Why The Joke Is Always On Batman

The best scene in any Batman story line is when the dark knight has captured the Joker and lets him dangle like a rag doll from his fists while he decides what to do with him. Batman stands erect, a tall muscular line silhouetted against the sky, while the Joker slumps in a tacky suit with a plastic flower on the lapel. But he is not afraid. An awkward smile stretches like a scar across his face. He is embarrassed for everybody.


These are the moments where it is revealed that the struggle between Batman and the Joke will never end, not because they are equally matched, but because the conflict is a sham. When Joker fights the Batman, it can take no other shape than a war between law and chaos. But because Batman is a vigilante, the law he represents is lawlessness. Likewise, the chaos of the Joker is often the only justice for those whose wealth and influence hold them above the law. The battles between the two represents all the social push and pull out of which Gotham itself is created.

Whatever any particular manifestation of the Joker wants, it’s clear that he is the natural product of the entitlements, the perversions, and the cold indifference of Gotham City. As such, it is impossible for one to exist without the other. In this sense, the Joker cannot be killed, he cannot really even be incarcerated because isolating him from the general populace is somehow meaningless.

So what then can Batman do with the Joker once he catches him? As long as he’s free, it’s clear the Joker is a diabolical force that must be stopped. But once you take away his weapons, it becomes equally clear the Joker is a sick man in need of help.

The only choice, even if it does not represent a real hope, is for rehabilitation. In a sense, Arkham Asylum was built with the Joker in mind. But its existence is even madder than the criminals it contains. It simultaneously demonstrates the Joker must be cured and the Joker cannot be cured. Because Gotham has no interest in being anything other that what Gotham is, the Joker too cannot change.

Instead, Arkham has a single, very necessary function in Gotham’s life cycle: to be the place for the Joker to plot his next exploit. His insanity is sponsored by the municipal dollar. This is on purpose, and it’s money well spent.

Every time Batman captures the Joker, it can never be a moment of justice. Instead, it is the extremely awkward instance when the clown prince of crime has to once again explain the joke to Batman, that the two of them are simply a charade. Batman can no more beat him than a snake can devour its own tail.

You have to put the Joker down, Batman. You have to give him another chance. This is a forgone conclusion.

Because the moment you kill the Joker, you yourself will start to find death just a little bit funny.

These are the best moments in the story lines, because Batman comes face-to-face with the fiction of his own existence. Where despite having his most dangerous enemy at his mercy, it is he himself who is helpless.

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