"The Joke's On Us"
Author: Nick Perkins (Follow: @WESTERNREBEL)
Date: October 12, 2015
It’s been a helluva day.
In addition to your own workload, you’re forced to oversee the work of countless others. You don’t complain; that’s the job you signed up for, but you sure do look forward to that drink waiting for you when you get home. Finally, you’re able to sit down. You take a drink and reflect on the day. You make small talk with your daughter, who is looking more and more like her mother every day. You didn’t do too many things right in your marriage but, looking now at your daughter, you know you at least did something right. She is the greatest thing you’ll ever do.
The doorbell rings, she goes to answer it. The door opens. Screams, a gunshot. Laughter. He emerges, a painted nightmare. You’re knocked unconscious and when you wake up, you’re naked and tied up. He stands in front of you and throws a stack of pictures at you. They’re of your daughter. She, too, is naked. Is she dea-…No. You won’t believe it. You refuse to let your mind go there.
But it does anyway.
She was the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. When you were first introduced to her, at some work function or another, you almost couldn’t speak. You shook her hand and mumbled incoherently for a brief moment before finally telling her your name and asking for hers. From that moment on, you knew you were going to marry this woman.
Fast forward 6 months. You’ve worked together all day, every day on what is presumably the biggest case of both of your careers. Your office is full of Chinese food boxes and coffee remnants. Despite the importance of this case, you’ve found your mind drifting to her time and time again. There’s something about her, something you just can’t quite describe. She’s the kind of pretty that gives boys butterflies. Finally, you muster up the courage to ask her to dinner. She hesitates and you make her a deal. You pull out a coin- your lucky one. Heads, she goes out with you and tales she doesn’t. You flip for it and your fate is sealed forever.
When you come to, you’re tired to a chair. You hear her calling your name, calling for help. What is going on? Where are you? More importantly, where is she? The last thing you remember was talking with a police officer, before being struck in the back of your head. Now you’re tied up and there are keg drums of gasoline surrounding you. But none of that is important. What’s important is getting to her. You call out her name. You speak briefly, trying to figure out what is happening. Then it happens. She says yes. This woman whom you have loved since the moment you met her told you that she would be your wife. You know that you’re going to die, but it doesn’t matter. You would rather die knowing she loved you than live knowing she didn’t.
A flash. An explosion. You’re on fire and on the verge of losing consciousness. Right before you do, you think of her.
She said yes.
You never saw him coming. This was strange, because you see everything coming. Your mind was clouded though, because you were at The Place. This was the place that your life was changed forever. You hated the place, yet you were continually drawn to it. This was, for all intents and purposes, where you were born. Because it was where they died.
You see a figure at the car. A boy, not much older than you were when your parents were murdered in front of you, not ten feet away from where you stand now, is attempting to steal the wheels. You stand behind him, just watching for a moment. The boy is good. He’s fast. He’s thorough. Finally, he notices the shadow you cast over him. He stands to look at you and gulps. Then, he puffs out his chest, sticks out his chin and says, “So, you’re The Batman huh?” A beat, then “I’m not scared of you.”
He’s been getting out of control. His rage is building and if he’s not careful, it’s going to consume him. You took him under your wing and into your care to mentor him, to teach him…to save him. You wanted to save him from a world that could very easily consume him. More than that, you wanted to save him from himself. For a while, it worked. He trained. He learned. He was a good soldier. But more and more often now, his rage led him to make decisions that could get him killed and now he’s missing.
Days pass, then weeks. You haven’t heard from him. Finally, you get a lead. He’s across the world, searching for his mother. What he doesn’t know is who his mother is working for. You knew this. That’s why you forbade him from seeking her out. But he went against you and now you must get to him before he does.
You’ve finally narrowed down his location. You rush to get to him, but you’re afraid you’re too late. You pull up to the location and jump off your motorcycle before it even stops. You run to the tent and are greeted with a thunderous explosion. When it is over, you rise up and scan the rubble. Then, you see him.
His body is broken. His costume is torn. His eyes are closed. His heart is not beating. You take him into your arms, and hold him close to your body. You don’t cry, you never cry, but you are heartbroken. You promise to him, and to yourself that you will avenge his death and that you will never let this happen to anyone ever again. You look at him and you see the boy that you first encountered on that night, so many years ago. Your brother. Your son. Your partner.
75 years ago, the world was introduced to a concept. This concept consisted of many details and many characteristics. This concept took the form of a man, and we call that man The Joker.
The Joker has been around almost as long as Batman and he is arguably just as (in)famous. Comic books, television shows, movies and more have been dedicated to The Clown Prince of Crime. We wear his T-shirts. We play as him in video games. We laugh at his jokes. But would we be laughing that easily, if the joke were on us?
What if it was your daughter that was paralyzed by The Joker? What if it was your wife or your partner that was murdered by The Joker? This man, this concept, has done many truly despicable acts. His “jokes” have filled graveyards, yet for some reason, we still cheer him on. We still dress like him on Halloween. We still love him. Why is this?
The obvious, and easiest, answer to this question is because he isn’t real. He’s a fictional character. Nothing he does matters because he’s doesn’t exist in the “real world.” Thus, it’s easy to write off his actions and actually enjoy him.
But, numerous literary villains are not beloved. Anton Chigurh isn’t in a bunch of video games. Nobody wants to be John Doe from Se7en on Halloween (Except…how awesome would that costume be? Especially if you carried around a box with you). People aren’t lining up to buy t-shirts featuring Annie Wilkes or Nurse Ratched. We despise these characters. We cheer when Brad Pitt shoots John Doe or when Jack Nicholson tries to strangle Nurse Ratched. We don’t hope they show up in the sequel. The Joker is a rare breed, in that he has gained popularity for his notoriety. He joins the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees- characters who we usually cheer for in the movies. The only difference is, Jason and Freddy kill annoying teenagers who pretty much deserve it. The Joker kills your wife.
Another way to justify why we love Joker so much is because he’s funny! That’s like, his whole thing right? He’s The Joker. He jokes. Hahaha and the like. Problem is, he’s not all that funny.
Just based on his (probable?) origin alone, The Joker is a failed standup comedian. The whole reason he had to break into ACE Chemicals in the first place was because comedian gigs weren’t paying the bills. Are we to believe that after a dip in a chemical bath he suddenly became the 2nd coming of George Carlin or Bill Cosby (Well, Cosby is also a monster, sooo…)? No. They say that comedy is tragedy plus time, but this is ridiculous. I can only think of a handful of times that The Joker was actually funny, and two of those times involved Jack Nicholson dancing to Prince.
“But, but…” you cry out vehemently. “But it’s Batman! Batman makes everything cooler!”
This is true. But why don’t we care as much about The Riddler? Why was BATMAN RETURNS the only interesting portrayal of The Penguin (Yeah, suck it Jett)? Why are the only other costumes we see on Halloween Catwoman and Harley Quinn (Because it’s hard for girls to be “Sexy Mr. Freeze”)?
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are drawn to The Joker in ways that we aren’t with any other villain in history. This is why, no matter how many robins he hunts, we’ll still buy his action figure. No matter how many friends he cripples, we’ll still ask people “why so serious?” No matter how many civilians he infects with his toxin even after he’s dead, hoping to turn them into his own Joker Army, we’ll still download his DLC.
I wish I knew why we are so enthralled with The Joker. I wish I could understand why we are so mesmerized by this concept. I wish I could explain why we have loved this character for 75 years.
The only answer I could come up with came after watching BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER. In this film, Joker infects Tim Drake with a toxin that will eventually transform him into Joker himself. That’s when it clicked for me.
Maybe, just maybe we love this character so much because there’s a little bit of Joker inside all of us.
And that is why The Joke is on us. - Nick Perkins