It’s not surprising that the Joker has one of comic book history’s more complex legacies. From purely a sense of story, his whole “thing” has always hinged on being a chaotic antithesis to Batman, while from an actual outside historical standpoint, the Clown Prince of Crime has long held a funhouse mirror to all manner of societal trends, ethics, humor, and our capacity to empathize. He’s also a character who’s been around long enough that every comic book fan has an opinion on which era or performance is the villain’s best (we certainly have a few, if you can believe it). But what about the actual history of the Joker, and how he’s affected popular culture in general?
As a lead-in to the character’s first standalone film hitting theaters this weekend, The Take has provided a pretty thorough, 20-minute Clown Prince crash course for those interested in the many highs and lows of the Joker’s history.
“The Joker is most threatening on philosophical, moral, and human levels,” the video mentions early on—which, when you think about it, kind of encompasses everything involved in what we call the “human experience,” so that might explain some of our decades-long fascination with the guy. Moreover, the primer does a great job of arguing how the villain is often best seen as a reflection of society at the time, from our need for lighter, goofier bad guys to our most nihilistic tendencies. As complex a character as the Joker can be, maybe it’s all best summarized by The Lego Batman Movie’s explanation of its Clown Prince, voiced by Zach Galifianakis. As Will Arnett’s Caped Crusader appropriately gasps: “Oh no! His smile is our grimace!”
If anything, it’s a nice, objective lead-in to what will surely be a calm and collected national discussion this weekend about Joker.