It’s been an interesting year for Batman and the Joker. We’ve seen their relationship examined and deconstructed in a few places across the DC multiverse. Over in Batman: Beyond the White Knight, Batman and the Joker are sharing a body. The Joker became mayor and arrested Bruce Wayne (essentially swapping their roles) on HBO Max’s Harley Quinn animated series. Batman/Catwoman made the case that Joker is one of the big things standing in the way of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Batman and the Joker’s complicated relationship lately. In fact, I recently wrote an article where I attempted to figure out what draws them to one another. Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo is a new DC Black Label series that seems to continue that conversation. The comic presents a team-up between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime, as the pair try to rescue a kidnapped Harley Quinn. (It's worth noting that since this is a Black Label book, it takes place in its own corner of the universe. That’s why Harley and Joker are still a couple.)
We’re only one issue into this seven-book series and there’s already a lot to chew on. Knowing he can’t find Harley alone, the Joker appeals to Batman. Of course, he knows Batman would never willingly work with him, so the Joker captures Jim Gordon as leverage.
The Joker could go to any of Gotham’s criminals to help him, and most of them would do so willingly out of respect or fear. Yet he chose to approach Batman, even though he’d be risking incarceration and a probable beating. This should come as no surprise, however, because Batman is your best bet in any kidnapping case. I’d trust him over Bob the Goon or the Mad Hatter.
I think there’s more to it than that, though. The Joker doesn’t need to go along with Batman for this mission. He could let Batman throw him in Arkham, where he could escape after a quick nap. Instead, I think the Clown Prince sees this as their time to play together.
“Forget the tired Dynamic Duo crap!” he says. “We could be the Deadly Duo.”
It’s hard to deconstruct intent in anything the Clown Prince says because he’s not a rational person. However, if I take his statement at face value, I think it betrays a little bit of jealousy. The Joker sees his relationship with Batman as special, believing that nobody knows him like he does. The mention of the Dynamic Duo betrays the jealousy he feels for Robin.
He wants to be Batman’s partner, but he also wants to be Batman’s enemy. It’s complicated, but the Joker is insane so that should come as no surprise. I also think a primal human emotion is driving the Joker—desperation. Pay attention to the words as the Joker appeals to Batman: “I am in a jam, buddy, and I need your help.”
Once again, I would be a fool to take everything the Joker says at face value, but I think his cry for help is genuine. And if the Joker is being truthful, and he’s truly at the end of his rope, then it’s very telling that Batman was the one he instantly turned to. Think about your own life, and times when you’ve been desperate for help. In those moments, we instinctively turn to someone close—someone we trust deeply. It’s not calculated. It’s a primal part of our brain that is drawn to our most trusted person during times of crisis.
This is a bit revealing, because if we take the Joker for his word, then his person is Batman. We’ve seen a playful Joker, we’ve seen a violent Joker, but how often have we seen a vulnerable Joker?
Like I said, the Joker could be playing us all, but if he isn’t then there is a lot to unpack. Batman’s reaction is also interesting. He can’t stand the Joker’s presence, yet he agrees to the partnership. The fact that Jim Gordon is being held hostage is a big reason, but why can’t Batman just throw the Joker in Arkham, then look for Gordon himself?
Wouldn’t Gordon be in less danger if the Joker was locked away? I’m not trying to suggest that Batman is using the situation as an excuse to spend time with the Joker. I don’t think he’s seeking that out, but I also think he accepts it when there are alternative options. It’s complicated for Batman as well, just in a different way. He doesn’t want to team up with Joker, but whether he’ll admit it or not, there is a strange draw there, and a special connection does exist.
Batman even plays a small joke on the Clown Prince. Joker suggests that they seal their partnership by spitting and shaking their hands. Batman responds by spitting directly onto the Joker’s face. The Joker is initially ticked, but then realizes this is Batman using humor to reveal the truth about how he feels. The best jokes are always personal, right?
Everything I’ve said is just one interpretation of what we see go down in the first issue. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo #1 ahead of issue #2 hitting stores next week. Maybe you’ll get a different reading from the scene than I did. Perhaps you’ll pick up on a nuance I’ve overlooked.
With Batman and the Joker working together, the rest of this limited series should prove quite interesting. Will it answer the questions we’ve had about their rivalry for the past eight decades, or leave us with more? With Batman and the Joker, there’s no telling what might happen.
Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo #1 by Marc Silvestri with Arif Prianto is now available in print and on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE for Ultra subscribers. Look for issue #2 in stores on Tuesday, December 6th.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.