How do we react on the edge of crisis? Some people get paralyzed in panic, others get angry and frustrated under the weight of futility, especially if those people are real people like you and me that can’t respawn like in a videogame if the wrong decision is taken. Happily, we have fiction to rehearse that.
Gotham, a city with great luxuries and copious poverty. A place where mafia makes the laws and the just must hide under the shadows. A city like any other city, except for one thing: It has the Batman, a vigilante that may come unexpectedly on your aid if somebody takes advantage of you, no matter how powerful or invulnerable the perpetrator is, there can always be a last spark of hope for justice to be done.
Batman is a product of the loss of innocence. Young Bruce Wayne was raised with all the cares of a loving family that didn’t live long enough to become the villains in the personal story of a wealthy teenager. Bruce can’t think of his parents as tridimensional, flawed people —it is always easier to idealize the dead— , thus, he knows that something good exists in the world, he knows that justice is possible, and it doesn’t matter if he can’t change the world, if he can save a single child from the tragedy of crime, he will have done a good job.
However, the evil still lurk through the streets of Gotham and a challenger arises from the anonymity: The Joker, a man whose unorthodoxy hits you on the first instant that you see him. No matter how normal he may appear in disguise, the ever-present madness in his eyes gives him away as somebody who has abandoned hope completely. He doesn’t believe in any ideal and regards absurdity as his only truth, thus rendering any law powerless within his personal cosmovision. The Joker is an example of what could have happened to Bruce Wayne if he had never known anything good in his life nor decided to gain some of the lost innocence back.
Batman and the Joker bring the following dilemma to discussion: Can the actions of a single person make the difference, or will they get lost within the endless chaos of existence? While Batman fights for the sake of meaning, Joker preaches chaos diligently, even willing to give his life to break the very last remnant of sense within the spirit of his opponent. These opposite stances towards extreme events such as loss (of family or of sanity) are the heart of the narrative dynamic between Batman and the Joker.
People had always had a struggle to tell good from evil, or even to define such concepts. What may be rendered as virtuous in a culture may be condemned in another, cornering people into questioning their own actions and the actions of others, and there is no better way to tell compelling stories than sneaking some philosophical conflicts in them, which used to be proper of those ancient stories that people used to tell to each other in the days of old in order to understand the world around them. No doubt that Alan Moore refers to superhero stories as the mythology of our days. Myths not only explained how the world had came to be, they also contained a moral dimension. People learned from them which actions were virtuous and which were to scorn. Superhero comics have their moral dimensions too, which are the most evident in their heroes and villains.
Batman as a character represents hope and justice. His goal is to inspire the people of Gotham to do the right thing. He wants a world in which bad things doesn’t happen to good people and he fights for it. Joker represents the unpredictable disgrace, that tragedy that may come one day and take everything away from one moment to another. His goal is to break anything that may bring the idea of stability. The Joker and Batman are what happens when —as the Heath Ledger’s Joker said in Nolan’s Dark Knight, — when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object.
That is what makes Batman and the Joker the most iconic duo.