The Joker is unquestionably one of the greatest super villains in comic book history. Created in 1940 as a one-time villain for Batman, he returned to the pages of DC Comics again and again, taking form as the perfect foil for the Caped Crusader, pure chaos and crime to his order and justice. He has taken many forms over the years, from a laughing killer and thief to a ludicrous practical joker to an insane monster, and multiple actors have brought him to both the big and the little screens, including Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and Heath Ledger. This last one is considered by many to be the best, mainly because he captured the essence of the Joker’s insanity. And then he died. Yeah, he may have channeled a little too much of his inner Joker.
But the real reason his Joker is the best is because while each of the other Jokers was constantly defeated, Ledger won. No, really, he won. He is the only Joker to ever completely defeat Batman, and also the only villain in the Nolanverse ever to do so.
Think about it…
What is the Joker’s goal in The Dark Knight? He wants to strike at the “soul” of Gotham, to make the people lose faith in their heroes and leaders so that the city would descend into chaos. He starts by eliminating some of the city’s key leaders, both legal and criminal, so that no one feels safe and Gotham will be weakened. Then, after a complicated series of events which puts Batman-dependent James Gordon in charge of the police and leaves District Attorney Harvey Dent broken, he turns Harvey to the dark side with some carefully-worded psychology. Since Gotham’s White Knight is now a villain, Joker only has to wait for the city to discover his fall from grace and watch as it tears itself apart with doubt and despair.
But here his plot seems to hit a snag. Batman conspires with Gordon to cover up Harvey’s crimes by claiming to have killed Two-Face’s victims. He goes on the run and apparently into hiding to make the story believable. I could rant on the many layers of stupid that make up the last two minutes of The Dark Knight, but I have neither time nor space to vent my fury. Let’s just accept for now that Batman’s lack of faith in the people he protects, the “good people willing to believe in good,” sets them up for betrayal and move on.
For eight years, Gotham seems to live in peace. But that peace is based on a lie and thus is about as solid as the hull of the Titanic. All it will take is one iceberg to stave it in and drown Gotham’s citizens. That iceberg comes in the form of Bane, an assassin who breaks Batman, exiles him to a prison on the other side of the world, and threatens the city with a nuclear bomb. Gee, if only they had a superhero like Batman to rescue them. But at least they have the police … no, they’re all trapped in the sewers. But at least they have Gordon and the memory of Harvey Dent to keep them going … except that Bane has found out Gordon’s secret and ratted him out on live television. With Dent’s dark secret revealed, the people lose their last bit of faith in their heroes and in good, and the poor turn on the rich as the city descends into chaos…
Yeah, I know the Joker couldn’t have known about Bane or his plans, but after Batman’s horrible move, it was only a matter of time before something similar happened. In his attempt to keep the Joker from winning, Batman ensured his ultimate success. So maybe it doesn’t make the Joker awesome as much as it makes Batman seem lame, but the fact remains that the Joker achieved everything he set out to do.
(Batman and all related properties are owned by DC Comics. The Nolan Batman Films are property of Warner Brothers.)