Joker week continues, my lovely mad little fools, and today we have a juicy one. Lovers and Madmen, done by the team of Michael Green, Denys Cowan and John Floyd, was published in Batman Confidential, a fairly recent comic series that is supposed to cover early events in Batman’s career, such as his first meeting with Lex Luthor. This is their take on Batman meeting Joker. While I love the storyline, I don’t count it as canon. It contradicts too many established pieces of Batman lore. What I do love is the most disturbing look at Joker ever. And given what I’ve talked about this week, that’s saying something.
When the story starts, Batman is feeling on top of the world, having pretty much scared all the criminals straight. Detective skills and logic have triumphed over brute force and greed. So, Bruce can take a little time to relax and even entertain thoughts of love. Then, he finds a strange crime scene. Three people dead, a robbery without motive, and nothing taken. Logically, there should be a motive, a reason, but the further Batman digs, the more he finds that there is none.
The criminal in question, simply called Jack, is drinking at a bar and feeling depressed. The waitress/psychology student Leeny, ie. a much younger Harley Quinn, finds out that he is apathetic about his life because he’s too good at his “job”. Leeny convinces him that if he is so gifted, he owes it to himself to keep at it.
Jack plans the perfect bank robbery – so perfect it bores him. He trips the alarm so that he and his new crew can at least engage in a shoot-out and have some fun. Still not feeling anything, Jack wants to die – suicide by cop. Just then, Batman shows up. Instantly, Jack is fascinated with the somber, serious costumed hero as if somehow what he is doing matters, all while looking so ridiculous. When Batman finishes off the goons, he finds one of the cops dead, a note pinned to him with a pencil saying “You made my day”.
Thus begins a game that Batman can’t win with simple logic. Jack keeps committing crimes with no pattern other than senseless mayhem and cruelty, all so he can watch Batman attempt to capture him. Things begin to escalate, as Batman thinks he may have to sic the mob on Jack in order to kill him. After a fight that disfigures Jack’s face with a grin, and then an attempt on his life by the mobsters, the criminal who is too good at his job endures a bath of chemicals used for anti-psychotics, transforming him into a twisted clown who really enjoys his new role in the universe. All so he can keep playing with Batman.
This book is twisted. Jack is already scary – this book preceded The Dark Knight – with his only reason for doing anything being his creepy obsession with Batman. When he is turned into the Joker, it goes into full-on psycho with a crush. He even kidnaps other criminals so Batman has no one else to play with. When you can make a creepy homicidal criminal mastermind look sane by comparison, that’s just insane.
I love this book because it paints such a twisted idea of Batman and Joker’s relationship. To Batman, Joker is the one criminal he can’t intimidate, predict, or outsmart. He’s never faced a creature like this; a pure psychopath, and the thought of just what lengths he must going to in order to stop Joker terrifies Batman. Joker sums up the situation with one creepy quote: “I never knew what to do with my life until a man put on a mask and called himself Bat.”
A good Joker story is also a good Batman story. And this one really gets the idea of madness, obsession, and what kind of man it takes to face it, without crossing the line. I recommend you add this to your comic collection when you get the chance.
Tomorrow is the final day of Joker Week, so come back as we look at the Joker and his most significant portrayals.