Has The Joker Lost His Relevance In A World That Is Already Insane?


You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy.
—Charles Manson

To be blunt—the Joker from the new Lego Batman Movie seems to have lost his mojo. In fact he seems sort of…needy.

As an untenured Professor of Jokerology from Dr. Vinny Boombatz University, it is my job to pick up subtle and not-so-subtle fluctuations in the Joker/Trickster archetype. And so I find this new, insecure, somewhat not-scary Joker to be quite interesting.

“please love me.”

Even in the first episode of the new DC Universe television series Powerless, the Clown Prince of Crime is unceremoniously captured as the result of a “smell detector”—warranting barely a footnote, the perp quietly led off by police with a jacket over his head.

But, as the Manson quote above suggests…perhaps in a real world gone crazy, “Joker-crazy” really doesn’t mean much anymore. Certainly, it’s not quite as scary as it—or he—used to be.

The Joker first become a so-called “inspiration” for a number of killers…then, a political “icon” of sorts. He represented chaos. But now, if you happen to be reading the news at all—chaos seems to be already here.

the early 90s had Bart Simpson tees and we have this

And so the power of the Joker meme—that once symbolized a sort of “yearning” for this anti-establishment, “watch the world burn” type of energy—has now waned. Because that anarchic energy has now been fulfilled; the President’s top advisor literally being described as someone who likes to watch the world burn.

As a Joker from his classic heyday in the comics—say, Alan Moore circa the 1980s—might say, with a genuine, hurt/angry grimace, “this just isn’t fun anymore!”


And so the Lego Batman Movie features a neurotic, somewhat “neutered” Joker—a Joker for our times, perhaps much more so than the one played last year by Jared Leto. This time around, Joker is voiced by Zach Galifianakis, who is also currently starring as a neurotic, sad clown in the TV series Baskets.

sad clown

Is this “it” for the once proud Batman villain? Are characters like Bane and—dare I suggest—former Joker “sidekick” Harley Quinn just more relevant?

Perhaps we need to start at the beginning…no, not even at Caesar Romero’s buffoonish version, but literally at the “Man Who Laughs” Jerry Robinson version of the character from the 1940s. “Joker” not as political icon…not as ideological icon…not as anything invested in such highfalutin notions.


But rather…Joker as almost a primal glyph-like Trickster entity, his face an inscrutable grinning mask etched in deeply engraved lines upon a white canvas. “Back to Basics” Joker. Primordial Joker. The First Joker.

Anyway…that’s what I think. But what do I know?