Sunday, January 20, 2013

Comic Spotlight: Batman: Going Sane

I like comic books.

Phew, it's good to get that off my chest.  Keeping that secret buried has haunted me, keeping me awake at nights and making me pull away from those close to me.  Thankfully, I think I kept it hidden well enough that nobody noticed up until now.  I mean, sure, the signs were there, but I think that only in hindsight will people realize it was always there.

But back to the point, I like comic books, and I particularly like great comic books.  Now, a "great" comic book can mean a lot of things.  It can be an in-depth analysis of a character, something that we can compare to our own strengths and flaws to see what kind of person we are.  It could be a metaphor for an aspect of society, or simply a careful analysis of how people who are blessed with means beyond normal people can function in today's society.  Sometimes it's just Nikola Tesla's robot fighting a (supposedly) time-traveling dinosaur.

Man, Atomic Robo's a great book.

Anyway.  Today I'm going to spotlight a look at one of Batman's greatest villains.  The Joker has been portrayed a multitude of ways in all sorts of media, from a bumbling goofball with elaborate deathtraps, a crime boss who just robs things with a clown motif, a psychopath willing to murder people just to see if anybody gets the joke, and a complete and total anarchist, as in the movie The Dark Knight.

And soon I'm going to tell you all why everybody who thinks the Joker was the embodiment of randomness and chaos in that movie was flat-out wrong.  But that's for another day.

Right now, we're going to stick with the "homicidal" aspect of the Joker, and see what happens when he gets the one thing he truly wants: the death of Batman.  I present: Going Sane.

Now, I'm not going to spoil the book, because it's worth reading on its own grounds, but I'll lay out the basic premise.  The Joker is up to another high-profile crime (seriously, the guy never does anything with subtlety, even stealing some kid's report card to make him cry.)  Batman confronts him and things go horribly wrong.  The Joker kills Batman, dumps his body in a river...and has no purpose anymore.  After all, as the book says, "It's a role I've been playing to keep the audience amused.  But the audience is gone now.  The theater's empty.  And I don't have to play anymore."

Now, I don't have the image here to share, but if you do read this, watch the font of the thought boxes on the pages of this comic.  The transition from the Joker's usual hen-scratched thoughts to smooth font is both startling and scary, we're not sure if we're watching a man completely lose it, or actually manage to get his thoughts together.

The book does a great job of portraying Batman and the Joker as the ultimate enemies, as long as one exists, the other also has to be.  In this instance, the book suddenly turns into a magazine following Joseph Kerr as he tries to make a life for himself, meets a woman, and falls in love, all while still having nightmare of two terrible figures haunting him.

It's a book that examines a fine line between sanity and insanity for this character, and there are some truly heartbreaking moments, such as watching "Joseph" attempt to smile, not like a lunatic, but as a normal person would, trying to keep that other side of him pushed down.

Now, of course Batman does come back, which of course means the Joker needs to come back as well.  The book manages to detail the lives both Batman and the Joker could have if they just put away their ridiculous costumes and toys and simply rejoined society, but as long as both parties live (and one knows the other is alive), the cycle never ends.

But it's that length of time between these meetings that are the most fascinating, and make this a truly great book to pick up.  I have the collected edition as well as the individual comics (one is for reading, one is for stashing away), and I suggest anybody who likes a good look into the mind of a psychopath (especially one that makes you feel bad for said psycho) give it a try.

I'll even loan you my reading copy if you want.  What have you got to lose?

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