The very first thought that popped into my mind as I started reading Batman: Three Jokers #1 is how dysfunctional Bruce Wayne’s collection of “mementos” in the Batcave really is.
I mean, really—just think of it! That creepy glass case with Robin’s costume in it…it’s always going to remind him of all that Jason Todd business. And the Joker memorabilia…who the fuck wants that psychopath’s shit in your house?
Now I know what you might be thinking—well, Batman has all that stuff in his cave to give him perspective, to perhaps use forensically in cases, etc. But then there’s the whole “my parents are deaaaaaaad” thing he keeps bringing up. Am I being heartless? Or am I making a cogent psychological observation here? I don’t think you can really get “better”—get over trauma—when you’re keeping it around you in your face all the time.
Ah!, but then you might be thinking: well, then we wouldn’t have a Batman the Guardian of Gotham City now would we? Think of all the crime Bruce Wayne, inspired by his trauma, has fought. All the lives saved.
But here’s my opinion on that…I think without Batman, there is no Joker. That’s right, just like Heath Ledger says to him in The Dark Knight:
“I don’t want to kill you. What would I do without you? You complete me!”
It’s my belief that Batman’s lack of healing and closure regarding his trauma perpetuates a continuing cycle of crime & violence, giving the biggest and most colorful names in Gotham’s Rogues’ Gallery a significant meaning/motivation in life. And this is also apparently the opinion of one Dr. Roger Huntoon, a best-selling author in Three Jokers who argues that masks should be banned (shades of the Covid!) in an effort to stop the superheroes from plaguing society with all their dysfunctional self-perpetuating trauma & violence.
Of course, we get some idea of where Three Jokers scribe Geoff Johns might stand on this issue by the fact that Huntoon (a pretty obvious Frederic Wertham stand-in) gets killed “off-page” by one of the Jokers with a rubber chicken shoved down his throat. Quite frankly: perhaps if there was no superhero trauma, there would be no superhero comics to buy. And…no superhero movies, TV shows, video games, Funko figurines, and etc.
“Death and tragedy sells”—or so the belief was amongst DC Comics leadership in the early Aughts, creating a continual Grand Guignol of superhero trauma and gore. This violent “new direction” of course influenced the movies themselves, and thus a highly gritty and violent new cinematic Joker was introduced in 2008, becoming an instant cult favorite amongst comic fans and regular folk alike.
The Dark Knight Joker was so popular, I fact…that he inspired a whole rash of real-life “Jokers.” Some of these guys merely dressed like the Joker to commit mischief and misdemeanors. And a few of them…actually killed people.
(There was even a whole political element to the late 2000’s “Joker Craze”…one domino in a series of ideologically co-opted pop-culture that we, at least in the U.S., may still be digging our way out of.)
Now, this concept of “multiple Jokers”—perhaps some being “civilians”—running around terrorizing the populace is the actual plot of Batman: The Three Jokers. It’s a bit “on the nose,” but this is not a miniseries you buy for the subtlety, let’s face it.
You buy this series (or, at least, its first issue) because you want to see Jason Todd—the former “Dead Robin” and current Red Hood—blow the brains out of one of the Jokers in extreme close-up.
And that’s not even a spoiler in my opinion, because they were passing around the last several pages of that book all over the internet before the issue even came out. That was a “selling point”…though a bit of a cheat, because there are apparently still more Jokers out there.
DC “killed” the Joker…but not really. According to Three Jokers, perhaps this most popular of villains is more of an unkillable archetype. Which, when you think about it, really works out for Warner Brothers, because that recent Joker movie made a metric shit-ton of dough!
But of course…this all sort of keeps Jason Todd in an exciting cycle of trauma and abuse, doesn’t it? I mean, even more than Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Todd is the “poster child” for Joker abuse…or even abuse in the DC Universe in general.
Three Jokers #1 sort of really highlights not only the whole Todd drama but even the unsavory subtext of his abuse at the gloved hands of Joker. This all “climaxes” at the end of the issue with Joker point-blank psychoanalyzing Todd’s odd choice of “The Red Hood” as his superhero name…seeing as it was his abuser Joker’s former moniker.
Oh, and also Joker reveals that he abused Todd so bad, the boy had offered to become “his Robin.” Which is some really sick shit…and of course leads to a grown-up Todd shooting him in the head as Batgirl (who also had her abuse at the hands of the villain) makes a half-assed effort to prevent the killing.
Ostensibly the main “hook” of this series is simply the idea of “multiple Jokers”…for a comic book universe so traditionally obsessed with various versions of characters from the decades all meeting up with each other somehow, how tantalizing is getting all the Jokers through the years involved? Kooky 60s/70’s Joker with the Joker-fish is on-board, as is the klassic Killing Joke one (I mean, Alan Moore is never going to forgive DC anyway so fuck it).
Will there be more guest-stars? Will Bat-Mite make an appearance too?
And if Bat-Mite does make an appearance…will he get the cattle prod? Or the toilet plunger? That’s what everybody really wants to know.!
But I’d be remiss if I also didn’t admit that all this goriness and rehashing of comic book trauma is the only reason I picked up this issue. I didn’t pick it up for some sort of cerebral meditation on the subject matter (which Tom King did about 75% better in last year’s Heroes In Crisis). I didn’t buy it expecting some radical revision of the whole superhero trope.
Batman: Three Jokers gave me pretty much exactly what I expected of it, no more and no less. To me, it—and Heroes In Crisis—is a natural extension and reflection of the obsession not only some fans but some comic creators have with “reliving” and re-presenting these specific traumatic events in the lives of their heroes.
And what, ultimately, is the motivating factor for fandom & artists to keep reliving the trauma? (Other than $ and the idea that Comics has become modern-day secular religion.)
I think Dan Clowes, in an issue of Eightball, said it best:
“Even (especially) in their most debased form, comics have an aura to them of unspoken truth. Imagine, for example, a child born into a hellish marriage, the details of which are so horrific that they are never discussed. His parents soon divorce and an older brother, the only witness to the horror-years, is too traumatized to communicate with the younger child. The only transmission of information comes indirectly from the older brother’s stack of comics, remnants of the hellish marriage years, that express, through his selection in buying these particular comics, the nature of the trauma in mythic/symbolic terms (hags, mad scientists and invulnerable super-tots). In a house that has repressed emotional horror to a lifeless approximation of “normalcy” these comics are a record of unspoken and unspeakable truth. If the young boy should one day create his own works of art we could expect him to in some way address this hidden language and to interpret his notions of the truth based on this experience.”
That said, I really do hope Jason Todd manages to process his trauma one day.