It goes without saying that Batman and The Joker are sworn enemies. The polar opposite nemeses have been at each other’s throats across various media (comic books, movies, live action television, cartoons, video games etc) since they first encountered each other in Batman #1 in April of 1940. Their rivalry is destined to continue for many years to come, if not indefinitely.
However, there’s actually a lot more to their relationship than the casual comic book fan might think. It’s the epitome of a love-hate relationship as, not only are they undoubtedly the proverbial thorns in each other’s sides, they actually require each other’s existence in order to function and go about doing what they do. The Joker wouldn’t be The Joker without Batman and Batman wouldn’t be Batman without The Joker. This is a fact that is evident across all Batman media.
The dark, brooding, highly-organised vigilante and the wacky, chaotic, sadistic Clown Prince of Gotham simply couldn’t function properly without their respective nemeses – and it’s been proven that that’s the case on a large number of occasions. These are ten examples that prove The Joker needs Batman and vice versa.
10. The Dark Knight
The relationship between Christian Bale‘s Batman and Heath Ledger‘s Joker was a brief one. Ledger would never reprise his role – something that inevitably would have happened had he still been alive – due to his tragic death, but the two showed a reliance on each other in different ways in The Dark Knight alone.
Ledger’s Joker emerged mysteriously with no definitive back-story and quickly made it his goal to torment the Dark Knight. However, he laughed off Batman’s suggestion that he wanted to kill him, answering that suggestion by saying “I don’t wanna kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, no. You… you complete me!”
Then, The Joker made Batman need him in a very contrasting but literal way – by putting him in a situation in which Batman’s friends needed his help to stay alive, and only Joker knew exactly where they were.
9. Batman: The Black Mirror
Batman: The Black Mirror is a Dark Knight story featuring Dick Grayson – not Bruce Wayne – as the man behind the black mask. And it’s actually that fact which emphasises just how much The Joker relies on the original Batman.
Mostly covering the return of James Gordon, Jr. to Gotham City (the psychopathic son of Commissioner Jim Gordon), Grayson’s Batman also encounters the Clown Prince of Crime – who it turns out simply isn’t interested in dealing with him.
The Joker immediately realises that Dick isn’t Bruce (“You smell like feathers, little birdie, you’re not my Batman”) and goes and hides in a church until “his” Batman appears.
This moment emphasises the deep connection and familiarity that The Joker has with Bruce Wayne, and unequivocally proves he wouldn’t be the same villain without him.
8. Batman: Going Sane
In 2008, the Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight series included a four-issue sub-story – issues #65-#68 – called “Going Sane” which absolutely epitomises the theme of ‘frenemy-ship’ between Batman and Joker.
In the story, The Joker kills (or at least believes he has killed) Batman. The resulting struggle he experiences when he believes that the Dark Knight no longer exists shows just how much he needs him.
Upon Batman’s death, the Clown Prince of Crime transforms into an ordinary, sane member of society. He undergoes a plastic surgery procedure in order to make himself more normal in his appearance, he gives himself the name “Joseph Kerr”, falls in love with an average woman and attempts to erase everything about his crazy and crime-filled past from his mind.
It ends up being a temporary change, however, because Batman wasn’t really dead – but it certainly proves how much The Joker relies on Batman’s existence to be who he is.
7. Emperor Joker
Emperor Joker is a story that has been written as a comic and then loosely adapted for an animated portrayal – but both of the depictions see the Clown Prince of Crime obtain incalculable power and use it for the same reason.
In the comic book arc, The Joker tricks the 5th Dimensional Imp Mister Mxyzptlk into giving him 99% of his reality warping power and, in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the 5th Dimensional Imp Bat-Mite accidentally gives his power to The Joker when he meant to give it to Batman.
Both instances saw The Joker imbued with the power to do whatever he wanted – literally anything – and he did to an extent; he created the universe in his own image in the comic book, for example, and created his own “Joker-Mite” in the cartoon – but he still focused most of his attention on Batman.
In spite of having the ability to do anything, The Joker tortured and killed Batman over and over, bringing him back to life each time so he could do it again. That is pure obsession and a sure-fire sign that he absolutely needs the Dark Knight to exist – and, in both instances, it was his relationship with Batman that ended up losing him his powers.
6. The Man Who Killed Batman
The Batman: The Animated Series episode “The Man Who Killed Batman” saw a two-bit crook named Sidney emerge from a scuffle with the Dark Knight seemingly as the victor. Having confronted Sidney (who was on a drug run at the time), Batman appears to be killed in an explosion that the criminal walked away from holding some of Batman’s gear.
The Joker, looking to test if Batman really is dead, stages a museum robbery in the hope of luring the hero out of hiding. When Batman doesn’t show up, The Joker is clearly upset and delivers the following speech: “Where is he? He’s never been this late before. There’s a certain rhythm to these things; I cause trouble, he shows up, we have some laughs and the game starts all over again. Only now, thanks to you (referring to Sidney), I have this terrible feeling he’s really not coming”.
Harley Quinn then attempts to steal jewels from the museum, but The Joker stops her and tells her to put them back, explaining to her that crime has no punchline without Batman.
He even sheds a tear for the Dark Knight at a mock funeral held soon after.
5. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a direct-to-DVD animated movie from the year 2000. It is set in the same future continuity as the Batman Beyond cartoon series, in which the titular Batman is actually the young Terry McGinnis, rather than the classic Bruce Wayne, who has long retired come the time of these adventures.
It’s a great movie that sees the return of the supposedly long-dead Joker. Having seen him die years earlier, Bruce Wayne assumes the villain in question mustn’t be his classic arch-enemy. When he realises it really is him (in some form, at least), he is prompted to don his costume once more – proving that it is The Joker who Batman needs in order to be a hero.
What actually happened is that the Joker had implanted a chip into Tim Drake’s head, containing his own consciousness, prior to dying years earlier. This made it possible for Drake to “become” The Joker at any given time. The Joker had also performed plastic surgery on Drake, making him a very convincing double of the Clown Prince of Crime.
4. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns is both a 1986 comic book arc and an animated movie depiction that was released in two parts in 2012 and 2013.
The general gist of each version of the story is that Batman has retired, is 55 years old and lives in a dystopian future in which a group of thugs known as the Mutants have taken over Gotham City.
The Joker has been catatonic in a mental institution since Batman retired – having decided he had no reason or purpose to continue his crime-filled life without his tormentor opposing him – but when Bruce Wayne dons his costume again to confront the Mutants (who subsequently called themselves the Sons of Batman and started brutally dealing with other criminals), the Clown Prince of Crime instinctively awakens, seeing renewed meaning in his life after his arch-nemesis re-emerged.
The Joker goes on to attempt to frame Batman for murder and, content that he has succeeded and subsequently taken Batman out of action again, kills himself by snapping his own neck.
3. Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City is the second instalment in the Batman: Arkham video game series and it was released in 2011. It explores the relationship between the Dark Knight and The Joker more so than the first instalment in the series and emphasises their reliance on each other.
In a nutshell, the plot revolves around a formula known as Titan, which The Joker has used, only to find that it is killing him. When The Joker realises he is dying, he makes sure Batman’s blood is transfused with his own so that they are both doomed – obviously realising you can’t have one without the other.
Then, later, prior to The Joker dying of his condition -and after Batman had cured himself – a vial of the cure is smashed, but Batman admits that he would have used it on The Joker to heal him in spite of every bad thing he has ever done. This inability to kill him, despite all the trouble and heartache he had personally caused him, emphasises his need for his foe’s existence.
Moreover, a song called “Deranged” was written for the game’s soundtrack and it includes these words (imagine it is The Joker saying them): “Who will be your pretty little enemy? When I’m gone, your world will prove empty. I promise you will always remember me. The joke’s on you, poison me. While you clean the streets of misfortune, I pick the innocent from my dirty teeth. We’re one and the same, deranged.”
2. Batman: The Killing Joke
Arguably the greatest Batman and Joker story ever told, the 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke features a ruthless version of the colourful villain whom, initially depicted as a family man and failed stand-up comedian, has “one bad day”, gets involved in organised crime, is stopped from doing so by Batman, finds himself disfigured and is driven insane – resulting in his transformation into the character fans know so well.
After kidnapping Barbara Gordon, shooting and paralysing her, then kidnapping her father Jim, he really pushes Batman to his limits in this story.
However, in the end, even though Batman makes it clear to The Joker – in a very private moment with the Clown Prince of Crime – that he is aware that their feud will one day end in at least one of their deaths, he still refuses to kill him, offers to help to rehabilitate him and the two even share a chuckle together when The Joker suggests that their predicament is reminiscent of a joke (there is actually a debate about whether or not Batman actually kills The Joker in that scene but, given the topic of this article, that seems unlikely).
1. Death Of The Family
Set in the current New 52 continuity, Death of the Family was a 23 issue arc published in 2012.
Having previously been captured, this story saw The Joker escaping from Arkham Asylum, disappearing for a year, then returning to Gotham, recovering his face (which he had previously had cut off) and wearing it as a mask, then kidnapping the people closest to Batman one at a time.
His reason for the kidnappings was because he believed the Bat-family made Batman weak – indicating that he needs Batman to be strong to keep their rivalry intact.
There is a moment in the story in which Batman suggests that the look in The Joker’s eyes when he’s in his presence is that of love – suggesting that the Clown Prince of Crime actually dotes on the Dark Knight.
Later in the story, The Joker completely fails to acknowledge Bruce Wayne when he is right in front of him – even though the villain had previously suggested that he knew Batman’s identity – suggesting that The Joker only gives a damn about Batman. He needs Batman and doesn’t care about who he is under his mask.
Did you enjoy this article? Can you think of any other instances of Batman and The Joker proving that they need each other? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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