San Diego Comic Con 2016 may have been a success for DC, yet the celebrations were marred by the growing furor over the Batman: The Killing Joke animated movie. The comic has always been controversial due to its misogynistic slant, but fans are now even less pleased. Why? Well because the new movie showed Batgirl getting down and dirty with Batman, an act which contrasts somewhat with their usual mentor/pupil relationship. Sure, it was hinted at that they had got a bit cosy in Batman Beyond, but it was never detailed this explicitly, or awkwardly...
Is this somewhat icky to you? I’m afraid that it gets worse! As Batman investigates the Joker’s breakout, he meets with some prostitutes who hint that, like in the original comic, the Joker sexually assaulted and may have even raped Batgirl. After all, as these ladies of the night reveal, they are the first people he visits after escaping from Arkham Asylum, and they even vocally wonder if he has "found a new girl."
This incensed fans, who claim that Barbara Gordon is now being victimized even more. Additionally, some commentators were not pleased by the fact that the Joker of this story was known for playing hide the snake (thankfully not onscreen), arguing that the Joker is not meant to be interested in sex.
Is this the case? Is he celibate? Does he love Batman or Harley Quinn? Is it something more? And should we be labeling it anyway? Scroll on down to find out!
Is He Straight?
Few villains are as iconic or have got under their hero’s skin as deeply as the Joker has; there’s no question that, whether he is portrayed as a either a harmless trickster or deadly terrorist, the Joker is one sick puppy. As such, his sporadic, short-lived relationships with women are similarly warped.
In The Killing Joke comic, he is shown as being married to Jeannie, prior to her untimely demise and his fall into a vat of acid, and characters such as Anarky and Duella Dent have insisted that he is their father. In Tim Burton’s Batman, Jack Nicholson’s Joker is shown to have a strong attraction to a repulsed Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger). Plus in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince takes a particular interest in Rachael Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) by commenting on her beauty. Aside from this, the only long-term relationship he has ever had is with Harley Quinn, which is controversial in itself.
Indeed, for the most part, the Joker is depicted as a cruel and psychotic character, manipulating others and having no emotional connection to them. As such, the partnership between Harley and the Joker is a strange and problematic one because the attraction is mainly one-sided. Before she went her own way in the comics, Harley is always attempting to appeal to the reluctant Joker’s tastes. Conversely, although Joker is shown to become jealous when Harley distances herself from him in the No Man’s Land story arc, he is highly abusive towards his “expendable” assistant, whom he has even attempted to kill on the odd occasion.
However, whether Joker demonstrates his heterosexuality and progresses to fourth base with Harley is another matter entirely. Though the comics may frequently show the sex lives of their heroes, their villains’ antics are depicted far less – and let’s face it, it’s probably for the best that we haven’t seen two characters that resemble clowns going at it. Though that hasn’t stopped some people from producing some really creepy artwork:
And this kind of imagery is tame compared to what else is out there. Don't search for it, unless you want to ruin your childhood.
Plus there is the implication in the Arkham City game that their relationship has been consummated, and they may soon have a child together. And this is even without the Joker's more depraved liaisons with other women. The jury is still out after all this time as to whether he rapes Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke comic (the original artwork is even more explicit and suggestive), and then there’s the lesser known case in Brian Azzarello’s Joker comic. In an alternate universe, the Joker rapes his accomplice’s ex-wife to punish him for withholding information.
Obviously, these aren’t the nicest of panels, and further evidence of the misogynistic slant of comic books, they further highlight how monstrous the Joker is. It could be argued that all of the incidents described above have more to do with power than sexual desire. Certainly, it is a widely accepted notion that rape is more about control and violence rather than satisfaction. But does this mean that the Joker is an outright heterosexual? Or is there another way of looking at him?
Is He Gay?
With his frequent use of pet names such as “darling” (The Dark Knight Returns) and “my little bat,” (Endgame) does the Joker like men, or love the Caped Crusader?
It isn’t unusual for villains to have different sexual tastes. It’s long been a tradition for writers to give their antagonists “unnatural” sexual behavior to contrast with their heroes and threaten the "natural" heteronormative behavior that they embody.
That’s why the villainous, moustached Bennett (Vernon Wells) in Commando wears vests and chains, the Harkonnen in Dune are suffering from AIDS-like symptoms and Buffalo Bill is a transvestite in Silence of the Lambs.
Batman is essentially a caped James Bond because he fulfills so many alpha-male desires. He has wealth, cool cars, great gadgets and good lucks, meaning that he gets to kick ass, take names and bed plenty of women. Lots of boys, teens and adults like him because he embodies the things that they want themselves.
By writing the Joker with these pet-names and flamboyancy, the character doesn't simply taunt and humiliate Batman, he critiques Batman's robust- but ultimately very vulnerable- sense of masculinity. It gives him a darker, more devious and threatening edge, to challenge the "manliness and heroism" that Batman represents.
Indeed, as Bart Bishop has explored, the Joker has frequently been portrayed as “perverse and deviant.” In the comics, among the very many suggestive panels out there, he notably groped Batman in Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, and he was also fairly open to the concept of sex with the villain Onomatopoeia in Kevin Smith’s The Widening Gyre. He also dressed up as a female nurse in The Dark Knight. A cool disguise? Or something more?
So does the Joker, to paraphrase his own words, think that Batman completes him? Is there a sexual undercurrent to their fights? Or are the above examples symptomatic of the Joker simply teasing Batman. Is he simply having a laugh?
Or Is He Asexual?
Many people seem to assume that sex and love don’t even factor into the Joker’s thought processes. Sure, there’s the odd kiss or affectionate hug with Harley here and there, but there is very little else to suggest that their passion progresses from that point onward, and that these pecks or cuddles aren’t more than just momentary and spontaneous acts.
This lack of detail isn’t simply because cartoons, comics and films are for younger audiences (again, I doubt very few people want to see clowns having sex) but because many fans feel that his insanity and obsession negates him having any further desires.
This certainly seems to be the case in the famous ‘rev up your Harley’ scene from the Batman Animated Series. And yes, this could be one irregularity in the Joker’s usual appetites, but the fact that he eschews Harley for his plotting of evil schemes is very telling. Many fans believe that one as scheming, meticulously dressed and crazy as the Joker wouldn't consider sex, or sully himself with it.
Sound unbelievable? Well, this is fiction after all, and he is pretty busy either being locked away in Arkham Asylum or obsessively plotting to fight Batman...hmmm, obsessive, or something more?
Perhaps He's Even...Bat-sexual?
The fact that the Joker never is (or is rarely) shown forming relationships or getting frisky, is (to some fans) evidence of another general theory. Namely, some have labelled the Joker as ‘Batsexual,’ which essentially means that little else matters to the Clown Prince of Crime, except his obsession with battling Batman. It's as if he is an adrenaline junkie, and everything about Batman is adrenaline.
And yes, there are a lot of indicators to support this. The Joker's certainly highly possessive about the Caped Crusader. Check out the included scan, whereby he reacts with shock and anger when their rivalry is questioned. His hatred of the Bat-family in A Death in The Family and Death of The Family is also highly pronounced, because he sees them as distractions for Batman's "affections." As such his adoption of pet names and homosexual overtones are the only ways to convey his infatuation.
As one of the most abiding antagonistic relationships in all of pop culture, we can certainly draw parallels with other heroes and villains, such as Will Graham and Hannibal in NBC's Hannibal. As their allegiance progressed in the series, with their suggestive yet mild physical contact, shared intelligence, common state of mind and interest in each other, a palpable sexual frisson developed. Although it was never acted upon— and indeed, seemed very likely to become physical — their shared experience of the darkness in the world forged an intimacy which transcended physicality.
It's the same with the Joker and Batman. Fans often highlight how well they complement each other - man to animal, gregarious to stoic, colorful to dark, and murderous to merciful - and this is what fuels the Joker's "Bat-sexuality." It's borne from their contradictions, but also their common darkness; after all, both are still mentally damaged and reeling from the chaos of the world...their "one bad day." As such, the Joker sees there is an exciting intimacy between them, no matter how much Batman may feel otherwise...
This 'intimacy' is obviously very warped, intimate and borderline sexual in nature, but it is crucially never treated as such or acted upon. As such, it might be a bit of a stretch to label this a sexuality unto itself, but the Joker definitely derives some kind of pleasure from their interactions and commonalities. Why else would he continue to delight in tormenting Batman for years on end?
So What's The Deal?
To again borrow someone else’s words, it would seem that the Joker’s sexuality is as “chaotic as his conception and origin.” Though he leans towards being asexual, the Joker’s sex life is as changeable as Batman’s brutality and comics themselves, with it being consistently reinvented depending on whatever story is being told, writer is behind it or version of the Joker is being used, leaving it open to interpretation.
Should this be the case though? Is it naive of us to assume that the Joker wouldn’t want some sort of fun? He is a human man after all, but then that begs the question over whether it would be acceptable or abusive? Certainly, sickening and twisted acts are part of the Joker’s modus operandi...so should his sex life reflect this?
Much has already been discussed about how Jared Leto's Joker will interact with Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, but with both his close, suggestive contact with men - "I can't wait to show you my toys" anyone? Or is that just me? - and women alike, his sexuality already looks set to be just as tangled as ever before.
Overall, it’s safe to say that whatever angle of the Joker is shown, it should reflect the nature of the story and be tailored for its intended audience - no one wants to see a rapey Joker in a kids TV show after all! But for me, his non-conformity or reticence to sexual preference is another part of his mystique.
This is a character, after all, that works best with no back-story...indeed, his mystery and refusal to act in predictable ways is what makes him such a powerful and iconic villain, and the perfect foil for our beloved Batman!