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Off My Mind: The Importance of the Joker to Batman's Character

Imagine if the Joker died after his first appearance back in 1940?

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Yesterday we mentioned the unfortunate news of the passing of Jerry Robinson, the creator of the Joker. As it was pointed out, it's hard to imagine Batman comics without the Joker. Besides being the World's Greatest Detective, Batman is known for having an incredible rogues gallery. His classic villains have stood the test of time and there aren't many other characters that can compete with the level of villains that Batman has.

The Joker has been a complex character and has seen numerous incarnations over the years. His full origin has never officially been told and the Joker himself even claims he's not sure what his true story is. He has killed so many since his debut, we may never know what his official kill count is. He is also the only villain that has managed to strike Batman so close to home.

What many are not aware of is the fact that the Joker was originally intended to die in the issue he first appeared in. If a last minute editorial decision hadn't been made, the Joker could have been long forgotten. Life without the Joker might make Batman's life a lot easier but he also wouldn't be the hero he is today without him.

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When the Joker first appeared (in BATMAN #1), he was a pure killer. He would announce his upcoming crime and who he would be killing, knowing he could get away with it. After several murders, Batman finally decided to go to the home of the next announced victim to put a stop to the Joker.

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The Joker escaped and Batman noted, "It seems I've at last met a foe that can give me a good fight!" The deaths continued and Batman and Robin almost became victims themselves. Eventually Joker was caught and sent to jail.

In that same issue (which also featured the first appearance of Catwoman and another appearance by Hugo Strange in separate stories), the Joker made his return. Picking up after the first story, Joker was in prison and made his escape, possibly killing two guards.

Eventually, Batman and Robin caught up with him (I lost track of how many others were killed due to the Dynamic Duo's slow response time). There was a fight, Joker tried to stab Batman with a knife but Batman "side steps, the killer clown stumbles forward into the building, driving the knife into his own chest!" This was how the Joker was originally intended to be killed off.

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What ended up happening is as the Joker was taken away in an ambulance, the doctor on board was surprised to find Joker was still alive. Guess Batman wasn't too thorough in his examination. They just watched as he lay there with a knife to his chest and made no attempt to save him.

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It's hard to believe that the original intention was for the character to be killed off. Who would've thought a killer in a purple suit with the face of a clown would go on to become Batman's biggest nemesis. Besides all the countless murders he's committed, he also killed Commissioner Gordon's second wife, Sarah Essen, shot and violated Barbara Gordon, killed Jason Todd, which lead to his return as a bit of a mess, and so on.

None of Batman's other villains really compare to Joker. You have your occasional Mr. Zsasz, who is another psychotic killer, but not on the same level as Joker. Joker is the villain that keeps Batman on his toes. He might even be the one thing that Batman is actually afraid of. He has defeated him over and over but for someone that prides himself on always having a contingency plan, that doesn't always apply to the Joker. When the Joker breaks out of Arkham, you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes he'll commit sillier crimes while other times he can be downright scary.

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If it wasn't for the Joker, Batman might have become too comfortable with his average foes. The Joker always brought something new. This is one reason why Batman never killed him, despite all the pain and misery (and death) he's caused everyone. They're complete opposites but do have some things in common. Batman can't cross that line and he would also try to preserve Joker's life if it was in danger. They're different sides of the same coin.

But if Joker had died all those years ago and wasn't resurrected in a typical comic book way, Batman wouldn't be the same hero he is today. The Joker is part of his motive and inspiration to rid the world of evil. Joker is the reason there's a need for Batman. A hero is defined by their enemy. The greater the enemy, the greater the hero is. If Batman didn't have Joker, who would would be his number one foe? Penguin? Mr. Freeze? The Riddler? Captain Calamity? Current BATMAN writer, Scott Snyder, said the following last night:

Because the truth is, my opinion, the Joker is the greatest villain of all time. Not just in comics - in everything.

I'll say it again, Batman wouldn't be the hero he is today if it wasn't for the Joker.