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Sorry, ‘Joker’ and Other Villain Stories, But I’m Mostly Interested in Heroes

I care less for stories about Batman’s villains than I’d care to read an auto-parts manual for the Batmobile.
| Apr 4, 2019 | No comments |

Two days ago I wrote that “I’m curious about this upcoming live-action Joker, but I’m barely interested in all the villain stories they’re putting together at DC.”

The very next day (yesterday), Warner Bros. released the teaser for Joker.

It’s directed by Todd Phillips. And it stars Joaqin Phoenix as the titular Clown Prince of Crime, at least for this alternate origin story.

Friends and much of the internet went nuts. Wow! It looks almost like a Martin Scorsese movie. Double wow! This looks so intense!

Where’s the Bat?

I watched the teaser. And found myself a bit lost. Um, okay? I’m not exactly sure I want to see Joker, pre-makeup-and-purple-jacket, in that same dim-grungy apartment where they film all the dim-grungy indie movies and dim-grungy Netflix shows, dancing around in his loosey-whities.

Clearly I’m not the audience for this movie.

That’s because—and I’m sure I’m not alone—I enjoy superhero stories mainly for the heroes.

Sure, I prefer villains to be in-depth, passionate, devoted to their own beliefs, and often empathetic. But not for their own sake. Instead, for the sake of providing the hero a greater challenge to conquer.

Thanos? We all want to see him devoted to his religious anti-population cause, and defeated.

Lex Luthor? We want to see him absolutely sure of his self-made-made righteousness, and defeated.

Joker? Whether it’s the psycho-flippant clown prince of other adaptations, or Nolan’s origin-agnostic anarchist, I am only interested in him long enough to see him go down. Hard. At the dark-knit hands of Batman. Or Nightwing, or Robin, or heck, I’d take Alfred.

But what if Batman’s nowhere near the movie, and not even promised for a sequel?

Well, then, I find myself less interested in standalone stories about Batman’s villains than I would be reading an auto-parts manual for the Batmobile.

This is also why I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for Suicide Squad, and remain agnostic about its James Gunn-directed sequel.

It’s also why, despite enjoying the recent Lego DC Super-Villains game as a guilty pleasure, I just can’t enjoy it as much as superhero games.

And the folks at DC can try all they like to make me care about a Harley Quinn-featuring spinoff (set back in the main DC film continuity). At my best, I’ll keep finding myself indifferent. Or at worst, I’ll assume this is an exercise in something like exploitation, both of villain angst and the worst impulses of fans. As I mentioned in my Suicide Squad review:

It seemed to grind home the exploitation, along with excuses for viewers to imagine that they, too, are just as nihilistic, “broken,” and empty-glamorous as Harley Quinn and the Joker.

But you, gentle reader, are likely interested in Joker for other reasons. Perhaps you’re a Joaqin Phoenix fan, or a DC villain fan. And I certainly allow that we can’t only have stories about only slightly flawed heroes.1 In either case, I’d want to hear your reasons for being excited about DC’s Joker.

With that, I’m off tonight to see Shazam!—another hero I care about, and whose villains, such as Dr. Sivana or Black Adam, would interest me very little apart from Shazam.

  1. This is why I really enjoyed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, although it clearly meant to grow Superman and redeem a broken Batman.
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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