If there's one thing I'm utterly and absolutely sick to the back teeth of, it's the depiction in comics and other media of the Joker as a remorseless, hateful serial killer in a storm-drenched Gotham that looks like a Nine Inch Nails video. The Joker makes sense as a goofball weirdo in a purple suit with a giant exploding jack-in-the-box. When he has a body count greater than, say, ten, he doesn't make any sense as a recurring character whatsoever, because there's not a jury in the world who'd believe another insanity plea. He'd either be in an escape-proof supermax prison one corridor over from McVeigh, or in line for the needle.
I guess this is one of the million chinks in modern DC Comics that brings it all crashing down. I think I finally stopped being able to suspend disbelief when
Mark Waid* and Alex Ross did this pretty-but-indefensible series some years back called Kingdom Come
where some new hero starts his career by killing the Joker - after he bombed the Daily Planet and killed Lois Lane - and the new hero is somehow treated as the guy who lacks a moral compass, when he's the first one to figure that hauling someone back to the asylum every time he breaks out and murders dozens doesn't work.
The solution, for comics, should have been incredibly simple: just don't kill. Not even the bad guys. If you're telling a fantasy scenario, go the whole hog and make it outlandish and fantastic and ridiculous. That's why it isn't just the sixties' Batman TV series that remains so darn fun, but the sixties' comics by the likes of Gardner Fox and Sheldon Modoff and Carmine Infantino as well. Don't get me wrong, I like occasionally trying to wrap my mind around whatever crazy stuff that Grant Morrison has come up with every so often, and I'd like
to enjoy DC superhero comics.
Yet by trying to make a world "realistic" in its depiction of violence, but populating it with characters who are inured to the consequences of violence, DC's creators have created something I don't enjoy, but more importantly I can't believe in. I'll believe a man can fly for the sake of an amusing, well-drawn, fun story. When there are no consequences for anybody's actions, you can't underline a character as being unremittingly evil and unrepentant and expect me, a reader, to maintain any interest in your fiction. Additionally, when "death" means nothing more than "temporarily not publishing stories with this character," you've robbed the property of its ability to shock. All that's left is curiosity for me, as a reader, to see how one or two fascinating writers concoct their stories. The Batman comics of 45 years ago aren't just more fun than today's, they're more intelligent and more honest. (They're drawn a hell of a lot better, too. Other than Amanda Conner and Tony Harris, I can't swear that anybody currently employed by DC can draw a straight enough line to find their way out of a small paper bag.)
The iconography's a big obstacle, too. If Arkham Asylum looks like something from a Korn video or that Silent Hill video game, something's not right. I'm not sure, but I don't think that mental hospitals for the criminally incompetent are lit by single 40-watt bulbs that keep flickering, with creaky wheelchairs making their way through wet corridors. This design, constantly restated and regurgitated by lazy designers, was ridiculous when Dave McKean barfed it out in the book Arkham Asylum
(one of Morrison's worst misfires), and it's ridiculous today. And I'm really, really over the "you NEED me!" nonsense of Joker being the yin to Batman's yang. Even the hint of it is cringe-inducing. Of all the things that Tim Burton needs to be punished for, creating that tomfoolery ranks pretty close to the top.
Yet after all that, and everything this new Batman fan film has against it, I enjoyed the daylights out of it just for its sheer moxie. It's got a pile of extras, some great fight scenes, throwaway cameos by other characters, and they rented a Ferrari and filmed a great chunk of it at a traveling carnival. It's called City of Scars
and while it may have nothing whatsoever to do with any Batman that I might ever want to read or watch, it's still a very good piece of work, with a surprising ending, and in the last six months, I've seen explosions in episodes of Smallville
and Law & Order
that were more obviously phony than the one shown here. I'll never object to seeing independent filmmakers outdo mainstream television with only a fraction of the budget (done for $27,000 total, apparently). Good work, guys. Yer Joker may be no Cesar Romero, but he's darn good in the part.
*thanks for the correction, martin_wisse