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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

Why Does Batman Team Up With Joker So Often?

This weeks Your Nerd Side Show:

Perhaps the single most iconic rivalry in comics, Batman and Joker have been locked in an ongoing battle between good and evil for decades. Beginning in Batman #1, the chaotic Clown Prince of Crime is driven by a desire to break Batman's resolve and plunge Gotham into anarchy. Their shared history of violence is entertaining, yet it begs a simple question: Why do the two keep teaming up?

Although Batman and Joker have been at odds since the Golden Age, first crossing paths in Batman #1, it was the villain's Silver Age reintroduction that started their iconic rivalry. Beginning in Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams' "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" in Batman#251, the duo was established as arguably the quintessential hero vs. villain dynamic. On the one hand, Batman symbolizes law and order in its purest possible form, while Joker is the embodiment of chaos and the corruption of Gotham's character. Hundreds of stories since have gone back to the well of Batman trying to bring in Joker as he terrorizes ordinary citizens. All of this put together makes it all the more confusing as to why, especially in the last decade, Batman and Joker keep finding themselves teaming up.

Batman And Joker's Epic Rivalry

Since Batman #1, Joker has been one of the most evil, formidable and conniving villains in Gotham. His first story followed the Clown Prince of Crime in a truly epic, masterful crime spree in which he murdered a slew of wealthy Gothamites and stole their jewels. With Batman hot on his trail, the villain managed to outdo himself when he showed up at a mob meeting interrupted by Batman and opened fire on everyone inside. His then-unprecedented macabre was so bad it forced Golden Age Batman into actually trying to kill the villain. When Joker was reintroduced in Batman #251, he got Batman's attention by murdering each of the henchmen who had snitched on him to send him away. This was the first comic in which Batman referred to Joker as his arch-enemy.

Since the enshrinement of the two's fiercely adversarial relationship, some of the greatest Batman stories have followed the hero going up against Joker. Whether it was the retelling of their first encounter in The Man Who Laughs or Joker's most ambitious takeover in "Joker War," the villain takes up a lot of space in Gotham-based comics. He has committed egregious crimes throughout the comics, such as blowing up hospitals, shooting and assaulting Barbara Gordon, and murdering Jason Todd. In fact, few villains have come even close to inflicting the kind of damage upon Batman and Gotham that Joker has. The more short-term, pragmatic desires of villains like Firefly, Two-Face, and Penguin usually don't have the same world-shattering implications as Joker's crimes.

The Best Batman / Joker Team-Ups

Batman and Joker have actually teamed up several times since the late Silver Age, especially in comics like The Brave and the Bold. However, the first story that popularized the idea was arguably Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Batman: Europa. Here, the two characters were brought together when they realized they had both been poisoned, sending them on an unlikely road trip to find answers. From here, the trope of having Batman and Joker enter into uneasy alliances became popular, both in and outside continuity. Elseworlds comics had toyed with the idea of unusual relationships between the two, such as their Jekyll and Hyde relationship in Batman: Two Faces. As the title suggests, the story follows a version of Batman cursed to transform into Joker as his villainous alter ego.

Since Batman: Europa, the duo has continued to team up, mostly through events and mini-series, which often pit the two against a greater foe. This was the case in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Dark Nights Metal, in which Joker decided to lend Batman a helping hand to defeat his Dark Multiverse doppelganger, the Batman Who Laughs. The exact same alliance returned shortly after in Snyder and Jock's Batman Who Laughs mini-series. This story wasn't so much a team-up as it was Joker giving Bruce what he needed to defeat BWL: his Joker toxin sprayed directly into his body. This sent Batman on the same Jokerization decline BWL had experienced that created him. Arguably the duo's greatest team-up came from Marc Silvestri's recent Batman & Joker: Deadly Duo. This story almost felt like a spiritual sequel to Batman: Europa as it again united both heroes against a villain who had kidnapped someone close to them.

The Myth That Doesnt Die

For much of modern comics, there's been a growing myth about Batman and Joker that simply won't go away. In the eyes of many, the two characters are in a kind of symbiotic relationship in which, as much as Batman won't admit it, they need each other. In fact, some would argue they thrive on each other and give one another purpose. However, this is largely a modern phenomenon that stems from the extreme saturation of Joker in the comics. There's rarely a major Batman arc in the comics these days that doesn't either let Joker play a role or make him a significant aspect of the story. Whether it's "Hush," "Year of the Villain," Dark Nights Metal or almost every Batman Black Label book, Joker simply shows up. And, whenever there's a sales lag in Batman's ongoing comics, Joker isn't just brought back into the book — he's proudly displayed on the cover art so fans know he's coming back.

The idea that Batman and Joker depend on one another was affirmed in the Lego Batman Movie, in which the story hinged on Joker basically trying to get the hero's attention. The movie's premise was that, as much as he hated to admit it, Batman depended on Joker to give his life meaning. While this can work if taken as a clever meta joke on DC Comics and DC Studios' overuse of Joker, some took it as a more literal commentary on the psychology of the characters. This has certainly permeated the talent pool of writers, too, and it is actually used to explain away why Joker neither kills Batman nor reveals his identity. Every time the villain has Batman in his clutches, he moves on with a chuckle and the question, "What'd be the fun in getting rid of Batman?" This sentiment was even featured in Nolan's The Dark Knight, in which Joker proclaimed, "What would I do without you? You complete me."

While the sentiment of Joker and Batman's symbiosis may well be true in the mind of Joker, it just doesn't make sense on Batman's part. The Dark Knight doesn't love that Gotham is ridden with crime, and the idea that he's secretly happy with Joker's existence because it gives him purpose is against what he stands for. While writers like Frank Miller have suggested that, on some level, Bruce likes the hunt, that shouldn't be misconstrued as him having any form of sentimental affection for villains. The hero may pity or even empathize with his foes, but ultimately, he is dedicated to bringing about an end to crime in Gotham. Just as he didn't give up on bringing down key crime families or ridding the GCPD of corruption, it's hard to believe Batman wouldn't follow through with his regular villains — especially Joker. However, the reality behind all of this is simple: Cash is king, and Joker sells comics.

Batman and Joker Shouldnt Be friends

As much fun as it can be to see Batman set aside his differences with Joker to bring down a common enemy, the frequency with which the duo teams up is beyond belief. Batman's world is full of villains who would not only be more willing to assist the hero but have even more reason to do so. Namely, Mister Freeze is motivated by saving his beloved wife, while Two-Face's good half, Harvey Dent, was once a friend of both Bruce Wayne and the Batman. All things considered, having the two team up at all has always felt more motivated by comic sales than a good story. These team-ups water down the danger in their relationship and have weakened the idea of the two as mortal enemies.

DC seems to want to have its cake and eat it too with Batman and Joker. On the one hand, they're more than happy to have the duo team up on a frequent basis. On the other, they still try and sell them as the ultimate war between good and evil. These two things simply don't work, and eventually, a choice will have to be made as to whether Joker should be seen as Batman's Lex Luthor or his Mr. Mxyzptlk. Or, in better terms, DC has to answer whether Joker is Batman's greatest foe or his greatest yet evilest fan. Combining the two has certainly led to some great pay-offs, but an idea that worked well for Elseworlds stories makes less sense in the continuity of the story. Having the two team up makes great sense for sales, but it's fundamentally altered their relationship for modern readers.

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