The Joker Poses a Huge Problem For DC Comics Writers

Because of the wild, insane, and irrational nature of the character, stories about the Joker pose a huge continuity problem for DC Comics writers.

From a continuity standpoint, creating compelling stories around Batman’s arch-enemy the joker is a big problem for DC Comics writers. Because he is so prone to wild and irrational changes in personality and design, the Joker tends to have even the most prolific Batman writers fall into this trap. A perfect example of this can be seen when comparing Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Death of the Family” with James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez’s “Joker War.”

“Death of the Family” was Snyder’s third story arc on his Batman run following “Court of Owls” and then “City of Owls.” After having his face removed by Dollmaker, Joker returns to Gotham City determined to help Batman grow as a hero. To accomplish this, Joker seeks to rid Batman of his allies from him, which the Clown Prince of Crime believes is making Batman weak. In Tynion’s “Joker War,” the Joker’s master plan sees him scheming to rid Bruce Wayne of his fortune from him, which the Joker then uses to wage war across the entirety of Gotham City. Although both were crossover events that spanned all the Bat-titles, “Death of the Family” was a smaller, more personal story arc than “Joker War.”


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One of the big mysteries throughout “Death of the Family” is the secret that Batman is keeping from the rest of the Bat-Family. A looming suspicion is that the Joker knows Batman’s identity of him, and therefore also knows the identities of his allies of him. Only in the arc’s final moments do we learn that if Joker does know who Batman is then he has no interest in utilizing that knowledge. Bruce Wayne visits Joker in Arkham, seemingly admitting to the villain that he is Batman. But Joker doesn’t engage him. He has no interest in Bruce Wayne. Only the Bat. Yet “Joker War” is built solely on the premise that Joker wants to steal Bruce Wayne’s money. He completely bypasses defeating Batman as Batman, going after the Caped Crusader’s civilian moniker instead. This completely contradicts the characterization Joker underwent in “Death of the Family.”

Pinning down the Joker as a character becomes even more complicated when factoring in Geoff Johns’s prestige miniseries. Three Jokers. That story builds off the premise that Batman has not just been battling one Joker but several, all with their own unique styles and personalities. Three Jokers‘s publication history is complicated, and there are questions as to whether or not it’s even considered canon. But the concept was first introduced in Justice League #50, so it’s hard to argue it’s not at least a strong part of DC history. Still, the fact a story like that was even published speaks to the idea of ​​the Joker’s convoluted backstory.

In the end, though, the problem of writing the Joker might not be a problem at all. Writers have largely ignored Joker’s continuity when crafting their own take on the character, even going so far as to embrace the obscurity of his history from him. That’s largely part of the Joker’s appeal. Without a solid origin or identity, he’s not so much a character as he is a force of nature. The mystery of who he is and what he truly wants is what makes him so terrifying. To quote the joker himself from Alan Moore’s classic The Killing Jokes,if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.” It seems as though the same goes for his present.

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