Queer Villainry – The Joker

The Batman franchise has been a mainstay in the comic sphere for decades, and for almost as long, Batman’s arch enemy, the Joker, has been there to torment him. Originally, the Joker was a brutal, demented murderer whose weapons of choice were the Tommy Gun and laughing gas. However during the 1950’s, Fredric Wertham wrote about the homoerotic undertones in his book Seduction of the Innocent, sparking a mass outcry from the public to neuter mainstream comics in order to preserve respectable morals in the children that read them.

Thus, the Comics Code Authority was formed in 1954, imposing a set of stringent rules to prevent excessive gore, sexual innuendo or perversion, disrespect of authority, and the villain actually winning, among other things. Catwoman was created to be a female counterpart to Batman. Batman himself was stripped of references to his dark past, a far cry from the modern Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight series. The Joker’s character transformed from a serious threat to a prankster, and faded into obscurity throughout the 1960’s.

It was writer Neal Adams who bought the Joker back with a new perspective in Andrew Manning’s The Batman Files

The Joker was back with a healthy dose of menace, and a newfound obsession for the Batman. On multiple occasions, he acknowledges that without Batman, his existence would serve no purpose; In fact, he has even released Batman after successfully cornering him because he needs Batman to be complete. This is the crux of nearly all superheros and supervillains; In the absence of a worthy adversary, what’s the reason for their existence? Yes, Bruce Wayne would continue to be, but without constant threats to Gotham City, Batman would have no purpose. The Joker realizes that it is Batman that inspires him and make him significant. Yet his obsession goes beyond the same duality that exists between other superheros and supervillains, as we have reason to believe the Joker desires Batman. See Batman Cacaophony No 1.

He mentions this desire to sodomize Batman’s dead body in the midst of a joke. But is he actually joking? Here’s a panel from later in the same issue.

Evidently, the Joker here would have no qualms accepting payment before having sex with a man who has a clown fetish. However, I struggle to believe this is what the Joker desires. Here’s a page from Outsiders #3 “Roll Call Part 3: Joke’s on You”,  where mind-reading Lex Luthor speaks with the Joker.

In the 5th panel, the Joker appears legitimately surprised. No fake laughter, no jokes, just shock followed by rage in the last panel on the page. Take a look at Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker as Batman interrogates him in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Skip to 1:30.

Here, the Joker distinguishes between the rest of Gotham’s police force and Batman, but he could make the same distinction with Bruce Wayne, Batman’s unmasked identity. He wants to be chased by Batman, and relishes in the perpetual game of cat and mouse they play. But how does the Joker’s sexuality play into his character? Take a look at the Joker’s own explanation to Batman in Batman #625.

I find it difficult to think of the Joker as simply ‘gay’ as Neal Adams described him. Similar to Loki and bisexuality, the Joker’s preference is strictly Batman-centric; Even when Harley-Quinn, a peppy female villain, was introduced to be with the Joker, his focus remained on Batman despite her romantic advances. 

What we find is that the Joker could never be in an intimate, long-lasting relationship, even if he could be with Batman; It’s the distance between them, the chase, the capture, and Batman’s hatred towards him that is his inspiration. 

 

The actions of both Loki and the Joker are reinforced by their sexuality, and this additional dimension of their character makes for a more compelling and interesting individual. Loki uses his shapeshifting ability and seduction to support his schemes, and reaffirm who he is– the embodiment of guile and deceit. The Joker’s maniacal deeds are fueled by his obsession to ‘annoy’ Batman, and the idea that the Joker is in love with Batman and desires him sexually reveals a contradiction in the Joker’s life that only an absolutely insane individual can abide by.

Yet in a way, their desire to destabilize the presumption of safety and normalcy that their victims maintain is similar to how Judith Butler in her essay Imitation and Gender Insubordination describes the maintenance of a heterosexual norm in our society. The constant threat of ‘de-institutionalization’ of heterosexuality as the ‘original’ gender is similar to the constant state of peril within in comic books, brought on by the supervillains. However the desired end result diverges wildly; Butler seeks for the acceptance of ambiguity in sexuality and the separation of sexuality and gender, while supervillains tend to seek mass destruction and chaos.

Neither comic addresses a more sympathetic side of either villain regarding their sexuality; Neither Loki or the Joker indicate that being bisexual or gay is the root of their villainous deeds. The sexuality of these supervillains is used to enhance and magnify the insanity that is part of their character, without the implication that being gay or bisexual caused evil to emerge from within. The impact these characters have on society is based predominantly off their humor and penchant for massive over the decades, and less so for their respective sexualities.

 


Azzarello, Brian and Eduardo Risso. “Broken City.” Batman #625 (May 2004). DC Comics.

Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print. 

Manning, Matthew K. The Batman Files. Kansas, MO: Andrews McMeel, 2011. Print.

Nolan, Christopher, dir. The Dark Knight. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2008. Digital Video.

Smith, Flannagan, Fletcher at all. Batman: Cacophony #1 (November 2008). DC Comics.

Smith, Flannagan, Fletcher at all. Batman: Cacophony #3 (March 2009). DC Comics.

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