The Joker is one of the most iconic villains in comic book history, and Batman is one of the most beloved superheroes. The two characters have been intertwined since the Joker’s first appearance in Batman #1 in 1940, and their complex relationship has inspired countless stories across multiple media. However, the nature of their connection has always been a subject of debate, especially when it comes to the question of whether or not Joker is a prequel to Batman.
What Is a Prequel?
Before we delve into the specifics of Joker and Batman, let’s define what a prequel is. A prequel is a narrative work that tells a story set before the events depicted in another work, often focusing on characters or events that are referenced or hinted at in the later work. Prequels can provide backstory, context, or alternative perspectives on familiar material, but they can also risk diminishing the impact or mystery of the original work if they are poorly executed.
The Case for Joker as a Prequel to Batman
One interpretation of Joker is that it serves as a prequel to Batman by exploring the origins and development of its titular character before he becomes the archenemy of Gotham’s Dark Knight. This interpretation has several points in its favor:
- Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Joker yet and want to avoid spoilers, skip this bullet point! The ending of Joker implies that Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), who transforms into the Joker over the course of the movie, inspires Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson), who becomes Batman later on. The final scene shows Arthur breaking into Wayne Manor and encountering young Bruce while wearing his clown makeup and holding his signature weapon: a revolver that he uses to shoot Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), Bruce’s father, earlier in the movie. Although the scene doesn’t show Arthur and Bruce interacting much, it suggests that their encounter will have a profound impact on both of them, setting them on opposite paths in the future.
- Character parallels: Joker and Batman share many thematic and visual similarities that suggest a deeper connection between them than just being adversaries. Both characters are defined by trauma, loss, and alienation from society.
Both characters wear masks or costumes to hide their true identities or cope with their pain. Both characters use violence to achieve their goals, albeit with different methods and motivations. By exploring the psychological roots of Joker’s madness and criminal behavior, Joker could be seen as providing insight into the psychology of Batman, who also witnessed his parents’ murder as a child and vowed to fight crime.
- Tone and style: Joker has a gritty, realistic tone that echoes some of the darker and more mature Batman stories from the comics, such as The Killing Joke or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. The movie depicts a corrupt and decaying Gotham City that reflects the social unrest and inequality of our own world. By immersing us in this environment through Arthur’s perspective, Joker creates a sense of dread and unease that could foreshadow the emergence of Batman as a symbol of hope and justice.
The Case Against Joker as a Prequel to Batman
Of course, not everyone agrees that Joker is a prequel to Batman. Some argue that it is simply an origin story for one version of the Joker that doesn’t necessarily connect to other versions or interpretations:
- No direct link: Although Joker contains references to Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne, and other elements from Batman lore, it doesn’t directly show how Arthur’s actions influence or inspire Bruce to become Batman. The final scene could be interpreted as a standalone homage to the iconic Wayne murder scene, rather than a definitive setup for a Batman-Joker confrontation. Moreover, Joker takes place in the early 1980s, whereas most versions of the Batman mythology are set in a more contemporary or futuristic timeframe, which could make it harder to reconcile the two narratives chronologically.
- Unreliable narrator: Joker is presented as a character study and a psychological thriller, not as a straightforward superhero or supervillain story. As such, it leaves many aspects of Arthur’s life and mindset open to interpretation or ambiguity.
Some scenes could be interpreted as hallucinations or fantasies rather than objective reality. Some characters could be seen as figments of Arthur’s imagination rather than flesh-and-blood individuals. Therefore, some argue that trying to fit Joker into the continuity of Batman is missing the point of what Joker is trying to do.
- A standalone vision: Finally, some argue that Joker should be appreciated on its own terms as a standalone movie that offers a fresh and daring take on the character and his world. By distancing itself from previous interpretations or expectations of what a Joker story should be like, Joker can explore themes and ideas that might not fit into traditional superhero narratives. By focusing on Arthur’s personal journey rather than his connection to other characters or events outside of himself, Joker can provide an intimate and affecting portrait of mental illness and social decay.
So, is Joker a prequel to Batman? The answer is..it depends on how you define “prequel” and how you interpret Joker’s story and themes.
While there are certainly arguments for both sides of the debate, ultimately it comes down to personal preference and perspective. Some viewers might enjoy Joker more if they see it as a precursor to Batman, while others might appreciate it more if they see it as a standalone vision that doesn’t rely on established continuity or expectations.
Regardless of your stance on the matter, one thing is certain: Joker has sparked a lot of discussion and debate about the nature of comic book adaptations and the potential of the superhero genre to tackle mature and complex themes. Whether or not it leads to more prequels, sequels, or spin-offs featuring the Joker and/or Batman remains to be seen, but for now, we can enjoy the legacy of these two iconic characters and their enduring appeal.