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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Jack Napier, a.k.a. Batman's arch-enemy
The Joker, who is regarded as one of the most evil and dangerous villains in the DC Universe, is best known as Batman's arch nemesis. Indeed, many stories within the comics and many comments by writers and observers indicate that the Joker exists largely because of the Batman. The two colorful figures share a strange sort of symbiotic relationship, within which the Joker's primary motivation is to act as Batman's opposite or foil.
The Joker is clearly non-religious in the traditional sense of the word. He has never identified himself as an adherent (or even former adherent) of any organized religious denomination. The Joker is manifestly non-religious in the sense that his belief, ethics and morality do not reflect any organized or traditionally recognized religon. Many people believe the Joker is an atheist, although he does not appear to be a pure materialist. Such commonplace labels may be inaccurate and are certainly inadequate for describing the Joker, whose distinctive pathology truly gives him a worldview all his own.
Above: Batman and the Joker: "Spiritual Brothers"
[Source: Batman #644, published by DC Comics (late October 2005), page 11; reprinted in Batman: War Crimes trade paperback (2006); written by written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Guiseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope.]
The Joker certainly does not "fear God" (i.e., have a belief in God that motivates ethical behavior), but at times he has said things that indicate he may actually believe in an afterlife and maybe even in God, but he doesn't care how his actions may effect the state of his soul. The Joker's thinking and behavior is so erratic that it would not be surprising to find many quotes from the Joker which suggest widely differing religious views.
Regardless of the Joker's precise theological beliefs (or lack thereof), he spends little or no time discussing such beliefs. He truly lives to be Batman's arch-enemy, and his life has little meaning without Batman.
In the non-canonical Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman goes into a battle with the Joker thinking that he should finally kill his arch-enemy, for if he doesn't, the Joker will simply escape and kill more innocent people, adding to the hundreds of victims he has already killed. But Batman ends up not killing the Joker, who instead commits suicide in Batman's arms by exacerbating the spinal injuries that Batman inflicted upon him.
In this scene, the Joker calls Batman, "my sweet," an allusion to the homo-erotic fixation that author Frank Miller implies the Joker has on Batman. The Joker calls Batman "Darling" on page 141, with a look on his face like a man seeing a long-lost lover. Other authors have portrayed the Joker alternately as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual or as simply a sexual deviant/thrill killer. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the Joker's sexuality and fixations in The Dark Knight Returns and other works.
The Joker's last words to Batman are, "I'll see ou in Hell." One can not conclude from this that the Joker believes in Hell, as this phrase is spoken by many villains (and even heroes) during times that they are killing somebody or about to die. Possibly the Joker is an atheist, but now so close to death, he manifests a hope for an afterlife. Even as insane as he is, he probably is sensible enough to know that under most imaginable theologies he is not heaven-bound, but this would hardly matter to him if he would have the opportunity to spend eternity with the object of his obsession (and affection?): the Batman.
After the Joker dies, the Batman seems to imply that he can hear the Joker's spirit leaving his body.
Text from: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #3 (1986), DC Comics: New York City; reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns hardcover edition, DC Comics: New York City (2002), pages 150-151; written and pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Lynn Varley:
[During a vicious hand-to-hand fight with the Joker, Batman twisted the villain's head and neck, doing spinal damage. But Batman stops short of killing the Joker.]
BATMAN (thinking): . . . voices calling me . . . a killer . . . I wish I were . . .
THE JOKER: They're gone . . . ? . . . The witnesses, I man . . . I'm really . . . very disappointed with you, my sweet . . . the moment was . . . perfect . . . and you . . . didn't have the nerve . . . Paralysis . . . really . . . just an ounce or two more . . . of pressure . . and . . . Do I hear . . . sirens . . . ? Yes . . . coming close . . . you won't get far . . . But then . . . it doesn't matter . . . if you do . . . They'll kill you for this . . . and they'll never know . . . that you didn't have the nerve . . . I'll see . . . You . . . in Hell--
BATMAN (thinking): With a devil's strength . . . he twists . . . and twists . . . what's left of his spine goes . . .
[The Joker's spine can be heard loudly cracking. The Joker laughs hysterically with his remaining breath, his laughter fading away as he dies.]
BATMAN (thinking): . . . Whatever's in him rustles as it leaves . . . The sirens echo through the tunnel . . . tires screech . . . the world . . . is growing . . dark . . . and cold . . .
Above: In Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Bruce Wayne returns to his activities as a costumed crime-figher after ten years of retirement. During that time, the Joker was also inactive, in an essentially catatonic state cared for in an insane asylum. When news of Batman's return was reported by the television news, the Joker heard it and immediately came out of his catatonic state and began planning his next murder spree.
[Source: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1 (1986), DC Comics: New York City; reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns hardcover edition, DC Comics: New York City (2002), page 41; written and pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Lynn Varley]
Above: Talking to Batman, the therapist in charge of psychological treatment for the Joker in Arkham Asylum discusses the villain's unique psychological profile.
[Source: Batman: Arkham Asylum graphic novel (1989; reprinted in 2004), DC Comics: New York City; written by Grant Morrison, art by Dave McKean; pages 29-30.]
Text from: Batman: Arkham Asylum graphic novel (1989; reprinted in 2004), DC Comics: New York City; written by Grant Morrison, art by Dave McKean; pages 28-30:
Batman: Well, you'll pardon me for saying so, but your techniques don't seem to have had much effect on the Joker.
Grant Morrison wrote about the Joker's "super-sanity" (author's notes on page 20 of script, included in 15th anniversary edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum):
Dr. Adams (Joker's therapist): The Joker's a special case. Some of us feel he may be beyond treatment. In fact, we're not even sure if he can be properly as insane.
His latest claim is tht he's possessed by Baron Ghede, the Voodoo loa.
We're beginning to think it may be a neurological disorder, similar to Tourette's syndrome. It's quite possible we may actually be looking at some kind of super-sanity here. A brilliant new modification of human perception. More suited to urban life at the end of the twentieth century.
Batman: Tell that to his victims.
Dr. Adams: Unlike you and I, the Joker seems to have no control over the sensory information he's receiving from the outside world. He can only cope with the chaotic barrage of input by going with the flow. That's why some days he's a mischievous clown, others a psychopathic killer. He has no real personality. He creates himself each day. He sees himself as the Lord of Misrule, and the world as a theatre of the absurd.
The idea of Joker's "super-sanity" haunted me for years and eventually developed into my theories of multiple personality complexes as the next stage in human consciousness development.
Below: The Joker discusses his twisted motivations with a captive Silver St. Cloud (who was, at the time, the girlfriend of Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. the Batman). The Joker here succinctly describes the two things that he loves most: murder and being the Batman's arch-enemy. Here, as in many other comics, the Joker makes it clear that he doesn't truly desire to kill Batman, for without Batman, the Joker would have no reason to exist.
Source of excerpt below: Batman: Dark Detective #5, pages 16-17; reprinted in Batman: Dark Detective trade paperback (DC Comics, 2006), pages 108-109; written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Terry Austin:
Text from Batman: Dark Detective trade paperback (DC Comics, 2006), pages 107-109; written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Terry Austin:
Joker: Ask me how I can govern this state, Silver.
Silver St. Cloud: All . . . all right. How--
Joker: FEAR! Fear is what moves people. Politics is built on it . . .! And I am fear! "Vote for me or I'll kill you" is not just great marketing -- it's the God's honest truth, and everyone knows it. My face guarantees it. Look at that buffoon, the Scarecrow. He's not crazy, he's just paranoid, so his attempts at fear come from pharmaceuticals. Most times he's just a crank in a really bad suit.
You know what it's like to walk into a room and have men catch their breaths. Well, I get that from everyone. Darkness . . . solitude . . . stealth . . . makes your heart speed up . . . makes you sweat. It's like sex, and I'm its master. It's better than sex because I'm always in the mood. I LOVE murder! I love the look in their eyes -- looking only at me. In those moments, I am what I was meant to be -- The Cosmic Joke! The one No One Understands!
But--! to be the Joker, I must beat the Batman. That's where it becomes really fun! I am a force of nature -- a force of the mind! And I must have a counter-force-- only one man can stand against me-- make me work--
Silver St. Cloud: But you-- You try to kill him.
Joker: Of course I try to kill him! Because he's my perfect foe! If I ever killed him, he'd be my im-perfect foe! And then-- Who'd give a damn? It's only through my failure that I know I'm soooo PERFECT!
Silver St. Cloud (thinking): Oh, Bruce . . . He . . . He's completely . . . OFF! Please come!
Right: Text from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #3 (1986), DC Comics: New York City; reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns hardcover edition, DC Comics: New York City (2002), pages 140-141; written and pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Lynn Varley:
MORRIE: Lana, you astonish me. Fifteen policement hospitalized -- hundreds dead -- and still you cling to this hero worship. Though how anyone can think of a de facto murder as a hero . . .
LANA LANG: Batman hasn't killed anybody, Morrie.
MORRIE: Perhaps he hasn't -- technically. That's why I said de facto, Lana Dear. Still, it's hardly a coincidence that the Joker came out of a ten-year catatonia -- now, of all times . . .
Above: The Joker (pretending to be recently cured from mental illness) appears on The David Endochrine Show (i.e., Late Night with David Letterman). David cites the Joker's total murder count as being around 600 people. The Joker announces that he will kill everybody in the room, after which he does so. David Letterman and guest Dr. Ruth Westheimer (the famous sex therapist) are among the victims.
[Source: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #3 (1986), DC Comics: New York City; reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns hardcover edition, DC Comics: New York City (2002), page 126; written and pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Lynn Varley]
Above: An anchorwoman announces the Joker's latest mass murder: "Two hundred and six were slain during the Joker's escape from the David Endochrine Show [an analogue for David Letterman's late night talk show], including host Endochrine and Dr. Bartholomew Wolper [the Joker's psychiatrist]. The Joker reportedly used his deadly smile gas on the crowd. Commissioner Yindel refused to comment on this, or on the escape of the Batman, which left twelve police officers hospitalized.
[Source: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #2 (1986), DC Comics: New York City; reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns hardcover edition, DC Comics: New York City (2002), page 131; written and pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Lynn Varley]
A detailed discussion of the Joker's aberrant sexuality, including his implied homoerotic fixation on Batman, can be found at: http://comics.ign.com/articles/633/633991p5.html
Below: Batman, Honeycakes . . . ? Another example of the Joker applying a traditionally "romantic" term of endearment to his obsession, the Batman.
[Source: Batman #644, published by DC Comics (late October 2005), page 5; reprinted in Batman: War Crimes trade paperback (2006); written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Guiseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope.]
The Joker has incorporated Batman's regular partner "Robin" into his own Batman-centered psychosis. The Joker really does want to kill Robin, and he successfully killed the second hero known as Robin: Jason Todd (although that didn't last, due to some cosmic restructuring beyond the Joker's control).
The Joker's obsession with killing Robin isn't really a separate obsession, but is side effect of his obsession with Batman. The Joker views Robin almost as a rival who competes for the Batman's attention. In the Joker's mind, the three of them are together in a sort of twisted "love triangle." (This should not be interpreted as having "homosexual" meaning; this is simply another manifestation of the Joker's perverse and psychotic thinking.)
Source of image below: Detective Comics #810, published by DC Comics (late October 2005), page 22: "War Crimes Part 3: A Consequence of Truth"; written by Andersen Gabrych, pencilled by Pete Woods, inked by Bit; reprinted in Batman: War Crimes trade paperback (2006):
Source of image below: Batman #644, published by DC Comics (late October 2005), page 1: "War Crimes Part 4: Judgment At Gotham"; written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Guiseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope; reprinted in Batman: War Crimes trade paperback (2006):
From: "Religion of Comic Book Characters" discussion board, started 21 March 2006, on "Atomic Think Tank" website (http://atomicthinktank.com/viewtopic.php?t=15563&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=60&sid=6e1a6029528ee4ff56875971156c2732; viewed 25 April 2006):
Posted: Fri Mar 24, 2006 1:26 am
The WHOLE FOUNDATION of the Last laugh crossover story was that Joker, believing he was dying was deathly afraid of the deal he made with the demon lord Neron...
[This poster apparently objected to the classification of the Joker as an "atheist" on this website. Neron, by the way, is a devil or Satan figure in the DC Universe.]
Posted: Fri Mar 24, 2006 4:15 am
Odd, I recently re-read that story-arc, and don't recall seeing Neron mentioned in there anywhere.
But, presuming that I did miss something (it may've been mentioned in an issue I'm missing and do not know I'm missing) -- why can't Joker be an Atheist and still fear Neron? Even if he doesn't believe in G'd, he can still believe in Souls, and an Afterlife, and in the Big Nasty Extradimensional Entity that gave him a box of cuban cigars in exchange for his soul. There is a character in Marvel (cannot recall the name) that did not believe in magic or the supernatural, despite chasing down Darkholder Cultists and fighting ghosts and demonic entites for years -- to (again) paraphrase a former poster, just because you don't believe in X doesn't mean X doesn't believe in you.
(And didn't Trickster trick Neron into releasing his claim on the soul's of all the character's he'd boosted, anyway?)
From: comments on "Racism against Atheists" post on "Stormy's Corner" blog website, posted 23 March 2006 (http://stormy.blogs.com/stormy/2006/03/racism_against_.html; viewed 10 May 2006):
[from original blog post:] Atheists identified as America's most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study: News Releases: UMNnews: U of M.: "From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in 'sharing their vision of American society.' Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry."
Perhaps one explanation is the negative depiction of atheists in comic books. Most superheroes [believe in God], with a majority being Christians: Superman is a Methodist, Spiderman is a Protestant, X-Man Rogue is a Southern Baptist, X-Man Nightcrawler is a Catholic. Even the Punisher is Catholic. But when it comes to villians, atheism seems to be the rule. The Joker, The Kingpin, The Green Goblin, Sabertooth, and Lex Luthor are all atheists.
Posted by: Layman | March 24, 2006 at 06:55 PM
Excerpts from: "Atheist superheroes" discussion page, started 2 March 2006, on "Atheist Network" website (http://atheistnetwork.com/viewtopic.php?p=209834&sid=5ca5d2a99f2714e2f90fcee608eb4ac4; viewed 26 May 2006):
Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 3:42 am
...Of course if I were in the DC Universe I would be a believer in the supernatural if not an outright theist. After all, the heroes of that universe have been to Hell. They've stood before the hosts of heaven. Not only does Spectre exist but so does Deadman, Zatanna [etc.] and on into near infinity. Hell... And Hal Jordan/Green Lantern was the freakin Spectre for awhile. Add to that the number of characters that come back from the dead and really in that reality there would be no real reason to doubt.
And not surprisingly more villains are revealed to be atheists than heroes: Lex Luthor, The Joker, Kingpin, Green Goblin, Sabertooth, the Leader, Abomination, Carnage, Red Ghost.
Usually, religion tends to be mostly ignored in comics and most often when it is addressed it tends to be treated fairly rough. How many times has the religious fanatic... bent on murder and mayhem been the villian of a comic?
From: Adam/adamelijah, "Faith of Our Tight-Clad Heroes", posted 19 June 2006 on "Where I Stand" blog website (http://www.whereistand.com/adamelijah/12737; viewed 19 June 2006):
Their list of supervilliains was surprising. It had relatively few devout Christians as villains. The only that stood out was the Rev. William Stryker. Quite a few Atheists really, as well, Lex Luthor and the Joker among them. It may just seem more believable to have an Atheist Super Villain. Given the 20th Century horrors of Communism, I think it seems more believable to people in their heart that super villiains who have no fear of God, not believe in him either.
From: Abby Scott, "Complete with Utility Belt Carrying a Calculator and Ennui," posted 22 June 2006 on "Abby Scott does tend to go on" blog website (http://abbyscott.blogspot.com/2006/06/complete-with-utility-belt-carrying.html; viewed 22 June 2006):
I grew up in a strong atheistic tradition...
The above is a link to a list of the religions of many of our comic book heroes. Quite cool, actually.
...where are the atheists? ...In the atheist pile we have Lex Luthor, The Joker, Two-Face, Kingpin, Green Goblin, Sabretooth...
From: "The Church of Superman" forum discussion started 19 June 2006 on the "James Randi Educational Foundation" website (http://www.randi.org/forumlive/showthread.php?t=58627; viewed 15 May 2007):
19th June 2006, 06:03 AM
The Church of Superman
Hmmmm... the "religious" affiliations of comic book characters. Huh?
19th June 2006, 12:05 PM
I really think a lot of these supervillains ended up as "atheist" because they're not as humanized to retain their evilness. Unless their religion or religious background fueled their motives to be villains in the first place, it's going to confuse the audience and make the superheroes look bad. If Lex Luthor went to church every Sunday like most of America, sat in services while thinking "hate hate hate kill Superman" it would be unintentionally funny or just confusing to people.
19th June 2006, 01:38 PM
I don't think it's even that complicated. I clicked on a couple of the villain pages, and all they do is quote some usenet or message board post by a guy complaining that comic books discriminate against atheists because the heroes are mostly religious, while the only atheists are the villains, such as [and he goes on to list a few, without any supporting evidence].
From what I can tell, most (if not all) of those villain pages should just list "unknown"...
From: "Is Batman an atheist or is he just not very religious?" forum discussion started 2 April 2007 on "Toon Zone" website (http://forums.toonzone.net/archive/index.php/t-187589.html; viewed 21 May 2007):
04-03-2007, 03:18 PM
While wondering about supposed super-hero religious affilations I stumbled upon this site.
it is by no means definitve or set in stone, just an interesting construction and set of theories.
04-03-2007, 07:30 PM
...I find it interesting that the Joker is listed as "atheist, being Batman's arch-enemy" -- and Alfred is Anglican...
The Guitar Slayer
04-04-2007, 11:04 AM
Alfred is English, and Anglican is another name for a follower of the Church of England. That makes sense.
As to Joker -- God only know what his idea of a higher power is. Seriously. Even then, I think the Joker's mind is a place where angels fear to tread.
From: "Unpractical Ethics: Superheroes", posted 11 October 2005 on "Millenial Star" website [which comments on topics relating to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] (http://www.millennialstar.org/index.php/2005/10/11/unpractical_ethics_superheros; viewed 5 June 2007):
Comment from: Ivan Wolfe - http://inmediasrays.blogspot.com
it's a lot more than just Tom Strong's "failings." It's in the very fact that the city he's in charge of IS, in fact, a fascist state run by him. I'm all for varied readings, but you seem determined to redeem Moore's heroes, when the texts are more concerned with condeming them.
For example, you say he makes mere mortals out of his heroes in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - but it just ain't true. The opening quote of the series (which goes something like: "The British public seems unable to distinguish it's heroes from its monsters") shows that. The thesis of the series is not that our heroes have feet of clay, or are mere mortals, its that there is, in the end, no real difference between our heroes and our monsters - (this can also be seen in Moore's Killing Joke which ends with Batman and the Joker sharing a laugh together over a joke).
I'm actually somewhat amazed at your refusal to see what Moore is trying to do. He's been very explicit about this in his prose essays and works of criticism as well.
10/12/05 - 18:09
From: "The official Injustice League team thread", started 12 October 2006 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000094288&tstart=90&start=2550; viewed 6 July 2007):
Posted: Jul 1, 2007 7:07 PM
While you are in Arkham you might get a laugh out of this, I did not know half this stuff
Posted: Jul 1, 2007 7:12 PM
...This one's perhaps the best: Joker (Religion): being Batman's archnemesis.
From: Brad Meltzer, "Jewish Superhero Website Listing", posted 28 June 2007 on his official MySpace website (http://www.bradmeltzer.com/labels/Comics.html; viewed 9 July 2007):
Thanks to Jack G. for this. And I so admire The Acidic Jew [link to: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/AcidicJew.html].
Jewish superhero website listing:
[reader comments posted in response to this, at:
I know your purpose was different than as taken, but, I still think it's very interesting that both Marvel and DC (as well as independents) have incorporated religions in their characters' backgrounds.
Sure, we know some have religious/mythoological backgrounds (Thor, Nightcrawler, Daredevil, Bibleman) but, to see how many do, is interesting.
Also, I didn't know "hates Spiderman" (J. Jonah Jameson) and "being Batman's arch-enemy" (Joker) was a religion, lol, I found it interesting that these universes incorporated religions from all over the world, just like a real universe would...
Thanks for that interesting link, Brad.
Posted by LegendsOfBatman on Monday, July 02, 2007 at 9:32 AM
Webpage created 1 April 2005. Last modified 9 July 2007.
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