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“And he didn’t die all at once. It was hours before the screaming stopped. I almost didn’t get to sleep that night. That was the last time I’d used crushed glass.”
On January 22, 2008, just a few months before the release of The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment after an overdose of prescribed medication. From Malcolm McDowell’s Alex DeLarge to photographs of hyenas, Heath immersed himself in this character and delivered one of the most critically acclaimed portrayals of the Joker, giving the world a taste of the madness and the psychosis of his mind.
With no accurate backstory, the history of this complex character has many versions, all attempting to depict a transformation of a man into The Clown Prince of Crime. But, all the stories work on the same path that establishes The Joker as the greatest villain of all time.
One of the most famous aspects of Joker’s personality that gives us an insight into his character is his interaction with Batman. This relationship between the two forms an imperative part of the storyline which develops into a malignant and destructive affair, leading to the Joker almost being the best man at Batman’s wedding. Determining the very nature and essence of this relationship is a rather difficult task, but we do get some insight into it in Batman: The Killing Joke, where Batman finally refuses to turn Joker in, pointing out the similarities between them, and how at the end of the day, they relate to each other. Batman offers to rehabilitate Joker and help him out but Joker refuses, saying that it is too late for that. This scene ends with the Joker cracking one final joke which makes even Batman crack up and laugh. The very obvious yet complicated exchange between them has been one of the most critically acclaimed works of the writers at DC because of the stark contrast and yet, the subtle similarities exhibited between both the characters.
“I now do what other people only dream. I make art until someone dies. See? I am the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist.”
The manner in which the Joker commits his misdeeds and the way his mind responds to it presents a very twisted and dark side of his personality, and gives us a taste of his diabolical and sinful ways of thinking. This can be traced back to Batman: The Killing Joke, which continues to be one of the most famous animated portrayals of Joker in which Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralysing her from the waist down and thus, ending her stint as Batgirl. In Batman: A Death in the Family, the Joker is seen blackmailing Sheila Haywood, who is the biological mother of Jason Todd, the second Robin. He forces Sheila to hand over her son to him and goes on to beat him up and lock him up along with his mother and a time bomb. The bomb goes off before Jason or Batman can save the day, resulting in the death of Sheila and Jason. These acts are what sets this character apart from other villains: instead of a sinister, crime-loving clown who loves laughing gas and knives, it establishes him as one of the most compelling and strong characters in comic history, capable of scarring even a superhero like Batman.
“I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and makes a six-inch diameter exit wound in you.”
During her time at Arkham Asylum as an intern psychiatrist, Harleen Frances Quinzel first meets Joker, who is a patient there. This is where we get a glimpse of just how terrifying Joker can be. Harleen goes on to volunteer to treat him; but, after he is done with her, we see how he has managed to turn a psychiatrist responsible for his treatment into a person who is just as twisted as him. This is where we are introduced to Harley Quinn, the Joker’s girlfriend and accomplice who helps him escape from Arkham more than once, and who joins him in his crimes; all out of her unconditional love for him. This is also where we start to witness the development of one of the most hauntingly dark and toxic relationships in pop-culture. Quinn goes on to be a defining part of Mr. J and is the only individual capable of bringing out a reaction from the Joker that comes close to qualifying as love or affection for another person. Their relationship gives the audience an insight into just how twisted the human minds can be, while showing us that they are still capable of love.
“Smile, because it confuses people. Smile, because it’s easier than explaining what is killing you inside.”
Analysing the mentality and the psychology of such a complicated character is not a very easy task, but we are still able to see glimpses of just how twisted he is in a few instances. In one of the most intense moments in The Dark Knight when Batman throws the Joker off a building, we see him just laughing hysterically on his way down. In the interrogation scene, he is unfazed when Batman hits him right across his face, mocking him, “Never start with the head, the victim gets all fuzzy…”
The inception of this character has resulted in the development of one of the most complicated and appreciated characters of all time, giving us amazing cinematic performances by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, and even the voice characterization in the video games by Mark Hamill. Now, the Joker is set to be picked up by Joaquin Phoenix in his upcoming movie, with a very promising trailer and a fresh take on this character.
In the Spring of 1940, The Joker was first introduced to the world as a serial-killer who used a toxin to commit murders that left his victims’ faces twisted in such a way that they appeared to be always smiling. Today, he stands out as perhaps the most loved supervillains of all time – a character who is capable of single-handedly destroying minds and lives of people without possessing any kind of superpower. Undoubtedly, he is one of the greatest creations of Bill Finger and Bob Kane. This is a character that pushed all boundaries of what the general idea of a villain was, and forced us to dwell on the psyche of these criminals, just to realize how complicated and marvellous they really are.
“April sweet is coming in, let the feast of fools begin!”