Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Many Deaths of The Joker

 Batman's arch nemesis the Joker has been around nearly as long as Batman has, and has become as much of a staple in Batman's lore as his impractical cape. The Joker has had spinoff comics, toys, media, an Oscar winning live action movie, nd a sidekick who is, according to DC and not just this fanboy's opinion, one of the tentpoles of DC Comics. 

In their long history together Joker has severely injured and nearly killed Batman on multiple occasions, beat a Robin to death with a crowbar, shot Batgirl in the spine, killed every infant born during the No Man's Land story arch, turned an entire supervillain prison into versions of himself, and killed countless others among his pile of ever mounting atrocities. 

In all this fans have always asked: "Why doesn't Batman just kill the Joker?" 

Simple answer: Goes against his code, unethical, yada yada yada. 

Complex answer: Look what's happened when the Joker was killed. 

*Spoiler Alert is in effect*

**I will be excluding the 1989 Batman film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nickleson as the Joker wasn't intentionally killed in that film and no consequence for the Joker's death were ever shown in subsequent movies**

***I will also be excluding the time Jason Todd killed a Joker in The Three Jokers story arch since A: That one isn't finished yet and B: We're still not sure if he killed the RIGHT Joker***

Kingdom Come

In the excellent Alex Ross illustrated Kingdom Come story, Joker gets loose in Metropolis. Batman, Superman and a third hero, Magog, are too late from stopping him killing everyone at the Daily Planet, including Lois Lane. While he's being placed in the police car, Magog uses his energy weapon to vaporize the Joker, and Superman immediately calls for his arrest. After Magog is acquitted under the reasoning that a lot of people would be saved if Batman had just killed the Joker years ago, Superman officially gives up on humanity and retires, causing his fellow Justice Leaguers to go their separate ways. 

Jump forward 30 some odd years and with no moral guidance from Superman the streets are now battlegrounds for bored metahumans to fight each other for no reason. The line between heroes and villains has completely disappeared and the world governments have no way of stopping the collateral damage caused by the new generation, escalating to a nuclear disaster that draws Superman out of retirement and signals the beginning of Armageddon. 

The Joker's death in Kingdom Come is less of the focal event and more of a catalyst to the main story. With the public on the side of Magog the ultra heroic Superman no longer feels that he can protect the ideology of the people, and chooses to step away. While not done by Batman or Superman in this instance, the crossing of that line and the resulting fallout (Ha, get it? Because a nuclear disaster happens?) still has ramifications that effect the entire world by giving superheroes a free pass to do whatever they want in the name of justice. 


Based on the wildly popular and incredibly fun Injustice: Gods Among Us and it's sequel Injustice 2, the comic fills in the blanks the video games don't have time to flesh out. The Joker, once again loose in Metropolis, steals a nuclear submarine and plants one of its warheads in the city. He then attaches a detonator to Lois to go off if her heart should stop. Lastly, he gasses Superman with an altered form of Scarecrow's fear toxin, making him believe that his most feared enemy, Doomsday, had returned. Superman fights Doomsday, supposedly killing him, only to snap out of it and realize that he actually killed Lois, and even worse, their unborn baby. With Lois dead the bomb goes off and Metropolis is devastated. 

Batman, after capturing the Joker, is interrogating him when Superman tears his way through the prison's walls and punches Joker's heart out through his chest, much to Batman's dismay. Superman decides that he's sick of the cat-and-mouse games they've been playing with the villains all these years and that he is now going to take matters into his own hands and sets up his own regime to rule the world, opposed by Batman and his team. 

Between killing the Joker and the death of Lois Superman completely loses his moral compass, wanting to do whatever it takes to make the world safe. We see him kill other villains and even heroes in this series as he imposes his will on the world. The Joker crossed the unspoken line of you don't mess with the heroes families, and in response Superman crossed every other line he had to get his justice. 

DC Metal

Finally we come to a scenario where Batman gets to take out the Joker once and for all. The Joker kidnaps a legion of orphans in Gotham City and gives them all a special Joker gas that turns them into feral goblin creatures with Joker grins. Batman, triggered by the Joker messing with orphans, decides that enough is enough and kills him. On his death, the Joker's body releases another toxin directly into Batman's face, which slowly turns him into another Joker, but with Batman's intelligence and skill, thus creating the Batman Who Laughs. He goes on to kill all the super heroes on earth, then all the villains, then everyone else before going on an interdimensional murder spree. 

Subtlety not being one of comics strong points, the meaning is clear: by killing the Joker Batman became just like the Joker, in this case literally. The argument that Batman frequently gives is that if he kills then he is no better than the killers he stops, which is fair, and heavy handed analogies aside this has merit. 

The Moral High Ground

The reason that Batman has never killed the Joker in the main continuity, besides his own personal code, bla bla bla Joe Chill, yada yada yada, is that DC heroes are written to be a moral goal to aspire to and to find faith in. The Joker has done some horrifying things, but if every time the Joker does something terrible the heroes never bend their morals, then the Joker loses. No matter how hard it is or what sacrifices need to be made the heroes will never let this bad guy win. 

Although, it is fun to read stories where the heroes do break and the fallout that occurs. 

I said fallout again. 


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