The Joker is one of the most iconic villains in comic book history. He dates all the way back to the early days of Batman, and since then has been depicted on-screen by a whole slew of actors. On the animated side, we all recognize Mark Hamill’s considerable voice talent as the quintessential Joker of our respective childhoods. In the world of live-action, our earliest memories date back to Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman. Over a decade later, we had Heath Ledger’s unsettling portrayal that numbers itself among the greatest performances in cinematic history. Next up is Jared Leto in 2016’s Suicide Squad, but there’s one version we have to suffer through in the meantime.
Gotham has made a habit of burning through the Batman Rogues Gallery fast enough to make heads spin, and recently it became The Joker’s turn to get an unnecessary origin story. For others in the comic mythos of the Dark Knight, it’s at least made a little sense. Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin in the early phases of Season 1 was stellar, Cat Woman as a charming street urchin at least made a little sense, and Edward Nygma’s beginning days in the Gotham PD at least makes for a good story. But taking on the creation of The Joker is a tall order, and it’s a story that almost demands it not be told.
So who is Gotham‘s Joker? According to the show, he’s Jerome, a young boy working at a circus who murdered his mother in a fit of rage related to her sexual proclivity. Season 2’s promo cycle shows us a clip of Jerome in Arkham Asylum, interacting with Jim Gordon’s former fiancé, and in recent teasers we see him playing an even larger role. The problem here though is that the mere presence of Jerome as the proto-Joker goes against the reason for the character existing.
Throughout the comic history of The Joker, DC has shied away from giving him a canonical origin. Many iterations of the character have existed, with the most effective of which having been Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. But even Moore’s origin story is vague enough to be expanded upon and played around with, a trend that’s become common throughout the run of the character. From a philosophical standpoint, The Joker’s lack of a true origin is part of who he is: A symbol of chaos and disorder, functioning as the unnamed yin to Batman’s yang.
What Gotham is doing goes against this principle, clearly defining the lines of The Joker, describing his childhood, his early psychosis, and the days before he became the villain we know him to be. His lack of a true, canonical origin is part of what makes him what he is. To fill in the gaps of his childhood is to provide a backstory that diminishes the spirit of the character. Part of why The Joker is so frightening is because he has no family, no friends, and no baggage. He’s pure chaos in its most unadulterated form, unburdened by his past and unencumbered by any motivation other than to incite senseless panic and destruction. Simply put, he’s a force of nature.
Perhaps Gotham will manage to do justice to The Joker with Jerome over the course of its second season. But given its status as a largely disappointing take on Batman sans Batman, we’re not holding out hope. We don’t seek to understand a hurricane’s motivation for wreaking havoc. In the same way, The Joker is better off without us truly understanding why he is the way he is. Allow him to be the force of nature he was always meant to be, and the lasting legacy of the villain will live on accordingly.
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