Lonely Gods:
Social Minorities in American Superhero Comic Books

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The Mentally Ill in Comics


Laugh Clown Laugh: The Joker

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     Of all the possible comic book villains, the Batman villain Joker has the reputation for being the craziest. It is he who always pushes Batman to the breaking point, performing horrific villainous acts, often laughing all the way.

Clever Genius
An Evil Genius

     It was not always this way. From his introduction in Batman issue 1, The Joker was written as completely sane for several decades. It is only during the 1970s that the Batman writers began to portray him as insane or psychotic, and it is this trend that continues to this day.

     The Joker was introduced in 1940. Like many early Batman villains, he was portrayed as a criminal mastermind with a gimmick, in this case, the appearance of a clown. This was not outlandish. In the same issue another villain with a gimmick was introduced: Catwoman. The Joker appeared in two separate stories in Batman #1, both times utilizing a similar motive of announcing his crimes ahead of time and then using his intelligence to get around the police and Batman. Batman himself remarks on the Joker's intelligence in the second story "The Joker Returns" after hearing of his escape from jail: "He's a very unusual man! He's shrewd, subtle and above all ruthless! Mark my words, The Joker will return with a vengeance!" 1. [View Image]

     Although the Joker's obsession with theft ultimately proves to be his downfall in these early stories, he is still presented as a completely sane criminal mastermind.

Detective Comics 365 (July 1967) - pg 4 - "The Joker never does anything without some deep, underlying reason." - still used a variety of gags and wacky weaponry (jet propelled roller skates - pg 9)

A distinct turning point came during the 1973, with the publication of The Joker's Five Way Revenge! in Batman #251. The Joker, whom for decades had been portrayed as an only slightly menacing criminal far more concerned with wacky antics than actually committing crimes, took a much darker turn. In his first appearance in a Batman comic since 1969 (besides reprints of older stories) The Joker is made to be clearly crazy.

The new Joker begins with him escaping from a hospital for the criminally insane, rather than a simple jail where he had been confined in the past. The Joker also began murdering people once again. This issue marks the first time the Joker killed someone since _________

"I'd always envisioned my winning as a result of cunning... at the end of a bitter struggle between the Batman and myself - him using his detective skills and me employing the divine gift men call madness!" (bat 251 pg 11).
"I've seen you angry like this - often! Nobody alive can beat you when the anger is upon you! You'll get no battle from me! I may be insane... but I'm not crazy!" (pg 20).

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