Batman & The Joker: One Bad Day

Without darkness there can be no light.  Without evil, there is no good. Every yin has a yang.  So having said that can there be a Joker without Batman?  The Joker is arguably Batman’s greatest villain and easily one of the greatest villains in literary history.  Created all the way back in 1940, the Joker has been plaguing Batman since the beginning. In this post we’ll take a closer look at the complicated relationship between Batman and the Joker and see whether or not Joker is just a lunatic or does his presence actually benefit the Dark Knight.  

The Joker appears and acts like a lunatic but is he really insane?  Sure he’s a mass murderer with zero empathy but are his ideals that psychotic.  The Joker’s main philosophy is a simple one: everyone is simply one bad day away from insanity.  It is this “one bad day” philosophy that allegedly created the Joker in the first place. In the graphic novel The Killing Joke we learn of one of the Joker’s many origin stories.  In the novel, the Joker is a failed comedian who is bullied into pulling a robbery for mobsters.  The day of the robbery, his wife dies in an accident but he is still forced to go through with the crime.  The comedian is given the identity of the Red Hood by the burglars to make it look like he is the ring leader while in fact he is just a reluctant participant.  During the robbery, Batman arrives to stop the criminals and in the chaos, the comedian falls into a vat of chemicals that bleach his skin white, turn his hair green, and lips a bright red.  His disfigurement along with the tragedies of the day break the man’s psyche completing his transformation into the Joker.


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In The Killing Joke, The Joker attempts to prove his theory correct by breaking Commissioner Gordon psychologically and driving him insane.  Joker does this by crippling Gordon’s daughter, Barbara and taking pictures of her mangled, naked body and presenting them to Gordon.  Gordon overcomes the trauma and insists to Batman that the Joker be stopped “by the book.” Batman offers to help the Joker recover from his insanity but the Joker is so far gone that there is simply no going back to his old life, if his origin story is to even be believed.  The Joker has a nihilistic view of the world and can’t possibly see any good in it. He sees that something tragic like what happened to him would cause Batman to do what he does and insists that Batman is truly just as broken as Joker is. This is why the relationship between Batman and the Joker is so unique.  They are complete polar opposites. While Bruce Wayne used his personal tragedy to become a symbol that fights for justice, Joker uses his personal tragedies to justify that the world is a dark place and there is simply no good or evil, just chaos.

In the film The Dark Knight, The Joker appears as an agent of chaos and as an answer to Batman’s unique brand of justice.  Batman has taken justice to an extreme, so must the Joker arrive to take injustice to the next logical extreme.  The two are locked in a philosophical battle for the soul of Gotham City itself. In the film, the one shining light in Gotham City is its District Attorney, Harvey Dent.  Much like Gordon in The Killing Joke, Joker attempts to tear him down and prove that anyone can become the Joker.  Joker succeeds, turning Dent into the villain Two-Face and essentially winning the psychological battle with Batman by corrupting something that was once good.  Joker sees chaos as neither good or evil but simply as fair. In a way perhaps he is right. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and who hasn’t had a day when they “just want to watch the world burn.”  The only difference is that the Joker takes that quote quite literally.


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Throughout their long complicated history, the Joker and Batman have been constantly intertwined.  Unlike villains like Riddler or Penguin who are motivated by money, power or a need to be better than the Dark Knight, Joker appears to be motivated by nothing in particular.  In fact the one thing that does seem to motivate him to do anything is the mere presence of Batman in his life. Joker will never kill Batman because he would be bored without him.  Likewise Batman can never bring himself to kill the Joker because he refuses to cross that moral line into murder. Even after Joker crippled Barbara Gordon or brutally murders the second Robin, Jason Todd, in the storyline A Death in the Family, Batman still refuses to kill the Joker.  When Jason Todd returns to life years later, it is as a ruthless vigilante called the Red Hood, the same identity Joker had all those years ago.  Jason questions why after all this time Batman didn’t avenge his death and has allowed Joker to live. Batman gives the same moral high ground answer but perhaps the answer is deeper than that.  Perhaps the reason Batman continues putting up with Joker’s sick games is because the Joker makes Batman better.




The Joker is constantly challenging Batman and he truly believes he is making Batman better as a result.  This is shown in Death of the Family where much like his murder of Jason Todd, Joker attempts to destroy other members of Batman’s family to prove that they make him weak and the only person Batman really needs is the Joker.  Joker is even shown to know that Batman is really Bruce Wayne but does not care about his true identity, the only thing that matters is their game with one another. Joker would willingly eliminate everyone that Batman cared about not out of some sick sense of murderous impulse but for the pure and simple reason of that Batman only needs his nemesis for motivation, not his allies.  




Batman has been given opportunity after opportunity to kill the Joker but he continually refuses.  Is the Joker right in his assumption that Batman needs Joker? In The Dark Knight Trilogy Batman refuses to kill the Joker according to him “out of some misplaced sense of self righteousness.”  In the first film, Batman refused to kill Ra’s al Ghul but said “he didn’t have to save him” essentially leaving him to die anyway.  This incarnation of Batman may not have actively murdered Ra’s al Ghul but he just as good as killed him when he condemned him to a fiery death.  Does Batman’s decision to murder one villain but his choice to spare the Joker show that he truly may favor the Joker because of what he brings out in Batman or is it just a plot hole?

Throughout their history, Joker and Batman are always shown to have a deeper relationship than just hero and villain.  Some writers have even implied the two are in love with one another and that is the reason for their reluctance to end each other.  In any story where Joker actually dies it is never Batman who is directly responsible. In the video game Batman: Arkham City, The Joker dies due to a disease and in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker the Joker is killed by Tim Drake, the third Robin.  Even in The Killing Joke, where it is implied Batman finally gives in and strangles Joker to death, it is unseen and happens off panel.  

The beauty of their relationship is that they are locked in a never ending battle.  The truth is that Batman does need the Joker and vice versa. They make each other better and no matter how many people the Joker hurts, Batman will never cross that line and become what Joker wants.  Batman has already had his “one bad day” and channeled that anger into something entirely different than the Joker. The two may truly be destined to battle forever. As long as there is a desire for new Batman stories, his greatest adversary, villain, co-star and ultimately motivation for doing what he does, will remain the Joker.  


The Godfather: A Generational Tragedy

*Spoilers for the Godfather Saga follow*

For most fans and critics alike, The Godfather Saga is one of, if not THE greatest film series in motion picture history.  The first and second films in the trilogy are widely hailed as masterpieces of cinema. Everything from its plot, pacing, acting, direction and cinematography are praised as being nothing short of perfect.  For those few people woefully unaware of the story that is Godfather, the film tells the story of Don Vito Corleone, a powerful Sicilian New York mob boss, and his sons as they rule over the Corleone Crime Family in the years following World War II.  Unlike most gangster movies of its day, The Godfather attempted to humanize its criminal characters and show that despite the dark choices they have made in life, they are more like us than previously thought. It is this unique perspective on criminals that served to make it so popular and helped pave the way for gangster films like Goodfellas.  

The story of The Godfather is at its very core a tragedy.  It is more similar to many ancient Greek tragedies than it is to other gangster movies.  Themes such as family, loyalty, betrayal, corruption and destiny all play a part in the films.  Perhaps the most fascinating themes of the entire series, and one this post will dissect in detail is the relationship and ultimate difference in ideology of Vito and his youngest son, Michael.  

The theme of family is one of the most prevalent in the series.  The criminality of the mafia, while still a focus of the films, almost takes a backseat to the family ties the main characters share.  Vito Corleone rules over his crime family with an iron fist and commands respect from all those in his organization including his trusted captains or  caporegimes, Salvatore Tessio and Peter Clemenza.  This respect is also shared by Vito’s children: Sonny Corleone, the hot headed eldest son and Underboss of the family; Fredo Corleone, the sweet but dimwitted middle son; Michael Corleone, the youngest and most intelligent son who wants nothing to do with the family business; Connie Corleone, Vito’s only daughter; and Tom Hagen, Vito’s adoptive non-Italian son and new advisor or consigliere to the Family.  

The relationship between father and son is a large component of what makes the films amazing.  Vito is comparable to a king of ancient Greek myth with his 3 sons all inheriting a different aspect of his personality.  Sonny inherits Vito’s anger and violence, Fredo inherits his sweetness and innocence while Michael inherits Vito’s cunning, intelligence and ruthlessness.  It is Michael’s relationship with Vito that is followed the most closely throughout the films. At the beginning of Godfather I, Michael is returning from the war, with the decision to enlist in the first place coming without consulting his family and seemingly drawing a wedge between Michael and Vito.  Vito and Sonny both emphasize that the country you live in is not your blood and it is foolish to risk your life for strangers, a feeling Michael doesn’t share. In many ways, Michael isn’t really a member of the family at all. Instead of finding a Sicilian woman, Michael chooses Kay Adams as his girlfriend, a girl who is traditionally American and wouldn’t understand the Corleone lifestyle.  Michael’s distance from his family and his reluctance to get involved in the family business is only changed when Vito is shot and critically injured in a failed assassination attempt.

After Vito is shot, Michael does a complete 180 on his stance on his family’s business.  Visiting Vito in the hospital, Michael whispers to his father “I’m with you now,” which brings tears and a smile to Vito’s face despite slipping in and out of consciousness.  This statement can be seen not only as Michael is literally with Vito in the hospital but also with him in the manner that he is finally willing to embrace his father’s way of life.  Vito never wanted Michael to follow in his footsteps, instead hoping he would have a career in politics. This dream turns out to just be that, a dream because Michael’s guilt over his estrangement from his family has finally pushed him into the arms of the mafia.  Vito’s aspirations for Michael to make something of himself outside of crime have now been destroyed by the sad reality that Michael must now become the man his father needs, not the man his father wants.

In the wake of Vito’s shooting, Sonny has taken over the family and proves himself to be a violent and ineffective leader.  Tom Hagen attempts to advise him as best he can but Sonny’s thoughts of revenge cloud his judgement. This is juxtaposed against Michael’s calm and calculated reaction.  It is Michael who volunteers to personally take out his father’s would be assassin, a drug lord named Solozzo who has connections in the NYPD. This action could potentially spark a war with the other New York crime families but it is a decision Michael insists is necessary to protect their own family.

The relationship between father and son is one that is all too familiar to many of us.  I myself am very similar to my father, almost to a fault. My successes can be attributed to his teachings to me while my failures can make both of us disappointed as my father can see his own mistakes within me.  Despite any disagreements or difference of opinion my father and I may share, at the end of the day we are family and would die for one another. Similarly, Michael is willing to follow his family into a war he doesn’t necessarily want but knows must happen, showing the lengths Michael will go to protect his father’s legacy and the rest of the family.  

Michael carries out the hits on Sollozzo and the police chief protecting him, afterwards fleeing to Sicily to wait out the inevitable backlash.  While Michael is in Sicily he falls in love with a beautiful local girl named Apollonia. Apollonia brings Michael some brief happiness and shows him what life can be like with a traditional Sicilian girl, one who would support her husband no matter what horrors his life would bring, unlike Kay who could never fathom life as a mafia wife.  Sadly, Michael’s brief happiness is brought to an end when Apollonia is killed in an explosion intended for Michael. Back in New York things only get worse for the Corleone Family as Connie is beaten and abused by her husband Carlo. Sonny retaliates by beating Carlo within an inch of his life. This proves to be Sonny’s undoing when Carlo beats Connie again this time more severely.  Sonny, as expected lets his temper get the best of him and rushes off to find Carlo. Sonny is ambushed by gunmen and murdered. Sonny becomes a victim of his own anger and passion, something Vito would have never let happen. Sonny’s death causes Vito to reclaim his role of head of the family after recovering from his injuries. Vito makes arrangements to bring Michael back to America with the intent of grooming him to succeed Vito as the head of the family.

Sonny and Apollonia’s deaths have a tremendous effect on Michael.  He returns to America a hardened man ready to do everything necessary to take down his father’s enemies.  Michael even returns to Kay and convinces her to marry him even after everything that has happened. It’s almost if Michael doesn’t really even care for Kay, more that he needs her to bare his children and ensure the family’s legacy continues.  The difference in Michael’s attitude extends to his relationship with Vito. Vito, in his old and weakened state is tired of fighting and extends peace to all his enemies. His weakness leaves the Corleone Family in a vulnerable position and when he finally dies and Michael takes over the family, his enemies see the perfect time to strike.  While Vito wanted peace, Michael approaches the situation with utter ruthlessness. In the most famous scene of the film, Michael baptizes Connie and Carlo’s son while his hitmen eliminate all the family enemies with ruthless efficiency. The heads of the Five Families are assassinated along with Vito’s former captain Tessio who attempted to sell out Michael to other the families.  

Michael even murders Carlo for the death of Sonny, something Vito would have never had done.  Michael wipes away the old guard of the mafia and consolidates his power as the most powerful mafia Don in the country.  Michael takes a very ruthless and militaristic approach to running the family. His decapitation of the other families and callous murder of his own brother in law is similar to the decision of the United States to drop the atomic bombs on Japan during World War II.  Michael chooses to completely wipe out his opposition to clear the way for his family’s own ascent to power. Gone are the days of childlike flirtation with Kay and dreams of finishing college for Michael. Over the years he becomes a hard hearted man willing to wipe out anyone that he deems a threat.  

Despite his coldness, Michael insists to Kay that he wants to make the Corleone Family legitimate.  Ultimately this is misguided thinking and an empty promise because the very nature of the mafia and the corruption that go along with it make legitimacy a virtual impossibility.  Over the next several years, Michael becomes more corrupt and even finds the politicians and government officials his family must deal with at times to be just as immoral as the criminals.  The same politicians Vito wanted Michael to be like prove to be every bit as bad as Michael and this is an analogue for the United States itself at the time. Vito’s time as Don represented the old guard which was dominated family and a sense of community and duty.  Michael represents the new guard which is dominated by greed, paranoia and corruption within government and society.

Overtime Michael becomes a dark inverse of what his father was.  Despite Vito being a criminal, he still appreciated the value of family, friends and community.  Vito scratched and clawed to claim his power but also kept a close knit group of loyal friends that helped him attain this power and respect.  Michael on the other hand inherited his power from his father and doesn’t command the same respect his father did. Michael must use fear and ruthlessness to keep others in line.  Michael’s alienating attitude even cause his older brother, Fredo, to betray him. Fredo was passed over by Michael in the pecking order and is bitter at always being looked at as weak by members of the family.  Although his dimwitted nature makes him an ineffective leader, it is Michael’s cold and dismissive attitude that leads to Fredo’s betrayal. Michael completely disowns his brother, further alienating himself from the familial support Vito had.  

Michael’s relationship with Kay also inevitably fails.  Their marriage was doomed from the start as Kay would never have been able to stand Michael’s way of life very long and Michael knew that.  Michael came to Kay after Apollonia’s death because he needed a wife and children to secure his new position and ensure the family would continue.  Ultimately Michael was lonely and broken after Apollonia’s death and came to Kay as a means to fill the void in his life, not out of any genuine care for her.  Kay was never built to be a mafia wife and her disgust at what Michael had ultimately become finally drove her away.

Michael’s tragic journey to damnation is completed with his handling of the situation with his brother.  After finally embracing Fredo as a brother again at their mother’s funeral, Michael seals his brother’s fate.  In one of the most powerful scenes in the entire saga, Michael hugs Fredo and appears to forgive him but during the embrace Michael looks over at one of his soldiers and with just that glance confirms that Fredo must die.  Michael chooses to murder his own brother, finally eliminating any semblance of the man he once was. The final shot of the Godfather Part II is Michael sitting alone contemplating his life. That scene perfectly encapsulates Michael’s character arc seeing as he went from an innocent kid with the love of his family to being alone with nothing to comfort him but his own power.  The ending of Godfather Part III further emphasizes this and perfectly shows the difference between Vito and Michael. Vito died with the love of his family still intact while Michael dies alone with nothing but his own guilt.

The Godfather Saga can be seen as one of the greatest tragedies of our time.  Borrowing from Shakespearean and Greek mythological themes, it shows the corrupting influence power can have on the human soul.  Michael never wanted to become the man his father was but at the end became far worse than anyone could have imagined. The horrors of war and the overwhelming losses he suffered throughout his life changed him into someone cold and devoid of emotion.  The sense of duty he felt he had to his family shaped him into a man that was willing to sacrifice that very same family and sense of duty he set out to protect in the first place.