Now isn’t this interesting. A writer for ComicBook is of the opinion that it’s time for the Masked Manhunter to send the Clown Prince of Crime to face the highest court. The way the current story by James Tynion sets up the argument in-story though, is questionable:
In James Tynion IV’s Batman #99, Harley Quinn gives Batman something of an ultimatum. With the final showdown between Batman and the Joker at hand, she tells him that this battle between the old foes needs to end — and she doesn’t mean just the current one. Harley tells Batman that this ongoing war between them that has played out over years and years in Gotham finally needs to be over and there is only one ending that will work: the Joker has to die. As she says, it needs an ending and while one of the core values of Batman is that he does not kill, as we head into the final chapter of Joker War with this week’s Batman #100 it’s time to consider what feels like the unthinkable. It’s time for Batman to kill the Joker.
There’s something annoying about having a villainess with a bleak record of her own bring this up in-story, rather than a different character – a civilian co-star or a guest – raise the issue and argue the point. Surely by putting this argument in the mouth of another criminal, it risks souring the argument because it’s not like a sane person wants to hear it coming from somebody guilty of evil? That’s one problem with the story inside the cover. Here’s more:
While the idea that the Dark Knight would kill his greatest adversary is a shocking and perhaps controversial one, there are some fairly sound reasons as to why it needs to be done, but they largely boil down to one central theme: despite Batman’s best and exhaustive efforts over many years, the Joker as a threat has not been contained and thus allowed the villain to not only do continued damage to Gotham, but, in a sense, undermines Batman’s entire mission. Under that general umbrella, there are several reasons why Batman’s continued unwillingness to do what needs to be done has created a situation in which he can never save Gotham — and may even have in some sense made himself a part of the problem.
First up is the idea that the Joker cannot be rehabilitated because he’s seen as mentally unstable, so there is no real justice to be had by apprehending him. If he’s captured, being in Arkham does no good. He manages to escape every time and even when he doesn’t escape right away, there’s still rehabilitative value for his time there. If anything, he is able to expand his chaos in Arkham, completely making Batman’s efforts moot.
There’s also the idea that Batman doesn’t kill, but there’s also the idea that by not definitively ending the Joker, he’s contributing to the villain’s acts of death and destruction. Think of it this way: every single time Batman lets the Joker live, be that by the villain getting away or by Bruce having him locked up, he’s all but guaranteeing that the Joker will be back. It happens every single time.
Coming from the columnist, more sense is made of this. One could even argue that by not causing the Joker a serious injury like crippling his legs, Batman and company fail to at least make the Clown Prince of Crime less of a threat, though damaging his arms would probably be more effective as he wouldn’t be able to wield hand-held weapons and brew up poisons in his laboratories. So one can reasonably ask – why haven’t any writers and editors been willing to produce stories where the Joker’s suffered long-lasting injuries? In the late 90s, there was a story at the time of No Man’s Land where Joker was shot in the knee by Jim Gordon, following the murder of his former lover Sarah Essen, but, thanks to a parade of writers obsessed with using the Joker above all other rogues gallery members, the villain recovered. Still, one can argue that injury to the arms and legs might serve as a worthwhile in-between punishment for the Joker, though the argument the Clown Prince of Crime is due for being put in the afterlife is still a valid one, based on his extraordinarily large sum of murder counts, which even Lex Luthor’s never matched as noticeably (although, he did come pretty close in some ways after he accidentally destroyed the planet Lexor in Action Comics #544 from 1983, at the tail end of the pre-Crisis era).
But, if the Joker does need to be put to death in the comics, it doesn’t have to be Batman per se who takes the task of finishing the notorious serial killer off. It could be another superhero or civilian co-star, like Harvey Bullock, who was written as quite the anti-hero in the past anyway, or maybe Nightwing, the Huntress, Lucius Fox, Vicky Vale, and, if it matters, it can all be done in self-defense. I guess that’s part of the problem with how things were handled in the past: it’s not that Batman has to do the dirty work, but that nobody else was written saving him the trouble. All because Joker is one of the most recognizable villains in mainstream comics, and to do away with him would apparently cost tons in merchandise and licensing for the same. But that only underscores what’s wrong with commercial marketing: it’s led to a rock and hard place situation, where a really challenging step isn’t explored because classic supervillains are considered that vital for storytelling. Which I say is simply not so. The story merit is what should determine everything going forward, not which supervillain is spotlighted.
Originally published here.