Batman is obsessive about stopping crime to the point of building psychological safeguards in his own mind in the event he ever got mind controlled. He is diligence embodied in a human body, and everything about him is so meticulously controlled, from his breathing to the dozens of languages he speaks to the dozens of martial art forms he has perfected. He is a human hero that fights alongside gods.
The Joker is literally insane. His mind has been ravaged, and he pursues chaos to the point that it’s an artform. He does whatever he wants, and follows a set of ever-changing rules that he’s only mildly aware of. He is reckless abandon wrapped up in the chemically-altered body of a clown. He also has no special powers, yet can bring cities to their knees in terror and won’t hesitate to double-cross the most powerful supervillains in existence.
Batman was my favorite superhero, and Joker was my favorite supervillain. While I’d never want to be the Joker, there was something always appealing to him, and as an actor, the performances of Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Joaquin Phoenix are legendary.
But I realize that they’re really both two sides of the same coin. They’re both deeply wounded inside, and are both responding to a deeply irrational world.
Batman responds to this chaos by trying to control every single aspect of his world.
Joker responds by embracing the chaos and letting it reign free.
What if there’s a third option, of nuance, and contextual flexibility? Of allowing for deep understanding of others, yet also holding fast to the values that make a more equitable and loving society?
Perhaps the answer isn’t Batman, nor the Joker, but just irrational and flawed human beings like you and I trying their best to understand the world around us. It’s sitting with the fear but not letting it control us. It’s leaning into the chaos without becoming it, embracing uncertainty, and learning to listen to the other side.
We’re not two-dimensional comic book characters, so let’s start acting like it.