In one of his newest comics, Batman is a baby being raised by the Joker.
Got your attention, didn’t I? We’ve seen Batman and the Joker’s rivalry from so many angles over the past 83 years, but this is a new one and it all plays out in Joker: One Operation Joker, a DC manga series currently available to read in print and on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
At the start of the series, Batman is turned into a baby after falling into a vat of de-aging chemicals. If you know anything about the Joker, then you know that he absolutely falls apart in a world without Batman. Storylines like “Going Sane” and the Batman: The Animated Series episode “The Man Who Killed Batman” back this up—the Clown Prince of Crime has no purpose without the Dark Knight.
So, what does the Joker do? Naturally, he decides that he needs to raise baby Batman, ensuring that the infant grows up to become the Dark Knight. This is the premise of Joker: One Operation Joker. The Clown Prince isn’t plotting a heinous crime or committing grisly murders. Instead, he’s struggling to do things most parents do, like trying not to wake the baby, or hunting for reliable childcare. Of course, he’s the Joker, so he isn’t exactly your typical parent.
Oddly, this isn’t the first time Batman has turned into a baby, or the Joker has become a dad, but it is the first storyline to combine the two. The results are as delirious as you’d expect, as we watch the Joker try to struggle with being a single father. For example, he’s so busy that he doesn’t have time to apply some of his makeup (a relatable experience for any parent). As a result, one of his henchmen doesn’t recognize him. Taking care of a baby does things to you.
Like Superman vs. Meshi, Joker: One Operation Joker is a collaboration between DC and the Japanese publisher Kodansha. If you’re familiar with manga, then you know that the sensibilities are different than comics published in the US. The pacing is different, and often the stories are based around a wacky premise like a character waking up as a vending machine, or a soap opera starring dentists. Or in this case, the Joker struggling to be a single father.
The series is written by Superman vs. Meshi's Satoshi Miyagawa with art by Keisuke Gotou. Like most manga, the text is meant to be read right to left. In fact, if you’re reading the series on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE, then you have to swipe in the opposite direction to continue. It’s a fun way to make the experience more authentic. To be clear, this isn’t DC publishing a manga-inspired storyline—this is manga, as pure as it gets. If you’re a DC fan who has never delved into manga, then this is a great way to start.
I have examined Batman and the Joker’s complicated relationship over the years, and this story challenges our perceptions of it in ways I never thought were possible. Although, to be fair, I never imagined Batman and the Joker would be in a situation like this. This manga supports the idea that the Joker can’t exist without Batman. That’s the exact reason he’s raising the Tyke Knight—it’s for his own existence. If the baby doesn’t grow up to become Batman, then the Joker has no purpose.
This is a story that could only be told with the Joker. Let’s be real, Penguin and Riddler would have killed baby Batman on the spot. They don’t have the same codependency issues with Batman that the Joker has.
But here’s the problem. I think the Joker’s plan is doomed to fail. I don’t know how this series ends because the English chapters are still being released, but there is no way this ends the way the Joker wants. Just think about it for a moment. If Bruce Wayne is raised by the Joker, he will grow up to become a fundamentally different person. The Joker is giving this father thing all he’s got, but he’s no Thomas Wayne.
But let’s suppose the Joker pulls it off. If the Clown Prince raises this baby to become the Batman we all know and love, then it fundamentally changes the Joker. Parenthood changes you, and there is no way he can go back to the way he was before. Plus, in order to teach Bruce morality and justice, the Joker will have to become a better person. Oh, and there’s the fact that Bruce became Batman because he saw his parents shot in an alley. Does the Joker plan on getting murdered?
But maybe it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about those little special moments of parenthood. At one point, baby Bruce turns over by himself and the Joker is absolutely mesmerized. There’s another moment where the Joker is giving the baby a bath and contemplates how dependent the tiny human is on him. He’s literally holding Batman’s life in his hands, and there is nothing but trust. Like I said, we’ve never seen their relationship quite like this.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if Joker’s plan fails. Parenthood isn’t about perfection—ask any parent. During their iconic confrontation in Batman: The Killing Joke, the Dark Knight wondered how his rivalry with the Joker would ultimately end. “We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me. Perhaps I’ll kill you,” Batman says in a classic exchange.
Apparently, he was wrong. The 83-year rivalry doesn’t end in murder—it ends with baby toys and bath time. Perhaps parenthood was the killing joke all along.
Read the first seven chapters of Joker: One Operation Joker by Satoshi Miyagawa and Keisuke Gotou on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
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 feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.