A relationship is a bond that is developed between two (or more) people. This connection can be created in a variety of ways, people can be coupled due to common interests or they may experience an attachment on another level entirely. While many are caused by a conscience choice, choice is often inconsistent. Parallel’s can be formed, not by choosing a relationship but rather by other decisions that have been made and the reactions they create.
History has shown us that conflict has allowed for links just as strong as romance. While many cases have shown conflict to arise from a shared hatred between parties, what happens when antagonism is born from the mere existence of individuals? What is to happen when a rivalry consists of two beings that would not exist without each other? Both born from the existence of their opposition (or those like them), good versus evil, in a constant state of dependence.
The rise of evil can often causes the entrance of a hero to combat it, and the emergence of said hero may result in more evil in turn. For over seventy years, The Joker has opposed Batman in what can only be described as a relationship created by each other’s existence. It has been one of fiction’s deadliest competitions, yet both refuse to end the other. They need each other, more than either will admit, and because of this are destined to tangle til the end of time.
Sons of Gotham
Since 1939, Batman has been one of the world’s most beloved comic book heroes, allowing him to exist far beyond the coloured pages. At its core, the story of Bruce Wayne is a dark one indeed. As a child, he witnessed his parents being murdered before his very own eyes, an event that would definitively shape his future. Being exposed to the darkness of human nature moulded his character in a way that would influence the strong choices he makes later in life. Being heavily impacted by this incident, he attributed the actions of his parent’s murderer to that of pure evil. A diagnosis that leads him not only to becoming Batman, but also his decision to never kill in his pursuits as a vigilante, as in his eyes taking a life would make him no better than the criminal that scarred him as a child. With this as his foundation, he would go on to commit to a life of crime-fighting, becoming a determined symbol for good. A symbol aimed at defeating the darkness of Gotham, a prime example being The Joker.
If we are to follow the origin story stated in the award winning graphic novel “The Killing Joke”, The Joker was not always the despicable man he would go on to become. Once an engineer, he devoted his life to supporting his pregnant wife in any way he could. Failing at stand-up comedy and driven by desperation, he agrees to guiding a group of criminals through the chemical plant he formerly worked at. This act of crime would earn him enough money to turn his life around and it is within this small moment of hope that he learns of his wife’s sudden death. Despite his objections, he is forced to go through with the plan. Stopped by the police during the operation, the man comes face to face with Batman, and attempts to evade him by jumping into the pit of chemicals that twist his psyche and birth The Joker.
While Batman was created by criminals such as The Joker, The Joker was spawned due to an appearance from The Caped Crusader himself. Both created by their environment, with Bruce becoming Batman after coming face to face with Gotham’s darkness and The Joker born from the city’s misery and crime-ridden nature. Two sons of Gotham, following very different paths because of it.
From his debut in Batman #1, The Joker would go on to mass a death toll that can only be attributed to his remorseless personality. Over the years, this love of disorder has resulted in countless interactions with Batman as they have “done the dance” many times over. Never stopping in his belief of rehabilitation, Batman would incarcerate him inside Arkham Asylum repeatedly. Batman views Joker’s actions as an involuntary evil and will not kill him because of his vow. A vow that Joker has continuously exploited, killing innocents and even those close to his nemesis. An example of this being the merciless killing of Jason Todd, Batman’s second Robin. Actions such as these are an attribution to Joker’s insanity.
Even though he has murdered thousands, he still does not want to kill Batman. Without Batman, Joker would be lost. Batman fuels Jokers need for conflict. His thunderous nature needs only chaos, as he cares not for material objects or money. He has practically no rhyme or reason for what he does, initiating only conflict wherever he goes. Without Batman he can no longer do this. Just like Batman vowing not to kill Joker because of his one rule, Joker will not kill Batman because he lives for the excitement the relationship provides. They exist for each other.
This is why they are perfect arch-rivals. Batman is a hero that brutally fights for good with a promise to never kill. He is a good guy that in many ways has the facade of a bad guy. Using tactics such as fear, he has manifested himself into a dark symbol for criminals to be terrified of. Flipping the coin right over reveals The Joker, a twisted mirror image of Batman. A sinister supervillain with the exterior of a jovial clown. He finds delight in everything he does, laughing while he does it. Revolving much of his character around circus themes offers us a juxtaposition to his true nature. He is the carefree person that his former self could never be. This is indeed a relationship of light vs dark, but often not in the way we expect.
Both theatrical and over the top, The Joker has a history of pointing out Batman’s ostentatious identity. Believing this to be one of the many reasons that Batman is perfect for him, you could say Joker views Batman’s theatricality as his own version of insanity. No matter what, they have a connection like no other, one that hinges on the fact that they would not exist without the other. Batman does not exist without people like Joker and Joker only exists because of Batman. Neither will eliminate the other because they cannot.
The relationship between these two iconic characters of fiction is one that I have merely scratched the surface with here. Continuing forever, this rivalry is perhaps best described in the following quote by Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker in the film The Dark Knight.
This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? Huh? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness…and I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.