Which fictional antagonist are you on your side with?

The fascination of an antagonistic cult figure. A comparative figure analysis of the "Joker" from the films "Batman" (1989) and "The Dark Knight" (2008)


1. Introduction: Enthusiasm for evil

2. The Joker as an antagonistic force in the "Batman universe"
2.1. The creation of the joker
2.2. Various adaptations

3. The Joker in "Batman" (1989) and "The Dark Knight" (2008)

4. The comparison of the different productions of the Joker
4.1. The external appearance
4.2. Character and traits
4.3. The function
4.4. The first appearance
4.5. The backstory
4.6. The motivation

5. Conclusion: The effect of the joker

6. List of sources

1. Introduction: Enthusiasm for evil

"Why so serious?"

A question that many film lovers associate with one thing in particular: a white face with piercing eyes and a broad, red-rimmed grin. Because this question made a figure in film history famous and infamous: The Joker. The term “Joker” has a number of connotations: It is an equivalent to every card in a deck of cards. It can be redeemed in quiz shows for assistance. In English usage, the “joker” also stands for a joker. But if you turn to the field of comic or film research, the “joker” does not mean a game of chance or a funny contemporary, but rather one of the most famous and feared fictional antagonists of all time.

As an opponent of Batman, he has been inspiring comics, series and films since the 1940s. At least since the film "The Dark Knight" by Christopher Nolan, the figure of the grinning psychopath with the green hair has achieved cult status. The renowned "American Film Institute" ranked Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker in Tim Burton's "Batman" film among the top 50 best cinema villains.[1] For the American comic journal "Wizard Magazine" in July 2006, the character was even ranked # 1 of the 100 best villains of all time.[2] An inscrutable flood of merchandising articles relating to the Joker rounds off the worldwide marketing of the figure and so the face of the Joker has been circulating on countless T-shirts, bags and posters since then.

Figure not included in this excerpt

Figure 1: One of the most famous depictions of Heath Ledger as the Joker[3]

He is representative of the evil, the insane. And yet he is admired and revered by readers and viewers. How can the fascination for this role of the psychopathic

Explain bad guy? The focus of this work is on how two different interpretations of the joker have managed to arouse this enthusiasm for an antagonist and by which dramatic means of character analysis the joker is defined as "evil". The most popular representations of the Joker were selected: On the one hand by Jack Nicholson in "Batman"[4], on the other hand that of Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight"[5].

According to Werner Faulstich, the analysis of a film can be divided into four areas: the plot, the characters, the structural forms and the norms and values.[6] According to Marietheres Wagner, the dramaturgy of a film can be described by the model of the four levels: the level of space, the level of time, the level of the characters and the level of the plot.[7] The consideration of the characters therefore plays an important role in these and most other models of film analysis. This work deliberately focuses on the character features of the antagonist. Other areas of dramaturgy are treated as secondary, as this would otherwise go beyond the scope.

2. The Joker as an antagonistic force in the "Batman universe"

"Gotham City always puts a smile on my face."[8]

"Batman" is an American comic hero in a bat costume, who was created by Bob Kane in collaboration with author Bill Finger in 1939 for the American comic publisher "Detective Comics" (DC) and in his city of Gotham City for Law and order ensures.[9] What makes the genre of superhero films stand out is that there are one or more opponents. An antagonistic force that the protagonist has to face. The Joker is one of Batman's most popular rivals. The interesting thing about the relationship between him and Batman is that the Joker, in his own opinion, cannot exist without him. This is also evident in both film adaptations.

The Joker is not just a minor character in the Batman films. The figure is represented in a very complex way and a change in personality can also be determined. This is particularly evident from the Joker in Tim Burton's "Batman". Chapter 3 describes what this change looks like. In a nutshell: At the end of the film, the character is not who it was at the beginning. Faulstich differentiates here between the one-dimensional characters (supporting roles), which are only of secondary importance for the film, and the multi-dimensional characters (main roles), which are characterized by the features just mentioned.[10]

2.1. The creation of the joker

Successful films in particular often use a print literary template.[11] In the case of Batman, it was a separate, monthly comic series that debuted in May 1939. In the spring of 1940, the comic book "The Joker" was published, which served to introduce a previously unknown opponent of the hero Batman.[12] Dressed in a purple suit, with a white face, red lips, green hair and a grotesquely distorted smile around his mouth, the new criminal resembled the image of a court jester as it is depicted on the "Joker" playing cards. The fact that he also called himself "the Joker" could already be found on page 1 of the comic:

"Once again a master criminal stalks the city streets - a criminal weaving a web of
death about him - leaving stricken victims behind wearing a ghastly clowns grin - the

sign of death from the JOKER! "[13]

Over the next few years, the Joker went through a drastic development: from a crazy murderer to a funny day thief. So the demand and popularity of the one-time super villain fell. It wasn't until 1964 that the comics and the Joker experienced a boom again when a new editor took over the series.[14] With this boom, the Joker was adapted by film and television in the years that followed.

Figure not included in this excerpt

Figure 2: A comic book cover (Batman # 251, 1973) of the Joker returning to his murderous roots[15]

2.2. Various adaptations

On January 12, 1966, the television series "Batman" was first broadcast on the American television station ABC.[16] Actor Cesar Romero took on the role of Joker, who was very much based on the harmless petty criminal of the 1950s comics in his portrayal.[17]

In 1989 the Joker made the leap to the big screen. The production company Warner Brothers wanted to distance itself from the funny Joker and to tie in with the dark and serious characterization. For this they hired Tim Burton as producer and for the role of Joker the well-known Jack Nicholson. The latter sparked a real enthusiasm with his interpretation of the Joker. But at the latest with the film “Batman - The Dark Knight” from 2008 by Christopher Nolan, the “fan wave” for the Joker did not ebb away. The release date of the film was preceded by an enormous marketing campaign, which, through a large number of different posters, presented the Joker as the optimal psychopathic opponent. It was only last year that the last interpretation of the Joker came to the cinemas with “Suicide Squad”. Here, the Joker, cast with singer Jared Leto, played a minor role, which was disappointed by fans and critics.

Since the creation of the Joker in 1940, the figure has been subject to constant development and adaptation over time. In addition to comic books, television programs and movies, it has also been adapted for various other media such as computer and console games, live-action shows and animated series. Naming each one would, however, go beyond the scope of this work.

3. The Joker in "Batman" (1989) and "The Dark Knight" (2008)

“Can someone tell me what kind of world we live in nowadays, where a man who
running around like a bat, attracting the whole press? "[18]

In order to better classify the role of the Joker in both films, the following is the content

both stories combined. The plot of both versions is based on the classic 3-act structure by Syd Field and can be divided into beginning (exposition), middle (main plot)

and end (dissolution) including two turning points.[19] The focus is on the narrative, in this case interpersonal conflict between the protagonist Batman, who wants to protect Gotham, and the antagonistic force in the form of the Joker, who wants to prevent this goal.

In Tim Burton's "Batman," Gotham City is terrified by criminal gangs. To counteract this, prosecutor Harvey Dent begins to take action against the Mafia boss Carl Grissom. At the same time, there are increasing reports of a human-shaped bat fighting crime. Grissom suspects that his right-hand man, Jack Napier, is trying to remove him from the throne. He lures Napier to a chemical plant, where the police are already waiting for him. In addition, the enigmatic Batman appears and engages in a duel with Jack, who falls into an acid cauldron. Jack Napier, defaced despite the operation, goes crazy when he sees himself in the mirror and calls himself Joker from then on (1st turning point)[20]. First he takes revenge on Grissom and kills him in his office. Driven by his madness, he vows to terrorize Gotham from now on. Meanwhile, the multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne, who is behind Batman, and the photographer Vicky Vale begin a romance. The Joker has already chosen Vale as the new object of his desire. He plans to add poisonous gas to cosmetic products that will bring a smile to the face of anyone who breathes it before they die. Batman foils this plan, however. He also remembers that it was Jack Napier who killed his parents in a robbery when he was a child (2nd turning point)[21]. Meanwhile, the Joker parades through Gotham with his poison gas being sprayed. When Batman appears, the Joker takes Vicky hostage and takes her to the bell tower of a cathedral. There his followers and ultimately himself fight a bitter fight with Batman (showdown)[22]. Batman manages to defeat the Joker who falls down the tower to his death.

In "The Dark Knight" Bruce Wayne alias Batman also successfully fights crimes in Gotham City and works with the police officer Jim Gordon. The Joker is introduced into the plot right at the beginning when he robbed a mafia bank. After this robbery, he visits the Gotham Mafia bosses to offer them to kill Batman for half of their fortune (1st turning point)[23]. The Joker announces to the public that they will murder a person every day until Batman unmasks and turns himself in to the police. After he fulfills his threat, the successful prosecutor Harvey Dent, who is in a relationship with Bruce Wayne's childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, poses as Batman and is arrested. The Joker then tries to attack the prisoner transport in which Dent is located. Batman and Gordon manage to arrest him. When the Joker is interrogated, Batman gives two addresses where Rachel and Harvey are being held hostage. Only one of them can be saved. The joker swaps the respective addresses. So Batman tries to save Rachel, but then saves Dent, whose left side of his face is disfigured by the fire of an explosion. Rachel dies in the explosion (2nd turning point)[24]. The Joker, on the other hand, escapes from prison, blows up a hospital and causes a mass panic in Gotham. Batman succeeds in finding the Joker and preventing him from setting bombs on two ferries. The Joker tells him that Dent calls himself Two-Face and that Batman and Gordon are responsible for Rachel's death. Batman rushes to Dent while the Joker is arrested by emergency services. Dent holds Gordon's family hostage at the location where Rachel died. Batman barely manages to prevent Harvey Gordon's son from murdering (Showdown)[25], Dent dies in the process. Batman takes on the murders committed by Harvey Dent in order to preserve his reputation as a hero of Gotham and disappears.

4. The comparison of the different productions of the Joker

The stagings of the Joker to be examined are described both in terms of their external characteristics and their character. In addition, the function of the role in relation to the teaching of the archetypes of Carl Gustav Jung and Christopher Vogler is considered and rounded off by the analysis of the first appearance of both Joker versions. In order to understand the development of the Joker, the background story and motivation are discussed at the end.

4.1. The external appearance

"I know why they call him the Joker."

"Why is it called the Joker?"

"Because he's doing his makeup, I heard."

"He's putting on make-up?"

“War paint - to shock people. "[26]

The Joker is unmistakably characterized by its clown-like appearance, which shows itself through the white skin, the green hair and the always smiling, red mouth. His clothes are purple, green and sometimes orange. The Joker is thus similar to a humorous, friendly circus clown. This impression is deliberately counteracted by the different design of the external appearance in both film adaptations.

In Tim Burton's "Batman", Jack Napier turns into the Joker when he falls into the acid tank. This bleaches his skin, turns his hair green, and turns his mouth into a cruel smile. Jack Nicholson was especially able to bring his diabolical grin to the role that gives the Joker his madness. Both make-up and costumes stayed very close to the comic model, so that he was given a rather dandy appearance in this film adaptation. However, the disfigured grin gives the Joker his psychopathic impression, so that his decent clothes and his face, which is skin-colored in some scenes, cannot hide it.


[1] See American Film Institute (2003): AFI's 100 YEARS ... 100 HEROES & VILLAINS. http://www.afi.com/100years/handv.aspx, accessed on: 08/22/2017.

[2] See: Freakin ‘Awesome Network (2006): Wizard Magazine's Top 100 Villains Of All Time. http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Wizard_Magazine_List, accessed on: 08/22/2017.

[3] Subramaniam, Eshwar (2015): Why is the Joker the best villain ever ?. https://www.quora.com/Why-is-the-Joker-the-best- villain-ever, accessed on: 06.09.2017.

[4] Burton, Tim (1989): Batman. Script: Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren. USA: Warner Bros. Pictures. Version: DVD. Warner Home Video, 2009.

[5] Nolan, Christopher (2008): The Dark Knight. Script: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan. USA: Warner Bros. Pictures. Version: DVD. Warner Home Video, 2008.

[6] See: Faulstich, Werner (2013): Basic course in film analysis. Paderborn. Page 28.

[7] See: Wagner, Marietheres (2013): Dramaturgy in space. Arena, pace and paths. An analysis model for film dramaturgy. Zurich. Page 10.

[8] The Joker in: Burton, Tim (1989): Batman. Timecode: 00:37:42.

[9] Cf. Schmid, Oliver (2011): The emergence of Batman. http://www.1966batfan.com/die-entstehung-von-batman/, accessed on: 23.08.2017.

[10] See Faulstich, op. Cit., Page 103.

[11] See Faulstich, loc. Cit., Page 86.

[12] See: Honert, Moritz (2015): Psychopath and Nervensäge. http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/comics/die-comicfigur-joker- wird-75-psychopath-und-nervensaege / 12624384.html, accessed on: 23.08.2017.

[13] Batman # 1 (1940) partially reprinted in: Bridwell, E. Nelson (1971): Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder. From the 30s to the 70s. New York. Page 28.

[14] See: Banhold, Lars (2008): Batman. Construction of a hero. Bochum. Page 40.

[15] Wikipedia (September 2017): Joker (Character). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joker_(character), accessed on: 06.09.2017.

[16] See Reinhart, Mark S. (2005): The Batman Filmography. Live-Action Features, 1943-1997. North Carolina. Page 114.

[17] See Reinhart, op. Cit., Page 118.

[18] The Joker in: Burton, Tim (1989): Batman. Timecode: 00:48:30.

[19] See: Wagner, op. Cit., Pages 55 and 56.

[20] See Burton, Tim (1989): Batman. Timecode: 00:27:52.

[21] See ibid. Timecode: 01:27:36.

[22] See ibid. Timecode: 01:46:11 - 01:53:34.

[23] See: Nolan, Christopher (2008): The Dark Knight. Timecode: 00:25:49.

[24] See ibid. Timecode: 01:35:33.

[25] See: Nolan, Christopher (2008): The Dark Knight. Timecode: 02:15:22 - 02:20:21.

[26] Dialogue of the followers of the Joker in: Nolan, Christopher (2008): The Dark Knight.Timecode: 00:01:55.

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