Three Reasons I Don’t Like the Third (“Modern Psycho”) Joker


If you’re not familiar with the Three Joker Theory (which isn’t really a “theory” in the comics anymore), the videos above and below will get you up to speed. 

Apparently, the three Jokers the comics are actually the first (sadistic master criminal) Joker and two versions of the third  (“psychopath”) Joker, the one from The Killing Joke and the New52 Joker (the one who cut his own face off).

Of course the Silver Age “prankster” “Clown Prince of Crime” Joker is missing.  He’s not grimdark enough for DC.

But that’s not really my complaint. Here are my complaints: 

1) Offensive, shallow, juvenile portrayal of mental illness

For 40 years,  the comics have been “exploring the psychology” of this “mentally ill killer” with little or no understanding of actual mental illness. 

Hey,  let’s have the joker cut his  own face off!  That’s crazy! 

And don’t talk to me about “super sanity.” Mental illness isn’t just some random shock value plot device that can mean whatever the author wants it to.

Constant portrayal of people with mental illness as violent, unpredictable killers adds to the considerable stigma they already gave and makes it harder for them to get help and function in society. 

 2) This Joker is no match for Batman without constant help from the writers  

As we see both The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke, “crazy” Joker isn’t really a match for Batman on his own terms, but rather requires the writers to make the various Bats indecisive and ineffective in order to succeed. 

In The Dark Knight, Batman is almost totally reactive and never drives the narrative.  It’s the Joker’s story. 

In The Killing Joke, Batgirl answers the door and just stand there in shock while the Joker guns her down. Batgirl. Not some random civilian.

Sure, it’s not always this way,  but it’s this way a lot, as best as I can tell. The Modern Joker’s superpower is being the writer’s power fantasy stand in, or mouthpiece to rant about everything they think is wrong with the world. 

Batman doesn’t need the Mobius Chair. I can tell him the Joker’s real name: Gary Stu

3) The Modern Joker is no fun 

In addition to being peurile and offensive, the modern Joker is no fun.

Did anybody watching The Dark Knight feel like the joker was having fun? Was that movie fun at all?  I would answer both questions with a “No.”

Heath Ledger gave a great performance, like a virtuoso tenor singing an unnerving, discordant song with lyrics we’d heard 10,000 times, lyrics that spread misinformation that actually makes life harder for people suffering from mental illness. But hey, what a voice.

I’m not saying we need to go back to the Silver Age prankster,  at least not totally. 

40 years of expectations make that untenable in anything but the most self-consciously retro context (like the upcoming Adam West/Burt Ward/Julie Newman animated movie).

To be recognized and accepted as the Joker, a Joker has to be deadly these days. For better or for worse, that’s the case. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a scary, deadly Joker who doesn’t spread harmful misinformation about people with mental illnesses, who is a match for “Batman at his best,” and who is still fun. 

You just have to go back to the first Joker, and maybe bring in some elements from the second. 

Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 Batman movie was clearly an updated first Joker: a savvy career criminal before he ever became the Joker, his “chemical bath” mostly just took away his fear and inhibitions, making him more dangerous and murderous without sapping his wits.

It took everything Batman had mentally to crack that Joker’s scheme. Even then,  defeating him wasn’t easy.  But at no point did it feel like the writers had to cheat in the Joker’s favor. 

Nicholson looked like he was having fun playing the Joker,  and I certainly had fun watching him. His soundtrack was by Prince, for pete’s sake!

Both Batmanthe Animated Series and The Batman kept their Jokers fun while keeping a surprising amount of menace for a kid’s cartoon. B:TAS even explored deeply dysfunctional and abusive relationships via the new character, Harley Quinn. 

So it certainly is possible. I just don’t think anyone at DC is interested in anything but pop psychology grimdark at this point. 

Come on, guys: Why so serious?

What I Like: New Reviews Forthcoming

When I restarted this blog a few months ago, I tried something called “12 word reviews.” 

They never really felt right or caught on, probably because 12 words isn’t enough for any real information,  just a little snark.

And that meant I had to tack a few paragraphs on, which meant it wasn’t really a 12 word review at all.

But I do still want to talk about some things, mostly books, so I’ll drop the gimmick and just talk. 

Before I start, here are a few things I like to see in media: 

  1. Female (or otherwise non-male) lead roles
  2. Multiple female characters
  3. Who aren’t female re-skins of tired masculine stereotypes 
  4. Major characters (including leads) who are people of color
  5. Multiple non-white characters, including women of color
  6. Characters who subvert or just don’t fit gender conventions, in whatever way that fits the setting (including LGBT+ characters) 
  7. Perhaps most importantly,  a story that doors not perpetuate the myth of redemptive violence

    1-6  are partly on general principle (representation is a good thing)  and partly because I’m sick of reading,  playing,  and watching the same white male (anti) hero for the 800,000th time. 

    7 is because we are indoctrinated from early childhood with the idea that what makes the world better is killing or beating up the right bad guys. 

    It’s great training if you want a populace that uncritically accepts every war, bombing,  and use of torture the men in high places want to enact,  but it goes against the teachings of Jesus (and many other religious as well).

    Even the churches get in on this act when they teach preschoolers a sanitized version of David and Goliath (and forget to mention that David grew up to be a rapist who murdered his best friend to cover up his crime).

    So when I write about a book, movie, or game, I’ll most often keep these things in mind,  as well as the standard information,  like how i had to force myself to stop reading and go to bed,  or how the actual prose style worked out. 

    Meat-Free Monday: Favorite Plant-Based Snacks

    First, a reminder: I love in rural Mississippi,  30 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart, 40 miles from the nearest good sized grocery store,  and a good two hour drive from the nearest Whole Foods.

    So the snack foods here are the kind off things you can find in small town groceries,  and even gas stations.

    They aren’t all health foods,  and none of them are as good for you as medjool dates or raw cashews.

    But they are yummy and widely available:

    • Cracker Jack. Yes,  the American classic is plant-based!
    • Boom Chicka Pop popcorn (some varieties have dairy,  so check the label)
    • Most original flavor potato chips
    •  Most “standard” bbq chips. However,  honey bbq, sweet bbq,spicy bbq, etc. almost all add whey. 
    • Unflavored nuts and seeds
    • Oreos and most knockoffs, although I don’t buy the chocolate ones because their cocoa is most likely produced with forced child (literal slavery) labor in the Ivory Coast. 
    • Tortilla chips usually are
    • Hard candy usually is 

    Now, most of this list is stuff we should all limit our exposure to, but if you’re at a picnic, or stopping a middle of nowhere had station for a snack on a long road trip, our just find yourself in a small southern town craving junk food, you at least know where to start.

    Ripples (Words and Actions Have Consequences)


    Sometimes we aim to misbehave

    Most often, we don’t aim at all

    In an intricately interconnected world

    Our actions and inactions have meaning

    Beyond our circle of friends
    Beyond our monkeysphere 

    Beyond our field of vision

    We dance on spider’s silk

    Intricately interwoven

    Each step sets the strings vibrating

    For good or for ill

    For ourselves and for those a world away

    Myths of violence prime our minds for war

    Spinning up from children’s cartoons

    To novels and political speeches

    Desensitizing, Dehumanizing

    One American life is worth

    How many Pakistanis? 
    How many Afghans?

    How many?

    Chocolate grown by slaves tastes sweet,  but not to them 

    Clothes, Coffee, Rice, Diamonds, Gold

    Products of foced labor, by children

    So many things it’s hard to know where to start

    None of us is pure.

    I doubt we can be in a world like this.

    Where powerful interests throw their rocks and hide their hands 

    What can we do?

    I’m no expert, but I have a few ideas.

    Ironically, the first comes from Ayn Rand: Call evil “evil.”

    Don’t give your silent sanction to things you oppose

    Don’t give unspoken approval to things that appall you.

    The second is simpler, but requires some self discipline

    Pick a few things that are products of slavery,

    And stop buying them.

    Buy more clothes second-hand, if you can.

    If you’re 6’7″ like me, that may not be possible.

    Find something you can do, even if it’s small.

    Only buy chocolate that’s ethically sourced.

    Change where your money goes.

    The third is simpler yet: spread the word

    Sign petitions. Write your congress people

    Post to social media. 

    Get the word out, to people who matter.

    Praise President Obama and the responsible legislators of both parties for tightening restrictions

    For keeping dozens of slavery products out of the US  

    Even if you don’t like their other policies

    Fourth, if you are a writer or content creator

    Be sure that what you create reflects your heart

    Every work has a message

    Every work shows and tells how it’s world works, 

    How things get better or worse, 

    What brings happiness and justice

    Money? “Winning” the sexy love interest?  

    Outwitting a nagging wife? 

    Killing or beating up the right bad guys? 

    Every story tells a story… or it wouldn’t be a story. 

    Pure entertainment doesn’t exist

    All Things Right and Good

    You’re going to reach a point (We all do)

    Where you must decide whether you will be right or good.

    I know, Jesus never found Himself in such a spot

    But he was God made flesh. You and I are not.

    And when I reach that point, I want to say:

    “I don’t know if this is right.

    I don’t know how it fits in with systematic theology

    With moral law, with moral codes

    But I know how to be good.”

    I’ve learned the hard way that right, like rights,

    Can be abused, can be abusive:

    • Right and wrong (who decides?)
    • Legal and illegal (who makes the laws?)
    • Winning the argument
    • Contempt for the loser
    • Insiders and outsiders
    • orthodox and heretics
    • Moral panics
    • “They deserve it.”
    • “They would do the same to us.”

    These are tools of domination. These are acts of violence

    They’re labels and weapons the powerful use to maintain their supremacy

    Be it white or male or hetero/cis.

    It’s all the same. Power. Money. Control.

    The rich men who wield it

    The rough men who enforce it

    The abuse and domination of women

    And the blood of dark-skinned people

    And anyone different in religion, sexuality, or creed

    The enslavement of millions in for-profit prisons

    And the torture of the few with neither trial nor hope

    We can be right.

    We can be in control.

    We can hold the moral high ground

    Or we can be good.

    Or we can love as Jesus loved.

    But we cannot serve both God and mammon.

    Why it’s hard to watch Jessica Jones and Stranger Things

    I figured out why it’s taking me so long to get through Jessica Jones and Stranger Things.  

    It’s not just because Jessica Jones is such a  intense show,  dealing with heavy subject matter unflinchingly.

    It’s not time:  I’ve wandered in and watched basically all of who knows how many episodes of the various shows Katherine has watched to unwind: Limitless,  Monarch of the Glenn,  and other generally lighter shows. 

    I think it’s energy and tolerance for lack of closure. In a lot of shows, the problems are solved by the end of the episode.

    I have my own problems,  and I don’t have a lot of space in my heart for shows that might have some resolution at the end of the season, but certainly won’t before then. 

    They’re both great, like Babylon Five and Battlestar Galactica before them.  I’ll get through them eventually, but I may be past the point where I can dive into many more grueling indefinite-length dramas. 

    That time would probably be better spent reading anyway. 

    A Tale of Three Pens

    Like most of the American population, I’ve become more of a visual learner in the last few years. 

    I like taking notes in multiple colors, using different pens for different categories or to separate different thoughts. I like having multiple highlighters for review. 

    And, of course, I like to use pens that write well.

    I know, I know: first world problems. But who doesnt like a smooth pen, especially when you have a lot to write?

    So I keep a number of gel pens and quality ball points in my bag. But I often don’t have that with me,  and there’s no good way to carry a half-dozen pens in my pockets. 

    So I started carrying one of those four in one ball point pens (The one at the top). They’re not expensive,  and they’re a compact solution,  but they are horrible pens. 

    The colors are so dark and still I have to faint to tell the green from the black once it’s on paper. The points scratch and drag across the paper, allowing my writing down considerably.  And that’s when they write I  the first go,  and I don’t have to spend time trying to get them primed to write at all. 

    Great concept, rubbish execution. 

    So, after conversation with a co-worker who really knows pens, I decided to buy the red pen in the picture above, a Uniball Jetstream.

    It was $9, a manageable amount for a pen, it comes with four colors and a mechanical pencil,  and it feels great the hand. I think it looks pretty good, too.

    It is world better than it’s predecessor, both in writing experience and in ink color, and definitely worth the extra cost. It’s even refillable. 

    It does not write like a gel pen. But the more I write with it, the more I like it. I really don’t need another multi-pen…

    …But that doesn’t mean I won’t buy one anyway. Right now I’m looking at the Sarasa Zebra multi-pen, a well-reviewed gel multi, and the Pilot Coleto Multi, a hyper-custonizable gel multi that comes in 2,3,4, or 5 color barrels, and allows you to choose your own colors (or pencils or styluses).

    I’ll let you know how it goes.