There couldn’t be a greater superhero franchise than Batman. It’s not just because he’s cool. It goes much, much deeper than that. I’ll list some reasons, saving the best for last.
The most human superhero with the most human supervillains.
Batman doesn’t have any superpowers, and same goes with most of his villains. The characters in the franchise rely on things that people in real life would rely on if they were to fight crime, or be criminals: wits, technology, and henchmen (whether it be gangs or the police force). If you can build an entire successful superhero franchise from characters who pretty much don’t have any powers, you know you did something right.
Are the villains insane, or just misunderstood?
The fact that this question even needs asking is, I think, a triumph for the franchise. Notice that most, if not all, of Batman’s villains have tragic backstories that turned them into what they become. It even happened to Batman himself. Not only did Batman’s parents die right in front of him, but at least in Batman Begins, it’s implied that the event would have been avoided if Bruce hadn’t been scared of the play his family was watching. So, Bruce seems to blame himself on a subconscious level. He overcompensates for what he blames himself for by fighting the shit out of crime in the city. But he does so by dressing like a bat-man…. Is that crazy? Yeah, a little.
I think Bruce Wayne chose to become Batman in order to be a symbol; something to frighten his targets and his would-be targets. He became a terrifying nocturnal creature, a bat, so that criminals would have something to fear during their usual business hours of operation, the night. So, what I’m saying is, Bruce became a bat-man in order to use criminals own fear tactics against them.
Of course, though, the rise of Batman was also the rise of men and women who appear to be just as crazy. Dressing as a bat to fight crime is still at least a bit crazy. Others saw what Batman was doing and thought: I’ll become a symbol of my own. And every one of Batman’s villains became a walking symbol for what they were trying to represent.
Take Mr. Freeze for example. His wife is neither alive nor dead. She’s literally frozen in time. I don’t know if Mr. Freeze learns Batman’s true identity at certain points in the comics/movies/TV shows, but I’m certain that if he did, he’d be envious of Bruce, because Bruce’s parents were at least killed. Bruce knows the fate of his parents, whereas the one Freeze loves most is in a state of limbo. A state of limbo perhaps only he can get her out of, and he’s terrified of failing. It became his obsession to save her. So, from preserving her body, to finding a cure for her illness, he gained an obsession, just like Batman did, and his obsession involved, well, freezing things.
In real life, I think insanity is very much a real thing, but it can also be mislabeled on a person too often as well. Insanity is being checked out of reality. Insanity is when you can’t discern the difference between reality and fantasy. And almost none of Batman’s villains seem to have that problem. They’ve all been driven mad, but they’re still perfectly sane. And nothing drives a person mad quite like a broken heart. Bruce Wayne, Mr. Freeze, Harvey Dent, and hell, even Penguin… They all have had their hearts broken in different ways. I wonder what drove the Joker mad… Which brings me to my final and favorite segment.
Without the Joker, there wouldn’t really be a Batman, and vice-versa. It’s true that every hero needs a villain – it makes for a good story – but with the Joker, it’s much, much different. There have been many takes on the character, but I think they all revolve around one central theme, which is that Joker isn’t out to destroy Batman, he’s out to destroy what Batman stands for.
He’s a walking parody of Batman and all his villains. He’s fascinated by freaks and what makes a freak, and decided to become one himself. It’s not official confirmed that Joker got his appearance from dropping into a vat of chemicals (though it’s widely depicted to likely be the cause), and since it’s not been officially confirmed, I believe that Joker simply chose to appear the way he does. Again, it’s about being a parody of these superheroes and supervillains in Gotham City. He’s there to counter both what the heroes and the villains stand for. Not to mention, he does it while laughing… a lot.
It’s all funny to him. Not just life itself, but also the fact that there are people in Gotham who seem to take their ideals to each end of the extreme. Joker doesn’t outright tell people how absurd it is that they take life so seriously, he just simply demonstrates the absurdity. I don’t think Joker kills people just because he’s a sociopath, I think he kills people because he knows everyone dies. Batman doesn’t seem to accept the fact that people die, which is why he outright spares (even saves) Joker’s life from time to time. And this is why Joker keeps doing his thing.
To the Joker, life itself is a joke. Everyone dies, everyone suffers tragedy, and there’s nothing one can do to put an end to those things forever. Crime would exist with or without the Joker. Crime would exist with or without all the other villains. It’s utterly meaningless for Batman to think he can put an end to something that literally cannot be defeated. In fact, Batman’s extreme war against crime is the very thing that created all the supervillains he fights. He upset the balance of nature. Sure, he took justice to the extreme, which could be a good thing, but since nature always balances itself out, other freaks just like Batman came into being to fight him. Joker is that antithesis of that balance. Where Batman stands to prove that not all people are corruptible, Joker stands to prove that crime cannot be defeated. In order to truly defeat his greatest foe, Batman has to kill Joker, but that would make him a killer, right? Exactly. Batman would become the very thing he’s trying to defeat, but that’s the only way to defeat it. So at the end of the day, Batman might win the fight, but Joker wins the argument.
Joker isn’t insane, he’s actually trying to demonstrate that we are insane. All of us. We are insane for taking life too seriously, when the truth is, it’s all meaningless in the end. That is not being tuned in to reality, to think that there’s a point to what is pointless. This would also explain why Joker has no regard for his own well-being; because why would he? He’s gonna die someday anyway, right? So, Joker is not insane; he’s actually saner than everyone else, including those of us in real life. And I think the real reason Batman will never kill Joker is not because it would go against his code, but because he knows Joker’s right, and he’s simply in denial. He thinks he can punch his way out of that truth.
Isn’t that hilarious?