The Joker has won villainy in Gotham.
I had trouble reconciling this fact despite his longevity and ability to consistently keep Batman off balance, but his most recent feats have forced me to reconsider. Previously, Bane’s gauntlet (the impetus for The Dark Knight Rises) and the Black Glove’s diabolical plan were the best coups the caped crusader had ever encountered in my estimation, but that is now a thing of the past.
It’s worth noting, Bane left Batman physically paralyzed for months – a broken back will do that to you – while the next foe preyed on his fears.
Batman started preparing for a vicious psychological attack from the Black Glove organization by creating a split personality in 1958 (Batman #113) with the idea in mind that should he be brainwashed or hypnotized, a backup personality would allow him to break free from the command of said enemy and thwart the attempt; something Bruce Wayne executed masterfully.
And yet, the Joker card trumps them all.
Before delving into his latest attack on Batman, one needs to understand his origins given that his origin has mostly been surrounded by a cloud of mystery.
In issue #38 of Batman (the New 52), a scientist explains to Batman that Joker explained that he made his way to Gotham before it was actually founded in 1635. The Clown Prince of Crime possesses a genetic marker in his blood stream similar to those of the Lazarus pits that Ra’s al Ghul utilizes to essentially remain immortal. As a result, he’s been able to live for centuries much like the Black Glove’s leader (more on this later).
Granted, one should never take Joker at his words. He is after all an individual who lusts for chaos, and lies certainly help in this respect—Batman is no fool after all. And yet, the world’s greatest detective put his team on it, only for the crew to notice that a pale-faced man appears in several historical photos spanning over Gotham’s history.
While looking into all of this info, Batman meets with commissioner Jim Gordon who confirms he shot the Joker, only for Mr. J to get right back up and hit him with an axe. Batman recreates the scene and realizes that his nemesis suffered an arterial wound, something he shouldn’t have been able to come back from.
All signs point to the fact that Joker has been alive for a very long time, which poses a few problems for Gothamites.
For one, readers learn that until revealing his identity in the most recent issue, Joker was an orderly at Arkham Asylum. He routinely had conversations with inmates and shared tales of his glory with them (some are untrue). What’s more, there’s one case where Joker drives a man mad, and it leads him to voluntarily commit to Arkham, where he is cared for by none other than our favorite psychotic prankster.
Where things really get tricky is when Joker refers to Batman by his first name (Bruce) over the phone, making it clear that he knows the identity of the vigilante.
I initially suspected that Wayne’s greatest opponent knew Batman’s secret after the crime fighter found a joker card in the Batcave, but there was no way to truly know. The second clue was his first patient choice for his new Joker toxin: Joe Chill. Avid Batman readers are well aware that Chill murdered Bruce’s parents when he was but a 10-year-old boy.
Clearly, the kid gloves are off.
Just for kicks, Joker broke into the cave, stole a few souvenirs and chopped off the arm of Alfred Pennyworth in the process. Further exacerbating matters, the criminal mastermind created a toxin with the regenerative trait of his blood, which suggests there is no cure, unless Batman can obtain a sample directly from the spine of his rival.
While one awaits the conclusion of this story, it appears as though Batman’s eventual triumph won’t matter. Joker now sits squarely at the head of the bad guy table, and even the Court of Owls won’t dare to interfere.
I assume that Bruce will come away scarred from the experience, and yet, there is still much that we do not know.
Prior to the entire DC universe reboot, Grant Morrison penned an impeccable story titled “Batman R.I.P.” featuring Black Glove leader Dr. Simon Hurt and the Joker. Hurt had lived throughout several centuries because of a Hyper-adapter that Darkseid sent back in time that seemingly made Hurt immortal.
In his quest to wrestle away Gotham and the Wayne estate from Bruce, Hurt enlisted the help of the Joker. Hurt is actually an 18th century devil-worshipping ancestor of Bruce who bore the name Thomas Wayne. Prior to exposing his real identity, he was able to conduct tests on Batman for 10 days, which is where he planted all of his suggestions and trigger words that would lead to Bruce’s temporary mental implosion.
It’s worth noting, Hurt used his time to study Batman to formulate a template to re-create the vigilante. Three police officers were selected to be Replacement Batmen, but Bruce defeated them all before taking care of Joker and Hurt.
However, his identity was exposed to the clown in the process.
That story was concluded in the Batman and Robin series after the launch of the New 52 (new and improved DC universe), but it was never made clear if Hurt was still part of the continuity. If he is, perhaps Joker is now working with him again.
The last time we saw the duo, the Black Glove was escaping the Batcave and Joker was confronting him at the exit. The pale man hit Hurt over the head and placed him in a coffin.
Dead or alive now? I have no answer on this one.
Still, it is rather poignant that Joker masqueraded as a British detective by the name of Oberon Sexton during the events of R.I.P., and it took a lengthy period of time for Dick Grayson to realize Sexton was in fact the Joker. Given that he just fooled Batman in the same manner, I feel compelled to operate under the premise that the “old” and “new” villain are one and the same (i.e. from the same continuity).
What’s more, Joker told a story to one of the inmates in which the army trained soldiers to fight like Batman. Whether factual or not, this seems to be a clear indication that Joker is well aware of the fake Batmen; a fact suggesting that nothing involving Mr. J has been rebooted.
With that said, considering that he operated as both a foe and ally to Batman during R.I.P., it’s hard to envision what comes next despite the fact that Bruce has made it clear in this story that this Joker is less about games, and more about settling a score. There is another iteration of our trickster that offers a bit of clarity on the character.
“It’s not that simple with the Joker,” Batman said in The Dark Knight after Joker dressed hostages as criminals. “It never is.”
The conclusion of this immortal Joker story will likely come from an unexpected place, but it will make sense because everything in his world of laughter does.
Just enjoy the ride, because clearly, no villain offers a better one.