scan002

Somebody must have mentioned it at the time. I’m sure I missed it. I mean, how could that little image in the right hand of the panel go unnoticed?

If I’m honest, I’ve always felt a little afraid of tackling a Joker review. The Harlequin one, in case any of you didn’t notice, was my little roundabout stab at it. But then Zom and I started to discuss a new type of Rogue’s post; one that, now we’ve had a bit of practice, was up for braving the unknown and transforming what other bloggers have described as ‘specks’ – Z-list characters and throwaway ideas languishing in the corner of the page – into living, breathing potential properties.

And what better way to start than with a future Joker.

But first of all a bit of dissing.

I don’t have a link to it, but a couple of weeks back I found my way to another blog hating on the whole Joker as super-MPD suffererer thing. The author of the piece argued, as far as I’m concerned unconvincingly, that the Joker’s just a common or garden loon. Well the guy’s entitled to his opinion – and he certainly doesn’t have to endorse Grant Morrison’s take – but I feel very strongly, well as strongly as anyone can feel about these things who likes to imagine they have a life, that to ignore the spooky, mysterious, even paranormal qualities of the character is to render him utterly ineffective, for reasons I assume would be pretty obvious to most of us. It doesn’t have to be directly referenced in the text, it can be as subtle as Miller’s ‘something rustles inside him as it leaves’, but Alan Moore had it right when he had the security guard comment – ‘There’s something supernatural about that one….’

Or was it Moore? I can’t remember. If you care about it, we’re not friends anyway.

The Joker is a classic horror movie baddy in that his motivations and psychology are totally out there, baffling even the Caped Crusader. There’s a reason why he’s Batman’s greatest foe and that’s because, if it really came down to a Lump-style mind-war between the two, it’s genuinely hard to say who would win. His raging sea of a mind is as difficult to figure out as Batman’s indomitable will. And these ideas aren’t new to either of the character’s – they didn’t originate with RIP – they’ve been an integral part of our understanding of Batman and the Joker since at least the seventies. Shit, the Joker, like it or not, has been played as having a super-psychosis for as long as most of us can remember. It’s intrinsic to who he is – the reason why he’s a supervillain – and it certainly doesn’t rob him of the fun factor. No, no, no; it opens up all sorts of great possibilities.

Picture the scene: 25 years into the future, a good mile or so from New Arkham Asylum, an armed fortress now waaaay out of town, a gang of 17 year olds are prising the wooden boards from the windows of an abandoned house straight out of your average, white picketed teen movie. But this is the house at the end of the street, the creepy one from the ‘Burbs or Fright Night, and it’s been abandoned for decades – the estate agents just can’t seem to shift it. There are stories, you see. Old man Nelson was the last to own it and he left the place leering and screaming, and he was creepy enough. Listening from the top of the stairs when their parents thought they were asleep, two of our foolhardy young protagonists, twins, would catch snatches of their parents discussing in hushed tones how, when they were young, Mr. Nelson fortified the house with iron bars and even reinforced the front door with metal plating. And If anyone was crazy enough to venture close to it, he’d always find them hiding there in the weed strewn garden, or crouched behind the dustbins, as though he had some kind of sixth sense.

‘Begone! Leave this place!’

he would bellow, and the children didn’t need telling twice.

Then there were the noises at night: wailing, laughter, muffled chanting. The local folklore was that Nelson was some kind of black magician. Maybe even a devil worshipper. There were even rumours of secret tunnels, caverns, beneath the house……

If only they knew.

If they had known, the twins and their friends wouldn’t be downstairs, in the basement, showing off in front of their girlfriends, inspite of the black explosion of flapping, biting monsters (some of the kids were sure they’d seen them before on some nature documentary) bursting from behind the door when they wrenched it open. Their flickering torchlight wouldn’t have fallen on the trapdoor in the corner of the room; the one scrawled with graffiti – strange, winged shapes whorling in and out of each other, echoing the form of the room’s previous inhabitants – the one David is working on with the crowbar right now.

Because the kids can hear something down there, blurry and indistinct, but getting clearer, as David makes short work of reeking, ancient timber.

Laughter.

The rest is a blur.

Many years later, when he was an old man, when he finally found the words to speak about it, David told his wife how the walls convulsed with the sound, as though the children had somehow tumbled into a giant’s mouth. How everything…flexed and contorted, and Alison and Therese collapsed on the ground; a terrible cackling noise erupting from their stomachs in stereo with the shrieking emanating from the tattered hole he’d carved and stamped into the floor. The hole that gnashed and grabbed at the air. He described how the other children managed to scramble back upstairs and into the street, while he stood, transfixed, horrified, as bony white fingers scrabbled out from under the brick work….

…and the giggling monster dragged itself up and out of its decades long prison, dusted down its purple suit, its glaring, disembodied grin fixing him to the spot.

‘HOWOWHOWDY there, Davy!’

After that, darkness.

That was all he could remember. His sister never recovered, Therese vanished except for a forensic outline drawn in red lipstick, and the rest of the kids suffered from bizarre phobias for the rest of their lives: clowns, David Bowie, toothpaste adverts

The house burnt down, as these places so often do, and when the ruins were excavated for Therese’s body, they found the sign. It was old, buried nigh on 20 years, but you could just about make sense of the lettering: Arkham Asylum, home for the criminally insane.

The background to the story is only available on the batcomputer: shortly after the Joker died in his cell, Bruce Wayne was contacted by Dr. Fate and the Gotham city occult community. There was concern about disturbances in the deeper, sunken levels of the asylum; outbreaks of what had come to be known as smiley-sickness, weird growths that resembled teeth growing out of the walls, warders’ hair spontaneously turning green. And the laughter. Some of these strange phenomena had a frivolous, pranksterish quality, but other aspects possessed a far more lethal bent. Bruce was old, he knew his time was almost up, and he had to put his psychotic playmate down forever. And so he and Fate and the rest drew up a plan. Bruce Wayne funneled his fortune into a new asylum, insisting the old one be knocked down, ostensibly to make way for the early twenty first century urban sprawl, but in reality to cement the spirit trap. Fate, Kent Nelson, was to act as guardian, his house (Wayne oversaw much of the redevelopment) the bolthole protecting Gotham from the epicentre of the poltergiest phenomenon, ground zero, the Joker’s cell. Fate sealed the Joker’s suit inside (his bones had mysteriously vanished) and placed wards on the only entrance. The effort was enormous. At night he would struggle with the fiend’s ghastly shade, eventually only to be driven stark, staring mad by their conflict. But not before he silenced the monster forever.

Or so he thought.

The rest is history (or is it? The Joker always did like to lie about his past and this time the world’s going all silly-putty in his hands….).

Slightly cheesy fan fiction aside, you could have a lot of fun with this new, cheshire grinned Joker iteration. To begin with, there’s a wonderful, simple poetry to it. Like the cat’s before him, the Joker’s smile lingers… His essence suspended in the air long, long after his body evaporates. Not only that but it embodies Batman’s, and our, worst fear: that the Joker will not die. That he really is like Freddy, or Jason, and that disturbing clown face will somehow find its way to the edge of our bed at night, or to our window sill, even when we thought we’d seen the last of him. Personally I prefer this stuff to be understated, but if it isn’t, then, hell, I say go all out.

What to call this Joker for the twenty first century, composed of pure insanity, pure information, a disembodied meme, reduced to his totem, a red lipped grin? The Galloping Ghoul? The Clown After Midnight? The Hollow Harlequin? He’s the ultimate articulation of what the Joker’s about. He can express it all: he can’t be caged, he can appear anywhere. Madness should, by definition, fly in the face of conventional logics, common sense thinking, linearities and order, and that’s only a poetic hop, skip and jump from defying the physical rules prescribed by science. Depending on his mood, This Joker can still march around like a kooky gangster, but equally he can be that creepy mind trap Superman and J’onn J’onzz find themselves in in Rock of Ages – super-villainy via Poltergiest. Suddenly he really is a world class bad guy, limited only by his insane imagination.

And what has he seen? Where has he been beyond the veil?

Hell?

I can imagine some future Etrigan or Swamp Thing story where they talk about this. One of those, ‘He couldn’t remain here I’m afraid, he was too fucked even for us.’ affairs. I like the idea they tried to punish him but they couldn’t work out which *self* to punish – not that he responded to any of Hades torments anyway. Okay, he laughed, gibbered and yelped, but none of the demons thought he was taking it that seriously. He kept on going about the ‘eternal gag’ and seemed to think the worst excesses of the Bardo were as much a joke as the three dimensional world. They couldn’t even set him up as a demon. Too disturbing. Used to refer to Satan, with his pointy ears, bat-wings and flowing cape, as ‘Batman’, and then fall about in hysterics.

The question is, though, if we’re using Grant’s model, and I like it so I’m going to, what’s this new Joker iteration like? What’s his schtick?

I can’t resist it. It’s never been done before, and the look tells us all we need to know. This is the Joker through the looking glass. The Topsy Turvy Trickster whose been behind the scenes of the world we know and come out the other side, even more convinced of the ridiculousness of absolutely everything. A Carrollian Clown, perhaps more in the mold of Mr Mxyzptlk than the smiling psychopath we’re familiar with, able to fuck with the laws of physics and turn the world on its head, all in the service of making plain the cosmic shaggy dog story we find ourselves in.

One of the things I felt about Damian Wayne‘s Gotham was that everything’s brighter and hotter. The madness more virulent and shining. It’s more brutal, sure, but I fancy that everything, every aspect of the bat-mythos, every one of its themes, is burning with a kind of white-hot intensity. The villains may be more frightening in many ways, but the craziness is more of a psych-out also. Novelty is on the rise: office blocks shaped like plastic green typewriters, Batman riding a bat-themed, multi-coloured dinosaur into town, whole chunks of the city abandoning the earthly sphere for cyber-space – a 21st century Penguin super-fan swaps the drab, moth eaten, worn out coat and tails for a blazing pink suit more in keeping with the fiery neon of Gotham’s End of Days, and the Flamingo is born. Gotham reproduces all of its iterations in one last explosive blast, a gleaming Carnival of hard-boiled strangeness, hi-tech psychedelia and death. And this is where the new Joker makes his home, turning the world inside out. Batman in Wonderland.

You can just imagine the strange adventures the young Wayne would enjoy, drifting through a city that makes no sense. The Joker’s weird new henchmen – dollatron, automated alices, revised mad hatters much more at home in this new world, card deck themed gangs and psychotic queens – drawing Batman further and further into his web of weirdness. This Joker’s motivations would seem more opaque, more outlandish than the unpredictable psychopathy of his physical self. Maybe sharing something in common with the inscrutable and often terrifying Japanese Yokai. He’d haunt abandoned card decks, ghost trains and hijack comedy channels for acid-fuelled, Ring-style antics. It’s possible that, while potential hugely dangerous, this Cosmic Klutz might occasionally have something more interesting to say than mass murder. In this Gotham, the Joker’s boiling toxicity is steaming and leaking from the walls and street-lights. You can feel him everywhere. The city sweats him. I can envisage the Gotham of Tomorrow sharing more in common with Jeff Noon’s future Manchester than any kind of revised and slightly more Gothic New York. It would invite a new kind of storytelling, a new kind of comic for a new kind of reader, hopefully making sense of all the stranger excesses of our Rogues Reviews or my Gotham by Gasoline post…. (because of course I’ll be writing it). Only Damian Wayne, more flexible, less moral, shapeshifting and ambiguous, a true denizen of the netherworld, could conjure strategies original enough to best this utterly transformed foe. Maybe even follow him down the rabbit hole the way Bruce has always failed to do and meet him on his own terms. In fact, yeah, at this point Gotham is all rabbit hole. And naturally that means the Joker’s still its no. 1 bad guy, right there, baying away in the centre of the cyclone.

Could this spell the end of the war between the Clown and the Bat?

Whatever, there’d be some zany action along the way.

I think the world the Joker returned to would in many ways be the one he always promised. You remember, the shifting future first alluded to in Arkham Asylum, but this time, like his decorporealised body, he wouldn’t find himself encumbered with a solid self, or linear progressions through personalities. He’d just be an ontological whirlwind. An endless punchline. The universe is a capricious, absurd place and the ultimate joke wouldn’t necessarily make sense to our ears.

It might even blow our soul off.

17 Responses to “(Enough already with the pictures of sodding dogs) Rogues Review #7: Joker 666”

  1. Zom Says:

    The author of the piece argued, as far as I’m concerned unconvincingly, that the Joker’s just a common or garden loon

    Were they really arguing that? Whether you go along with super-MPD or not, the fact remains that the Joker’s madness looks nothing like any variety of mental illness that I’ve ever encountered. It stinks of fiction and the fantastical.

    Real mental illness is, more often than not, deeply sad and deeply boring.

  2. amypoodle Says:

    I think they just wanted the Joker to go back to being some kind of crazy, kooky clown who somehow, amazingly, manages to survive encounters with demi-gods like Superman. ‘It was a simpler age…’ stuff.

    And I’m arguing he never really was that anyway.

  3. Amadeo Says:

    This is absolutely fantastic. You have just made my day, poodle!

  4. bobsy Says:

    Yeah fucking ace, loving those sketches of the future Gotham, the 2?th Century Clown. That kind of non-local manifestation, the empty suit,appears to be the only logical way to imagine the character’s future self – you got The Laughing Virus from DC 1000000, which infects people and objects, an infection that can’t be cleansed from the universe; and the Joker as malign computer program from that Digital Justice book; even the Batman of the Future cartoon, with the Joker as aggressive absence, his footprints seen in the style choices of the psycho clown gangs who rule the tattered streets.

    That issue 666 was a real goldmine actually (the entrance sure to be dynamited shut by DC editorial as soon as they can)- and it’s worth noting that the Jackanapes baddie is a gorilla in a *clown suit*.

  5. Linkblogging for 06/01/09 « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Says:

    [...] at the Mindless Ones has an absolutely astounding extrapolation of one panel from Batman #666, detailing the Joker of the future. Which reminds me, I must get back [...]

  6. Zom Says:

    I’m almost 100% certain that Amy has never even considered reading Digital Justice.

  7. Papers Says:

    For some reason, I can see Joker’s hell as being LAUGHED AT, genuinely, without either insanity, narcotics, or fear. For some reason, I see the idea that somebody might find the Joker amusing (particularly in a patronizing way) would terrify the shit out of him. Well, one version of him, anyway.

    This was an ace post, and I think I like this new breed of Rogue’s Reviews. I’ve this sudden impulse to pull out BATMAN & SON and reread the 666 issue. Personally, I’d love to read (or write) one of these things about Duella Dent and how *she* could be retooled — there’s been that pull toward her in the last few years but nobody actually follows through and does anything interesting.

  8. Zom Says:

    Write the bugger!

  9. Papers Says:

    See what I can come up with.

  10. David Uzumeri Says:

    Man, fuck you, Papers! Getting gunned down in an alley by a megalomaniacal Monitor was the most inspired and appropriate character evolution of 2008! How can you ignore her new, integral role in the DC Universe??

  11. Papers Says:

    Oh, right. That comic that I read two issues of before stopping in a fit of despair.

  12. Aron Says:

    I love the ontological whirlwind line

    In a sense the Joker is filling that role in life already. He’s just a force of nature, his place is to generate chaos, randomness, and senseless disorder. His place in the order is the antiorder. he’s what makes Pi never end, he generates the prime numbers, he can even divide by zero.

    The drops out of the faucet drip in order, raise the flow rate and the chaos begins, you have a torrent, spraying along the sides of the sink, with multiple paths leading to a drain. Who causes the spray on the side of the sink? The force of nature that is chaos

    The Trickster God coyote must be pleased, willing to eat his own guts for sustenance, but always doing so laughing; the Joker is coyote made flesh.

  13. Zebtron A. Rama Says:

    good goddamn. Amypoodle does it again.

  14. links « supervillain Says:

    [...] Amypoodle’s latest Rogue’s Review, which is pretty much something brand [...]

  15. Joshua Reynolds Says:

    Interesting. I’ve always thought that the Joker doesn’t need to be played up as much as Morrison does to make him scary, but quite honestly, you’re making me reconsider. The image of future Gotham sweating the demon-essence of the Joker and his disembodied grin dancing among the lights and glitz forever is captivating, in a horrible sort of way.

  16. Zom Says:

    The image of future Gotham sweating the demon-essence of the Joker

    What a lovely distillation.

    I’ve always thought that the Joker doesn’t need to be played up as much as Morrison does to make him scary

    I suppose it depends what you mean by played up. I assume you mean something like garishly conceptually decorated. If so I would agree – he certainly doesn’t *need* to be – the Dark Knight managed a very fine Joker indeed – a Joker built on high concepts, sure, but one that worked primarily thanks to some solid dialogue, good acting, and well conceived production design. That and the fact that he was pitch perfect for that particular vision of the batverse.

  17. Joshua Reynolds Says:

    “I assume you mean something like garishly conceptually decorated.”

    Yep. Pretty much.

Leave a Reply