During these assassination fantasies
The term “Super Sanity” was coined by Grant Morrison in the graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (hereon referred to as Arkham Asylum). In it, Morrison posits that the Joker has “a brilliant new modification of human perception. More suited to urban life at the end of the twentieth century. Unlike you and I, the Joker seems to have no control over the sensory information he’s receiving from the outside world. He can only cope with that chaotic barrage of input by going with the flow. That’s why some days he’s a mischevious clown, others a psychopathic killer. He has no real personality. He creates himself each day.”
There are certainly flaws with Morrison’s initial thesis on the Joker. Several studies have indicated that the man has had long periods of planning his various schemes, ploys, and other such gags. One notable example would be the time the Joker became a moral crusader in the vein of Fredric Wertham under the guise of John Dough, wherein he attempted to discredit the Justice League through claims that there is a need for normality that the Justice League isn’t. That is to say, as one supporter of Dough’s efforts described a member of the League, “She must be a commie agent or somethin’!”
There is certainly a working within the popular trends with such a scheme. The moral crusader out to root out the subversive elements within society was a popular trend at the time. But to be such a man requires months, even years of planning, seeding the persona of John Dough into society, and playing the odds. (It’s telling, then, that the John Dough persona is a white man. As recent developments in the political sphere have taught us, any well-dressed white man can make even the most outlandish and patently racist ideas palatable, even when the mask slips off.) As such, with this data in mind, Morrison’s thesis needed to be expanded upon. And they did so, first in the underread superhero series Aztek: The Ultimate Man (alongside Mark Millar, pre break up). But their thesis wouldn’t be solidified until the short story The Clown at Midnight. Here, we are presented with Morrison’s vision of what the Joker changing personas looks like from the inside. Not so much the removal of a mask a traditional 20th/21st century avatar would use as much as a collapse of potential interpretations of being into one shape. Note his invocation of previous personas amidst the change into his newest incarnation. However, recent developments in Joker Studies have found some rather unfortunate information that contradicts Morrison’s thesis. As it turns out, there are at least three individuals running about calling themselves the Joker. It is possible to hypothesize that Morrison’s thesis can still apply to at least one of them, but the details provided by fellow investigator, Geoff Johns, have noted a chemical relationship to the Joker personality type that contradicts Morrison’s central thesis: that the Joker is a byproduct of how society functions in the death throes of late stage capitalism.
Bruce became increasingly obsessed
Motion picture studies of the Joker reveal characteristic patterns of facial tonus and musculature associated with homo-erotic behavior. In total, there are four notable incarnations worth examining. The first comes in the form of the 1960’s Batman television series. Here, the Joker (played by Cesar Romero) possesses a manic eeriness that belies the sadistic tenor of his incarnation. Note the mustache he bears, painted white to match the color of his skin. Listen for the baritone he howls his laughter with and focus on how he moves throughout the stills of the motion image. Even in moments of extreme violent cruelty, the Joker remains a jovial figure of horror and monstrosity. And yet, there is a degree of intimacy between the Joker and Batman in these colorful adventures. Note how, when given the opportunity to unmask the Dark Knight, the Joker uses the flimsiest of reasons (the sprinkler system went off) not to remove his mask.
By contrast, Jack Nicholson is a significantly straighter incarnation. Oftentimes throughout the 1989 interpretation of the Caped Crusader’s adventures, this vision of the Joker attempts to hide his queer implications through the normality of flesh colored face paint as well as his tendency to sexually assault women. He works in satirical implications like the Romero incarnation, but he lacks the subtlety and queerness his previous persona had. Note how the Batman/Joker dynamic is based on disdain for one another. Each creating the other’s suffering such that any reconciliation can only come about through the other dying. From there, the Batman would only get crueler and crueler in his vigilantism before, finally and ironically, meeting a strapping young lad to spend the rest of his life with. In turn, the world became more colorful than it once was, embracing the camp aesthetic that other visions of Batman would disregard.
And yet, even in those visions, the Joker remains a liminal and queer figure. Consider teen heartthrob Heath Ledger, whose Joker is one who is at his most political. While previous incarnations have dabbled in working against the political norms, it is this vision of the Joker that has an explicit political vision for being: Anarchism. And while it retains the conflation between anarchism and chaos that most conservative (and, indeed, liberal) views on anarchism have, the motion picture The Dark Knight nevertheless provides the Joker an opportunity to posit genuine leftist thought as if the mere notion of straightforward leftism is inherently villainous. Not to mention the visual invocations of the Romero Joker in Ledger’s initial disguise as a bank robbing clown (downgraded from Romero’s Pagliacci, but still effectively camp), refusal to work within the conservative framework that systemic problems are caused by individual bad actors rather than a broken system, and fondness for drag.
But it’s the Joaquin Phoenix Joker that is the most interesting in terms of physicality. While previous Jokers opted to present their villain with a degree of humanity allowed by the human body, Phoenix opts to instead contort his form throughout his performance to provide a degree of remove from humanity. Note how he twists his body like a contortionist towards interpretive being rather than a realistic vision of humanity. That this is ultimately used for the film’s goals of painting the monstrosity of mental health is as irrelevant to this discussion as it is unfortunate.
with the pudenda of the Clown Prince of Crime
Perhaps the most curious aspect of the Joker is his relationship with Dr. Harleen Quinzell (alias Harley Quinn). For all intents and purposes, the Joker should not be able to have any long lasting relationship with anyone. That their relationship is consistently abusive in the “Pow, Wham, Straight to the Moon” sense is equally perplexing. A figure like the Joker should, in theory, not have the same relationship with everyone they know, let alone relationship dynamics.
Consider his relationship with the Batman. In some instances, there’s an air of homoeroticism to their barbs and jabs. A sense that their fisticuffs act more as a metaphor for sexual intercourse than as genuine malice between the two. Other times, their relationship is brimming with utter contempt for each other. A desire to see the Dark Knight debased, destroyed, and dead before a cheering crowd. (And yet, the homoeroticism is still present in these moments as highlighted in the various boner crimes the Joker has committed.) The dynamic is largely antagonistic in nature, but the antagonism is never consistent in its style.
Conversely, Harley Quinn and the Joker stay firmly within the realm of an abuse relationship. No matter the incarnation, as long as Harley and the Joker remain together, one will use and abuse the other. (Predominately, it has been the Joker abusing Harley, but there have been at least one interpretation of Harley abusing the Joker.) And unlike the relationship between Batman and the Joker, it lacks the willingness to have different angles on what kind of relationship their romance takes. This staticity seems out of place in the fluid design of the super sanity thesis.
It is perhaps worth looking at the nature of Harley Quinn within the schema of Morrison’s study of Batman. Though she only makes a single appearance throughout the examination, one can’t help but be instantly invested in her implications. Consider, if you will, her final moments in The Clown at Midnight. Here, we see Dr. Quinzell shoot the Joker squarely in the chest. Within the context of the excerpt, this is framed as “The Unbearable Inevitability of Batman and The Joker.” That the only way for their relationship to end is via an outside force ending it for them.
This, in many regards, highlights an aspect of the final moments of Morrison’s study of the Dark Knight. There, we can observe Kathy Kane shoot the villainous Talia al Ghul in the face, killing her. Batman was unable to do the deed due to the limitations of his narrative role. But Kathy has transcended them. In this regard, the parallel between Harley and Kathy becomes apparent. That it’s The Clown at Midnight that acts as the capstone to the relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker becomes all the more fitting. For it is in this very narrative that Harley transcends her lover/abuser/patient into becoming something more.
What that is has yet to be crystalized. Performativity seems to be a key in her role going forward. (Note her painted white face beneath a costume typically used in performance pieces such as the Harlequinade.) Many studies of Harley Quinn have been complied that offer her as a mere anti-hero who goes around being goofy while heroically shooting people in the face (typically while making a pun). Equally, there have been attempts to frame her in a more villainous light, such that she merely regurgitates the behaviors and attitudes of the Joker uncritically.
Given these studies are currently ongoing, cynicism over the nature of Harley Quinn is perhaps best saved for other academic articles.
mediated to him by a thousand television screens.
Blind babies better be butchered before Barbara bakes bread, breaking Billy’s big buttery bag.
Landmines are best used when trying to avoid an awkward conversation about your mother’s naked form.
An Idiot Dies Soon.
Beloved pets in bad road accidents are perhaps the number one sign of dementia.
Statistics of the apocalypse tend to be more optimistic in terms of the number of people dying than the reality will show.
Pencilcases arenot thebest toolto usewhen dealingwith theabominable snowmanduring ablizzard.
The Periodic Table of Elements has no evidence that love, justice, or hope are actual things that exist.
Geniuses suffering irreversible brain damage would probably solve a lot of the world’s problems if there were more of them.
REAL bad news occurs whenever you watch the news.
Shattered faith: the only sane reaction to reading Doomsday Clock.
Sombreros make everything funny.
Politics would be better if everyone was wearing a sombrero.
Fish being gutted is the best way to teach a child how to kill.
Fish being gutted is the only reaction they have when their father is murdered by a hungry child.
Bowel cancer: Number one cause for constipation.
Fish being gutted: It’s better than the alternative.
Mister Ed will never speak unless he has something to say! A horse is a horse of course of course and this one’ll talk ‘til his voice is hoarse. You’ve never heard of a talking horse? Well, listen to this…
Guns in schools tend to increase the number of dead children in schools, despite the “a Good Guy with a Gun” Thesis.
Cripples cannot go to heaven.
Racism cannot be cured by a good guy with a gun.
Alzheimer’s is what I’ll probably get when I’m old.
Batman is love.
Batman is life.
The motion picture studies of The Joker
His hair is slicked back as if perpetually in the rain, save for one strand, which juts out like a dangling thread in a tapestry of human misery. His eyes are green, mismatched and anisocoriatic in nature. He smiles a Glaswegian smile. His forehead sinks into the bullet wound still apparent in his design. Blood drips out from his teeth like acid in child’s bathtub. He moves like a senile actor in a 60’s comedy who thinks he’s in a drama. Like a lost image fading into the foreground until all you can think about is what you just saw. He has no name, no form to speak of. It was lost to some other story, consumed by a world that won’t stop spinning. His voice has no affect, yet conveys a wide array of emotions and tones that makes one believe he has affect. It sounds how he wants you to think it sounds. Like the language of the angels, there is no words actually being spoken. Apophenia is his language.
created a scenario of the conceptual orgasm,
Many arguments have been made for the extrajudicial murder of the Joker. There are a number of reasons for these arguments range from the rather banal to the implicitly fascist. Among the arguments is that the Joker is simply too dangerous to be left alive. That he’s killed far too many people to be worth saving. This provides a unique opportunity to ask a much harder question than merely the nature of killing the Joker: at what point do we toss aside a viewpoint of restorative justice in favor of punitive justice.
Our current system of justice offers little help in this regard. It is wholeheartedly in support of punitive justice over anything else, including the inherent rights of human beings. As such, the superhero model by which Batman exists within has merely paid lip service to the possibility of restorative justice, with certain minor crooks occasionally being offered jobs at Wayne Industries, in order to provide cover for Batman’s tendency to typically approach crime as an individualistic endeavor rather than tackling the systemic causes of crime.
Equally, there are arguments to be made that Batman must focus on the threats to the world—such as Darkseid, Ra’s Al Ghul, and KGBeast—over any systemic issues, as the world would be doomed if he (along with other members of the Justice League) didn’t. However, this is merely the same logic that argues that universal health care is a pipe dream, even though the US Government spends billions, if not trillions, on a war machine that exists solely to deal with potential threats.
a unique ontology of violence and disaster.
It would certainly be unfair to say that the Dark Knight is as bad as the Military Industrial Complex (after all, Bruce Wayne, even when he franchised the Batman IP, never made a profit off his War on Crime). However, it’s worth considering the full extent by which the punitive approach he has mirrors other punitive approaches to dealing with the issues of the world. Arkham Asylum, for example, is rarely (if ever) treated as a means of helping people through their mental issues. Instead, it is more often than not treated as a place to lock up the criminals too powerful to be kept in a normal prison. (That said criminals more often than not escape Arkham is a whole other matter.) Indeed, consider the state in which the criminals are kept in: often dank, isolating cells that lack any means to see the outside world. Many of the patients (such as Dr. Harleen Quinzell or Dr. Jonathan Crane) were once part of the faculty at Arkham. Other members of the faculty (Lyle Bolton, for example) have used their positions at the asylum to torment and torture the patients or experiment on them for their own ends. Rarely are patients at Arkham considered healed.
Which brings us back to the question of killing the Joker. A case against killing the Joker has been that it would be a slippery slope leading to all criminals to be murdered. However, the truth of the matter is that it’s a logical conclusion of this mode of justice. An alternative vision of this mode of justice could argue that killing the criminals is too good for them. They deserve to suffer for their crimes. To be treated as less than human in order to protect the purest soles of Gotham. Of course, when provided with such a vision of heroism, of justice, one wonders if an alternative is possible. If we could approach the criminals locked up in Arkham as people in need of help. If we could up end the system as it is and replace it with something new. If we can’t have something better. From Bruce Wayne, at least, this is not to be the case. For while Batman is a fantasy of being able to overcome anything, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, playboy philanthropist. He, by his nature, benefits from a world that produces Jokers.
The Clown at Midnight is one of the odder issues of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. Not so much because of its content (which, all things considered, is a rather straightforward story of the Joker trying to escape Arkham Asylum while Batman foils his scheme) but in terms of delivery. As many people familiar with The Clown at Midnight will tell you, the story is told entirely in prose.
Not only that, but the visuals askew the traditional two dimensional image in favor of John van Fleet’s three dimensional grotesqueries. Grotesque is an apt description for this story, as its essentially a typical narrative told from the perspective of The Joker during a moment of transformation. Though told in third person, each metaphor and word choice feels like it comes out of the mouth of the clown prince of crime. Each sentence cackles with the uncomfortable humor of watching a man being burnt alive next to a sign that says “no smoking.”
But for such a story to truly work, the letters need to be in top form. Thankfully, Todd Klein’s crisp letters are easily legible against the backgrounds, haunted by the images of clowns, time, and decay. It is, admittedly, an off putting story, but a deliberately written one. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s quite possibly one of the best Batman stories published in the 21st century.