Here are, what I think, the 6 greatest villains in all fiction of recent history. Prepare for some of my usual philosophy talk.
Here are, what I think, the 6 greatest villains in all fiction of recent history. Prepare for some of my usual philosophy talk.
Joker is easily my favorite fictional character, of any franchise, of all time. Since DC has never ‘officially’ released any backstory for the Joker, I’ve come up with my own theory. DC seems to allow others to create their own origin story (such as The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman), but since no official explanation for how the Clown Prince of Crime came to be who he is, I’m going to piece together what I think really happened to him.
What Did Not Happen
Joker did not get his appearance, nor his madness, from falling into a vat of chemicals. Look, I love Joker, but saying he started to look like a clown because of “random chemicals” has always struck me as really lazy writing. Sure, most superheroes/supervillains get their powers from absurd means, but Joker doesn’t even have powers. It’s just a look. The only take on Joker I’ve ever seen that didn’t use some cheap explanation for his appearance is The Dark Knight. That movie showed that Joker looks like a clown because he simply wants to. He intentionally looks like a clown. Which is perfect. If your head hair happens to be green, if red streaks make you look like you’re constantly smiling, and if your skin happens to be bleached white…. That’s a hell of a coincidence if you didn’t do that to yourself on purpose. So, it’s safe to assume Joker looks that way on purpose.
What Does Joker Do?
What a person does is usually the best indicator of what shaped them and what made them who they are. Joker never ‘officially’ tells his origin story, but he does always like to talk about what he wants (chaos), and his various philosophical reasons for why he wants it. What he seems to always imply is that Batman helped shape him into who he became. So, what does that have to do with chaos? Well, Batman is trying to rid Gotham of crime and corruption, but if Batman was directly responsible for what happened to Joker, then Joker would only ever be after Batman and nothing else. So, Batman can’t be directly (or indirectly) responsible. Joker is a kind of philosopher, we have to admit, which I think makes it obvious that something changed his world view, and THAT’S what turned him into what he became.
Also, Joker is knowledgeable and skilled with chemicals. His signature weapon is Joker Venom, which makes people laugh themselves to death. As we all know in real life, chemicals can easily have various effects on our minds and bodies, whether it’s making us hallucinate or have severe eye irritation or whatever, and if Joker invented his own drug with such a specific effect, the guy has to be educated in that field, at least.
Last but not least, the guy seems to not even know where he came from. In several stories, including Arkham Origins, and the aforementioned The Killing Joke, he outright says he doesn’t remember who he was before becoming Joker and that he’s glad he doesn’t. Perhaps it’s brain damage, or perhaps he found a way to erase his memories, or perhaps the guy’s just faking insanity to avoid the death penalty… Anyway, now for our feature presentation.
A man, who we’ll just call Jack, grew up in a broken home, with an abusive alcoholic father and a junkie mother. Living with an abusive father made him learn how to physically defend himself against a stronger opponent. He hated his father, but he loved his mother because she was a good person, despite her problems.
Growing up in a poor, rundown household forced him to spend his time thinking about things, since there wasn’t much money to go places or buy things to occupy his time. Also, seeing the effects drugs had on his mother made him ponder the philosophical truth that our bodies are completely made up of chemicals. Fascinated with how the mind and body works, he chose to study biology and biochemistry in his spare time. He spent his years in high school focusing on his education more than his social life, and after graduating high school he found work as a biochemist.
By this time, however, he probably lost both of his parents, who likely became casualties of their own addictions. He hated his father, but still, his parents were the only family he ever truly had. Not to mention he obsessed over his education just to escape his impoverished life, so he never had a social life either. In a way, he was alone now. But, while in the field of biochemistry, he developed a love interest. This girl was the love of his life, but one day she was killed by mobsters who raided the factory they worked at to steal useful, expensive chemical compounds. Jack tried to save her, but he was overpowered and thrown into a vat of chemicals by the thugs. He survived the fall and was rescued from the chemical pool. He was thought dead, but was resuscitated at the hospital. When he awoke, he was told his girl had been killed, and in a fit of rage, he killed the doctor caring for him, and ran from the hospital.
Later, he looked at his body and saw that the acidic chemicals burned off all the hair on his body and bleached his skin white, permanently. If anyone knew he was still alive, they wouldn’t recognize him anymore, so he decided to disappear. While in hiding, living off scraps wherever he could find shelter, he lost the will to live, but chose to exact revenge on the mob for the death of his girl. However, he didn’t know who was responsible, so he would settle for killing off 10 random mobsters.
His plan involved luring his victims into an enclosed space and poisoning them with gas. To pull this off, he would need a better appearance than just a hairless guy with pasty-white skin, so he got a wig of green hair and painted his lips red, mimicking a clown, and now calling himself “Joker”. Now that he looked like a person (somewhat), he worked his way through the streets learning who had connections to money. He did whatever it took, including petty crimes, to earn the attention and respect of men with large sums of money. He ultimately allied himself with mobsters that he was also planning to kill. Once he earned as much as he needed, he lured his ten victims as planned, and killed them.
But Joker found no satisfaction from their deaths. He realized that even if he knew those exact men were the ones who killed his girl, it wouldn’t bring his girl back. He started killing more people, completely at random, and learned more and more that he had no REAL control over these great truths about life. Nor did anyone else.
Rather than committing suicide, since he still had no will to live, he decided to go out with a bang and simply have some fun causing chaos. He quickly learned how much he could accomplish by not caring about right and wrong, and being evil was so easy because everyone dies eventually anyway. He wanted to die proving a point.
However, he met opposition with the Batman, who was just starting to rise. This Batman character was in the way of his plans to cause as much chaos as possible, so he tried targeting Batman for a while. After an encounter or two, his ambitions changed one final time. He had found the perfect figure to demonstrate what life had taught him. Batman took life too seriously. Batman hilariously believed that he could rid Gotham of crime. Best of all, Batman refused to kill, and even had a chance to both kill Joker and to simply let him die, but Batman spared Joker’s life both times anyway. In a way, Joker was now in love with Batman. And from that point on, Joker’s obsession was trying to corrupt the incorruptible Batman, and make him learn how little control we all have in the end.
If you enjoyed my take on Joker’s origin, please check out my novel Remnant here. Also, help support my writing in general by becoming one of my Patrons here. Want more Batman-related philosophy? Click here.
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?