Mar 31 • 12M

Newsletter #62: The Joke of It All (Part 2)

Part two of a two-part retrospective on my relationship with the Clown Prince of Crime

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Continued from Wednesday’s post on my foundational experiences with Joker in media:

Our Best Jackett
Newsletter #61: The Joke of It All (Part 1)
Listen now (13 min) | Hey guys, it's Scott. I am back and completely jet lagged from my trip with Jack, our 15 year old, out to Colorado. I'm not going to get too into it because I want to talk Joker, but it was it was amazing. With a teenager, a lot of our interactions are “come on Dad, get off my back!” and me being like “if you just apply yourself…” and all of those things…
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So that was brewing in my head as the DNA of my Joker if I ever got a chance to write Joker or work with the character. He was going to be the devil, he was going to be the sort of snake-like thing that sees you, knows exactly what you're afraid of, and then becomes that thing to challenge you. The Batman Who Laughs is different to me. People always ask, “what's the difference?” The Batman Who Laughs doesn't care about you, he only cares about himself. He has the same proclivities as the Joker in terms of his love of evil and violence and all of that, but he's not focused on you unless you come into his vision as a threat. He doesn't care about you, he only cares about winning and surviving. The Joker cares about you. Joker is all about if you are afraid of him or not afraid of him, he comes for you. And so with Death of the Family, when I finally got the chance to write the Joker, I wanted him to come in guns blazing as a horror figure. I wanted him to represent something that I would be terrified of. And the key, again, is not to make something sensational. I do think that the new take looks terrifying. And if they do it right, which I have full faith they will, that visual representation of him will be an extension of what Batman is afraid of. That's the key.

So for me, with Joker coming in with his face stapled on, I wanted to announce that this is a scarier Joker than you've ever seen. Of course, we had to pick something to do to him physically that would take him off the table at the beginning of the New 52. So Tony Daniel, who's my partner on Nocterra and who's become a great friend since that very time when we had to do this together, I gave him a suggestion about picking something out of the few options that would set me up for the story I wanted and would create this terrifying Joker when he came back. So the idea was for him to say, “I know you're wearing a mask, Batman…” And not the who you're the Batman and the Bruce Wayne is the mask thing, that's not particularly interesting to me. It's more him saying “you're wearing a mask that's mortal. You're pretending that underneath your mask, you're a human being. And you're not. You're bigger than that. You're immortal, like me. And by taking on children, by having a family, you know deep down it's causing you to become mortal. You're getting older and slower and you feel your mortality, you feel vulnerable. If one of them gets hurt, you're in trouble. All of it. You're a worse Batman because of it. But deep down, you're something larger than human. You're an icon, you're like me. I'm the Joker card. I am the Jester. Beneath this face there's only more clown, there is no human face beneath this. And I'll show you by cutting it off and cutting off all the faces of your family and your own to show that they are human and flesh and blood, and you are a bat beneath the mask.”

And that was my idea. And it was totally based on, as I've said before, my fears about fatherhood and my fears about not being able to escape my own terrors about the world coming for them in some way or other. And so, ultimately, I wanted that Joker to be as physically scary as possible to represent the idea that “beneath this human face, I am something much scarier.” And I wanted him to articulate that to Batman in a way that he had proof, where he would say, “you know, deep down, I got into the cave, and you've never told anybody hahaha. And that's because you love me more than you love them. Me being your twin. You love immortality, you love the battle when we were young, both of us fighting back and forth as the two pillars of ideas about the meaning of the universe, about how you think things mean something and I think that they don't. And I laugh at you for thinking that. And I'm actually your friend. I am the jester. I am the joker.”

Batman v2 #14 (2013) | Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia

And he says that in the stack of cards, the joker is the king's best friend. And in the court, I've said this before, but the jester is the figure who often can give the king truth that nobody else can. He tells in the form of a joke because deep down he loves the king and wants him to be stronger. “So I'm your jester, you are the Bat King of Gotham, and Arkham is our castle.” And that was kind of the thinking for that story. And I wanted to go darker than DC was comfortable with at certain times. They pushed back on the face a little bit at first, and I know fans were upset by the level of ugliness that the Joker suddenly had and “was I turning him into a slasher?” And that's totally understandable, maybe I was, but I knew I believed in that vision of the Joker entirely. And Greg did too, and that's why I think it it hit hard.

But with that story itself, that was the point. And there were a lot of different variations, by the way, not to spill tea or anything of the ending. The important thing to me was to break the family apart at the end, to have Batman, for a moment, realize that maybe his true family is the Joker and that fighting the Joker is something that makes him stronger. But what ultimately makes him stronger is opening up and trusting his own love of his family and his children and that they're not a vulnerability, they're not a weakness, they're a strength. And to be open to other people and to bring them in, you are stronger as a Bat-family than you are alone, and that's a rejection of the Joker. But to still have that fly, which is why Greg came up with that brilliant idea of having the fly be the representation of the Joker, the Lord of the Flies, rot, but also the fly in the ointment always there in the back of Batman's mind, maybe he's right, maybe I'm wrong.

And so I knew we were gonna do a second arc with him if I didn't get fired. I was sure I might get fired. But I wanted to leave it all on the table with that one in case I couldn’t get to the second one, but if I got a second one, that one is comedy where Joker is professing affection and love and family. And the second one would be that since he was rejected, it’ll be the opposite. It will be a burn it all down, the end of our Bruce's arc up to the point that I'm going to renew him after that for the next writer, And that was Superheavy. But so anyway, there were a couple different endings, and DC pushed a few different things. At one point, there was a question about whether or not we were going to cut off Jason's face and just leave Jason that way. And they wanted to do it. I wanted to do it at one point. But then ultimately my argument against it was that it would make it all about Jason and it just felt weird and mean and it didn't feel right. And then they eventually did it in a different way.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #17 (2013) | Cover by Mico Suayan and Blond

But then there was also the question of Alfred. There was a sort of thinking on my part that I wanted to hurt Alfred. I wanted to take him as the heart of the Bat-family for Bruce, to really prove a point, to come after Alfred. And so with Alfred gone, the terror level was high. And I did want to have repercussions. I did want to take a piece of Alfred in some way, like his hand. I did think about the possibility of taking him off the table for a while, having him hurt in such a way that he would be off table. But there was just too much discussion and too many arguments at DC one way or another about whether they wanted him off or on the table because of TV and movie stuff coming out. And it became like a hornet's nest where I just felt like any decision I made one way or another was going to either be upended by the higher-ups or would be something we'd have to reverse quickly if there was a TV show. It just felt like a minefield to go through, and it wasn't important to me. What was important to me was sort of the message of that story, and then, if I had the chance, to set Joker up to come back ten times worse next time.

And so when he comes back in Endgame, it's the opposite message. Again, the whole theme of our run is this idea of Batman constantly, in Zero Year as well, coming to the realization that the way to make himself meaningful as Batman isn't to be something that scares bad people away, but that inspires good people to come out into the light and be stronger than they thought they could, and use the things they're afraid of as fuel to achieve more than they thought they could, especially in these times when there's so much to scare all of us back into our houses. The idea is to come out together and collectively be better than we thought we could be. And so, Zero Year’s about that, and Joker as the Red Hood Gang leader poses the opposite question and evolves alongside Batman into something bigger than he thought he could be.

Batman v2 #24 (2013) | Cover by Guillem March

And then at the end, in Endgame, it was Joker coming back and saying, “I'm immortal. I've existed for hundreds of years and I am the meaninglessness, I am the darkness, I am death. And you, all of you, I gave you a chance to join me and be something bigger and you rejected me. So now I'm going to prove to you how infinitesimal you are, how unimportant you are, how little your actions have had any effect, and how you're going to be forgotten soon.” Anyway, that was the point of Endgame, and it was kind of a big Danse Macabre and celebration of Joker's evil. And also, I've never thought of him as crazy. To me, he is evil. He's not mad or any of that stuff. I want every interpretation in the world of Joker to be out there. I'm not against anything, I love any new take.

I don't necessarily gravitate towards takes that show how he became crazy, how he became the Joker. I don't think any origin suffices. I think it always winds up feeling like it makes him sympathetic in a way that's antithetical to my approach to him. So I don't love those. I don't love when he's over the top and kind of campy in ways, I like when he's scary. And so the idea that they're going to bring out a full scary Joker now is super exciting to me. I want to see that Joker with his rotting skin and all of that stuff being like “I am the rotting reflection of you. I am the thing you're most afraid of.” Whatever Robert Pattinson’s Bruce is afraid of, the Joker is staring back at him with those really evil eyes saying, “that's who I am.” And yeah, that's sort of why in defense of a horror Joker, I think it's time. I don't think he's been as scary as he could be. I think you could make him the scariest thing on the screen and I'm all for it. I know not everybody is, and I know that a lot of people argue that the Batman movie should be for kids and I totally understand that. I think there should be a hundred different versions of Joker and there should be plenty for kids. I think one of the best Batman tones of all time is The Lego Batman Movie. I love it. And it’s literally almost exactly like the same story we told with Joker.

It's almost like they took Death of the Family and Endgame and put them into one thing, it's probably better than anything I could do. I'm just saying it has the same message and arc. But anyway, the point is, I love every take out there of Joker. I'm just ready for one that I think is particularly dark, as long as it's a reflection of the Batman in that movie’s deepest fears.

So yeah, a couple things to check out if you can. Further Adventures of the Joker from 1990. Not easy to find, not downloadable (I checked). Also, Return of the Joker, a complete diamond in the rough. That story, I forgot to say, but that shocked me. I was not reading as many comics right then, I was just out of college and Providence, where I went to college, didn't have a big comic shop. And so I had done my best, but I had kind of fallen off. But the Batman: The Animated Series had kept me completely hooked the whole time, same with Batman Beyond. And when that movie came out in 2000, it blew my mind. I was like, that Joker is right up my alley. So Return of the Joker, Further Tales of the Joker, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, absolutely check those out. Grant Morrison's great tale, The Clown at Midnight. It's a different interpretation than my kind of Joker, but I love his, about Joker reinventing himself as a new figure because he's super-sane. Each time he kind of just comes back.

Batman #663 (2007) | Cover by Andy Kubert

You know, one story I did that I love but nobody points to, just because it was part of an anthology, was the last thing I did with Joker with Jock. It's a short story in a special, I think. Tyler will put here, but it's like a Joker anniversary, the Joker 80th.

The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular (2020) | Cover by Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia

It's about a doctor who treats the patients who have been hurt by the Joker and who ultimately believes the Joker is just a human being who forces other people to think he's more than he is. And it's just a short little thing, but I kind of love it. It's definitely got some of the DNA of some of those Further Adventures of the Joker stories in it. So anyway, hope you guys are good. Thanks for all the well wishes about the trip!


P.S. For all paid subscribers, don’t worry, we have not forgotten you this week. In fact, we’re planning on hosting another Discord Q&A sometime early next week, so stay tuned for more info on that very soon!

Also, I just read this fantastic poem by Jim Moore called How to Come Out of Lockdown and wanted to share it with all of you:

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