I believe, whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you… stranger – The Joker
Mythology is a funny thing. In comic books, it’s the only constant that changes according to who’s telling it, and what might well be one person’s lore can swiftly become hokum to another, thanks to a misplaced word that’s taken out of context or an ill-judged sentence.
How a story unfolds and history unveils itself, can often depend on who’s telling it, which is why the best origin stories are always wrapped in mystery, ambiguity, and just enough candor to pass for fact.
And no backstory has changed as many times or as often as the Jokers has.
It changes, according to the Clown Prince Of Crime, depending on how he feels or what day of the week it is, and his mental landscape is, at the very least a challenging and tricky place to navigate, so who knows which version of the story he’s told more times than he’s been locked in Arkham, is true if indeed, any of them are.
That eternal puzzle of who he really is and where he comes from is part of the character’s intriguing appeal.
He’s the everyman gone bad, the stranger who found comfort in insanity, and your neighbor who had one bad day too many wrapped up in an eternal riddle that nobody, not even the Joker himself can answer.
Of all the many tangled webs of who he is and where he came from, the latest strand sewn by Scott Snyder in Batman: Endgame is one of the most original and interesting takes on the Joker’s weird journey to the Gotham Underworld that we’ve been fortunate enough to be present for.
It was the Joker’s Watchmen moment, one of those stories that you’ll end up looking back on and thinking, as a slow, knowing grin slowly spreads across your face “I was there when it happened…”
Who Wants To Live Forever?
Is immortality a blessing or a curse? That again depends entirely on your point of view or who has been given the gift of eternal life.
In Endgame Scott Snyder’s epic that details the “final” confrontation between Bruce Wayne and his nemesis, the Joker plays the ace card that he was apparently hiding up his sleeve, for the duration of their extended and embittered history.
He tells Batman, that’s immortal, that he walked the shores of Gotham decades before the city appeared, and that Batman is nothing more than a minor irritant that his arch-enemy will one day barely even remember.
So, how did the maestro of all things Batman, Scott Snyder, change the Joker’s backstory to make him immortal?
He used the same methodology that created Vandal Savage and Ra’s al Ghul, the strange, life-extending chemical that originally fell to Earth as a meteorite and later became the source of the Lazarus Pit.
Claiming to be one of only three mortals to have come into contact with this otherworldly mineral, the Joker’s story later appears to be borne out by Jim Gordon as his research “confirms” the Pale Man’s presence through the history of Gotham.
Was this the one occasion in which the Joker was actually telling the truth about who, and what he was, and is?
While Snyder is on record as stating that he wanted to create something “real and believable” that was also “epic”, veracity isn’t something that the Joker is familiar with, even at the best of times.
He’s a loose cannon that only exists to create mayhem, destruction, and spread his peculiar brand of insanity as far and wide as he possibly can, and the only pleasure that he has ever found in life is in his impossibly complex relationship with Batman.
Locked in an everlasting struggle of oneupmanship with the figure who has become the yin to his yang, the Joker will do and say anything to torment and torture the man who has become his entire world.
Does this mean that it’s true? Is the Joker really immortal? It’s probably as true as every story that he’s ever told, by which we mean that it could be, and only time and Snyder will tell.
While we’d love to believe that the Joker is a malign force that abandoned his humanity after being faced with the crushing madness of century upon century of existence, we’re still more inclined to go with the canonical, and traditional backstory that’s always been associated with the character.
The Killing Joke
We’ve always felt that the most powerful, and therefore the most logical reason for the Joker’s insanity and the reason why he became the man that he did, was grounded in the mundanity of life.
It was an idea that Alan Moore took to heart and explored in his groundbreaking, and legendary story The Killing Joke.
Based on the Joker origin story that most four-color fans have accepted as canon, and that Tim Burton deferred to while making Batman, The Man Behind The Red Hood, The Killing Joke is the story of a washed-up, never made it stand-up comedian who adopts the guise of The Red Hood, a criminal “mastermind”, who while being pursued by Batman plunges into a chemical tank and… the rest is history.
Or rather, it would be if the story had been written by anyone other than Alan Moore, who insists on pushing his protagonist even further, inot insanity by killing his entire family in the aftermath of his own “tragedy”.
It’s a stark, and brutal examination of the idea that we’re all just one bad day away from being consumed by lunacy, and when faced with the crushing walls of despair, could easily follow the same cobbled path to madness as the Joker.
The story grounds the Joker in a reality that isn’t just familiar but is also terrifying and heartbreaking.
Will The Joker Live Forever?
Of course, he will, but his immortality won’t have anything to do with splashing around in a Lazarus Pit.
The Joker will live forever because Batman will live forever in the pages of comic books, and as long as there’s a Dark Knight to protect Gotham, there will always be a Clown Prince of Crime that the city needs to be protected from.