September 27, 2022
The Joker is shown smiling in the image.

Joker Effect: Why Batman’s greatest villain is now the worst

There are few comic book villains more iconic than The Joker. 

Ever since his first appearance over 80 years ago, he’s won over the hearts of legions of fans around the world. His popularity is easily seen in his many portrayals in film, cartoons, video games and countless merchandise. But, the Joker is far from the only member of Batman’s rogues gallery. There are some that have near-iconic status as the clown prince of crime, but there are also many more who are far more obscure.

Despite Batman’s vast legion of baddies, it seems like whenever there’s a new Batman movie, TV show, game, or even graphic novel, the Joker is there in some form. Maybe he’s the main antagonist, a secondary antagonist, a cameo, the twist villain, or plays a role in the story–something that can’t be said for other Batman villains.

In the ‘60s, the Joker was played by Cesar Romero. In the 1989 Tim Burton movie, he was played by Jack Nicholson. In the ‘90s animated series, he was voiced by Mark Hamill. In the “Dark Knight” he was played by Heath Ledger in his Oscar-winning performance. In the DC Extended Universe, he’s played by Jared Leto. In the Fox prequel series “Gotham,” two proto-Jokers were both played by Cameron Monaghan. In his own sole film “Joker,” he was played by Joaquin Phoenix in his Oscar-winning performance, making the character the second character after Vito Corleone from “The Godfather” to have two portrayals win an Academy award. 

Now in “The Batman,” Barry Keoghan briefly plays him at the end of the movie. 

The Joker is everywhere. 

So what am I saying? What I’m saying is that the Joker is overused. When I walked into “The Batman,” I had hoped the Robert Pattinson/Matt Reeves version of Batman would be the first big screen vision to not feature the Joker. But my hopes were shattered when he showed up laughing. I had to restrain myself from shouting in that theater “Oh, come on!” There is nothing left to interpret, Matt Reeves confirmed as the Joker. To be fair, he also said this doesn’t mean he’ll be the villain in the next movie, so I have hope that Pattinson’s Batman still won’t fight the Joker. 

My top pick for the villain in the sequel is the Court of Owls. If not them, how about any other of the dozens of Batman villains who are yet to make their big screen debut?

I am so sick of the Joker and I know I’m not alone. Don’t get me wrong, the Joker is a great and interesting villain. In fact, he’s one of my favorite comic book villains. Most of the performers I’ve mentioned were the highlights of their respective films and shows. But, there are many villains like Hugo Strange, Solomon Grundy, Clayface and Professor Pyg, just to name a few, who have legions of fans dying to see them on the big screen.

This is a phenomenon I’d like to refer to as the “Joker Effect”. How I define it is a character or set of characters in a work of media who are given a clear priority over the rest in terms of appearances in media such as future movies, TV shows, books (comic or otherwise), video games and so on. 

This isn’t limited to just the Joker, even in terms of Batman. The entire Batman property itself can be seen as being part of the Joker Effect, evidenced through its countless new comics, new movies, new games and cartoons. 

For example, a new Batman cartoon is coming out this year called “Batman: Caped Crusader.” Most of DC’s other characters are lucky to have a single TV show in their entire career. Most of them have only appeared in supporting roles in Justice League shows or movies. So, DC has a clear bias towards the Caped Crusader and his villainous companions.

This isn’t even limited to comic book characters. The Joker Effect can be found in any series that has a long history and a lot of characters, just as long as a character or set of them that are given more attention then the rest in the series. Of course, this part of a larger problem with the overrelatus on pre-established characters, which is something I won’t go into here. 

The point is, The Joker and other characters are long overdue for a break. Not a retirement, a break, and once other characters have gotten their time in the spotlight, they can come back. But, I think it’s time for lesser known characters to have their time in the spotlight.

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