls it with his undying sense of moral and discipline, never taking a life, and watching over the people of Gotham each and every night.
On the other side, you have The Joker, a man who also once had a very bad day, the contents of which are varied and mostly unknown. Unlike Batman, however, who tries to see the good in the world and help it, the Joker sees life as a sick little joke with no truly good people within it. Joker sees the true pattern of living every day with rules to be the real insanity of life; going to work every day after hours of traffic for people who don't give a second thought about you, and toiling your life away paying bills and taxes and gratifying others until you are too old to even make it to the bathroom without help. That, to him, is the sick joke of society.
He prefers to watch the world burn and murder as many people as he can for his own, personal amusement. He feels no love for anybody or anything and believes people are just as bad as he is, so why should he feel anything towards them? The world is cruel and we're just here along for the ride says the Joker, so why not have some fun with it? The Joker was alone in this world, just another number in a deck of cards; he never had the honor of being a king or any of those face cards, he was just another carbon copy of others.
Then there was Batman, a man who was like him in so many ways and someone for Joker to focus his inner demons on. The Joker values his battles with Batman above all else as it gives him a reason to get out of bed each and every morning to embark on crime and murder. To Joker, Batman is his straight man who is needed to feel the blunt of his punchlines. Above all else, he wants to break Batman and force him to give up his code of morality, even if that means Batman killing him. The Joker finally had a purpose in life, something to do and enjoy doing every day, and rise up the ranks of the deck until he was a face card finally, one that disrupts the flow of numbers and other faces; a Joker. There's only one in every deck and The Joker now has that honor of being that one of a kind face card.
This is indicative of why Joker does not want money or power; he would be just like the scum of low-class criminals and mobsters. He is above that and wants to fashion himself a new area of criminality that he is the master of. He is the Joker, not a carbon copy of other villains and criminals, so he would never sacrifice that for something as trivial as money and power. The Joker is a man who enjoys what he does, and will use money and power to enlist others, but it is not his goal at the end of the day. Disrupting social order and replacing it with chaos is his goal and what is separating him from every other criminal, allowing him to always retain that Joker card status in the deck.
The Joker now has the attention he craved his whole life, someone to feel the blunt of his dark humor, and a goal in life to focus on every day; to prove that anyone can be corrupted, even Batman. He can now take out all his inner demons from his bad day and unleash them onto the world in madness where every victim is just another number as he used to be. Regardless if it is a man, woman, or child, the Joker's thousands of victims are random, indicative of just how the Joker sees life; unpredictable and unjust. That's the true joke and Batman is trying to save it? Joker can't help but laugh in his face every time he sees the man.
This raises an interesting question, though: does the Joker actually like or hate Batman? Various Joker incarnations have undergone different answers to this question with some seeking to just kill him, while others hate him at first, but come to love their battles with him, and others that became the Joker simply to fight Batman. The answers are varied, but one thing is true in every, single one of them; the Joker finds value in his battle with Batman.
The answer to me is no, Joker definitely does not hate Batman at all. Batman has given Joker a purpose in life, a reason to live; how can Joker hate someone who has given him all that? The Joker sees Batman as a deranged friend and that is the real tragedy of his character if there ever was one. So many people have abused, abandoned, and failed him in his early life, that the closest thing Joker has ever had to a friend is a man who beats him to a pulp on a routine basis. Batman and Joker are the two sides of the same madness that drives them and Batman will always be there for Joker to engage in a battle of wits with.
Joker sees Batman as a man to focus on and someone to break to finally prove his point. He does not hate Batman, but rather his ideals and values and seeks to break them. This can cause frustration at Batman when he is too stubborn for the Joker sometimes, but I believe Joker truly appreciates Batman and loves his battles with him. The Joker sees Batman as a symbol of madness just like him, how else can you explain a man dressing up like a bat jumping off rooftops when he could be at home? He loves that Batman is just like him, but also different in his ideals, giving Joker a true challenge to embark on. For many, a challenge is the ultimate will and motivation to live and the Joker is actually no different in this regard.
One last fascinating question many fans have thought about it is this; Is the Joker actually insane or is that simply just another ploy? The other question that goes along with this is why would Joker fake insanity, what does he have to gain? For one thing, the Joker avoids getting the death penalty, despite murdering thousands of people and committing scores of other crimes, for reason of insanity and is instead incarcerated in Arkham Asylum, Gotham's institute for the criminally insane, to be cured. There, the Joker is a keen manipulator of everyone from the security staff to his own therapists, one of which was seduced by him and became his psychotic plaything and sometimes girlfriend... long story, but everyone at Arkham is a potential victim of his manipulation.
It would seem that Arkham Asylum is the perfect "home" for the Joker where he can easily break out, avoid the death sentence, and form connections with other creatures of the night. Indeed, in some comics, it seems Joker can escape the Asylum at will and just uses the facility as another staging ground for his plans. Obviously, for a human being to actually fool hundreds of state-appointed therapists to believe he is insane when he is really not would require a great deal of cunning and even a genius level intellect, but the evidence supporting this is that Joker has those exact traits. He is a borderline genius who has a great understanding of how people function mentally, knowledge that helps him manipulate easily. Even if he were insane, this trait is still there; the villain does indeed know how to fool others like child's play.
My thought is that, while the Joker definitely has some screws loose, he is hiding behind a mask of insanity to stay in a place he can escape easily. He seems to have no need or longing for a cure and only laughs in the faces of those that try to find one. I know Joker does not truly care if he dies or not, but he would rather be executed by his best friend, Batman, and prove his point that anyone can be corrupted instead of simply being executed by society; he suffered through that already in his early life every day of his miserable existence back then.
There is my attempt to dissect the true madness, or lack thereof, inside this heart of darkness known simply as The Joker. While there will always be unknowns in his character, from his origins to his exact thought process, he is a truly unique villain in not only Batman lore but in media in general. Whatever the conclusions, one thing is for sure: The Joker prides and defines himself in his battles with Batman, the very feud that has given him a purpose in life and allowed him to become this iconic image of madness and anarchy. Take care everyone.