Tag Archives: Batman

Hello Misery

Flower

When I was a kid, my uncle gave me a collection of Joker stories. It was a decent collection of works, starting from his origin as the original Red Hood to a story about the Joker celebrating his birthday. It was a much more compelling collection for my young brain compared to another book which the same uncle gave me a year before, a collection of Ra’s al Ghul stories. It was great that I was getting a bunch of comic books at the time, but I sometimes wonder why I kept getting collected stories of Batman villains. Did my uncle have a thing against the Caped Crusader?

Since I read and re-read that book, along with other Batman comic books, the Joker has always been the most fascinating of the DC villains for me. Marvel has its share of compelling villains, particularly the X-Men and Spider-Man’s roster of foes, but the Joker for many comic book readers is the most beloved villain in the industry. Some might say that it is because despite him being cartoonish, he has a very human quality which keeps him apart from the overly fantastic qualities of the likes of Lex Luther or some purple space tyrant in any book or film. This is true to some degree, but I believe it is something else. The Joker is the revenge fantasy of the miserable.

And really? Who isn’t miserable? Who wasn’t miserable as a teenager? Getting picked on, not having a girlfriend? Who’s not miserable now? Stuck in a dead end job, have a wife/girlfriend who doesn’t care about you, have no woman in your life, no future, etc.

When you’re miserable as a teen and you read comic books, heroes like Batman or the X-Men might inspire you. They have miserable lives as well, but through different means, Bruce Wayne with year of training coupled with immense wealth and the X-Men with their super powers, they manage to make something out of their miserable lives and perhaps make the world a better place. But those characters all have their trump cards, they all have their deus ex machinas which lifts them up from their impossible situations: infinite wealth, super powers. The allure of the Joker is that his super power is that he’s insane… he’s insane, and more importantly, he’s miserable. And that’s an element that everyone in the world has infinite access to. With enough misery, maybe you can become a super villain like the Joker. Maybe life would be more interesting then. You can’t be Batman or Iron Man. You hardly have any money in your bank account. And you certainly don’t want to work out or train or be a real hero like a police officer or something. That takes too much time. Also, it’s much, MUCH easier to terrorize people than to actually save people from criminals or any danger. Where will you find people to save? There are people available to terrorize everywhere. And bonus points, there’s no Caped Crusader to stop you. The Joker is easy access.

Just look at the mass shooters in the news. They are all miserable and most of them have this grand delusion of being famous. Spreading misery around is the shortcut way to infamy, to being bigger than what they are. That’s why a lot of people refrain from publicizing their names too much. That is giving the criminals exactly what they want. And isn’t that the Joker’s modus operandi? Do something horrible, terrorize people, get caught, and yet be satisfied knowing that the terror he caused will forever live on in the hearts of those on the outside.

I think this is why the Jared Leto version of the Joker was so disdained and totally doesn’t work. Most people who loved or at least understood the Joker know that it is a character born out of misery. On paper, Jared Leto has never been “not cool.” He was a teen heart throb, still has lots of adoring fans, and he plays in a band. And his “cool” Joker was not miserable at all. He was ripped. He got a grill. He has tattoos. He was barely hiding the fact that he was Jared Leto, Jared Leto who spent a couple of hundred dollars in a Hot Topic. He was everyone the miserable teen who loved comic books wouldn’t hang out with in school. He was co-opting a truth which he has never realized, a “cool guy” trying to be a juggalo and failing at it.

It is interesting how the character basically started out as a gimmicky thief, then later turned into a maniac often inspired by sociopolitical purposes. It is like the character grew and became disenfranchised with itself and realized that everything around it has gone to hell… and snapped. And again, isn’t that what happens with a lot of these mass shooters in the news? In many ways… that is the fantasy. Life is getting worse, but that’s okay, one day you’ll just snap and not care about anything. Boom. That’s your super power. And by the way, I’m not saying that our collective fascination with the Joker is a bad thing or not, but the character does touch on the nihilistic side of humanity, when everything is so bad that nothing holds meaning anymore, and maybe out of all of that misery, maybe we will come out as bigger, more interesting characters. Forget Bruce Wayne. It’s too late for us to be born rich. But it is never too late to be miserable and crazy.

Looking at this new Joker movie coming up, I could see that the character is again digging deep into the misery in order to transform into the laughing villain we all know. Joaquin Phoenix, is literally morphing his body, looks miserable, and yet totally relatable in his expressions. The Joaquin Phoenix will be the most common costume for men come Halloween 2019. I’m excited for it.

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Comic Book Rambling

Parliament_of_Trees

Ah… Parliament of Trees. If you’re gonna pick a not-so-popular comic book to read, pick up Alan Moore’s run on the Swamp Thing. Excellent writing! People often know of Alan Moore through The Watchmen or The Killing Joke, but most of his stuff is gold, and I suggest reading his work on whatever series it may be.

While Jim Lee has always been my favorite artist back when I started collecting comics during the X-Men heyday, he was soon replaced by Masamune Shirow. Not only is he a great artist, his books (both comic books and illustration collections) are often filled with insightful and humorous commentaries. Orion was my introduction to his work and still one of my favorite books, and Ghost in the Shell is one of the greatest series ever. It’s a shame however that there are no signs that Shirow will be coming up with any new books soon, just collections of artworks, mostly erotic stuff. It’s also a shame that DreamWorks is still planning to create a live-action version of Ghost in the Shell. With the way Hollywood studios westernizes foreign IPs and creatively butchers them (Dragonball, The Last Airbender, Oldboy…), my expectations are set really low.   Speaking of comic books turned movies, I’m surprised at the zeal of adapting comic books to movies these days. It’s like movies have turned to the new comic books, especially since many people would know of characters like Moira Mactaggert and events like Days of Future Past without even picking up a comic book. There’s been hints of the Infinity Gauntlet run being adapted into movies, and Guardians of the Galaxy, a series that I wasn’t even sure was all that popular, is set to be released in 2014! Whoa! I think people need to slow down. While it’s great that there’s some continuity and connection to the narrative of the Marvel/Disney movies, I think they’re going to burn out soon. It’s gonna get tiring, and people would want to watch movies not based on comic books or an IP from the 80s. For a while there, even the Superman vs. Batman project seems like it’s being developed and cast in a panicked rush. I’m glad they’re finally trying to move on with the series and not re-telling the Superman origin story again and again… having Batman, a hero everyone loves, fight Superman, a re-launched hero that not too many people care about, sound like a disaster.

A few random comic book thoughts (or hate) in closing:

I never liked Rocket Raccoon nor Squirrel Girl. I find them both incredibly corny.

I also don’t get Deadpool. Wasn’t the funny, breaking the fourth wall thing done by Spider Man before? I also can’t reconcile the idea of a morally ambiguous, mentally unstable villain to be a “funny” character. I don’t find it cute. The fact that he was created by Rob Liefeld and portrayed by Ryan Reynolds are just nails in the coffin.

I’m not a fan of the Iron Man films. I find Tony Stark grating. Wasn’t he supposed to be the serious scientist-type with a drinking problem from the Avengers? What’s with all the wit and quips? When did he become Spider Man? I also found Iron Man 2 incredibly one-sided, like the billionaire industrialist Tony Stark versus The Wrestler (“an old broken down piece of meat”). Weren’t we all supposed to root for Tesla and not for Edison?

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