I was watching The Dark Knight on TNT last night.  Some thoughts I’d been having about the contrast between Batman and the Joker, and how they are perfectly made to be the other’s mortal enemy because they are truly polar opposites.

Let’s first take a look at Batman, and then we’ll take a look at Joker.

(more nerdy geekery after the cut)

Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27 released in May, 1939, and was the creation of Bill Finger and Bob Kane.  Batman was the alternate identity of “millionaire” (later retconned to be a billionaire) Bruce Wayne.  His origin was eventually revealed to be that his parents had been brutally murdered during a botched robbery attempt in front of Bruce’s eyes when he was very young.  Bruce swore to avenge his parents that night by dedicating his life to fighting crime.  Bruce grew up, trained intensively, learned important crime-fighting skills by various masters throughout the world.  While contemplating a symbol, something criminals would dread (“Criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot”), a bat flew through the window of his study.  Bruce took on the symbol of the bat, becoming the Batman.

It marked the first time something like this had been attempted in comics: a protagonist based on a symbol of evil (in this case a bat) with a dark backstory.  Pulps had “The Spider" for many years, but this was the first time that something like the Batman had been attempted in comics.  And it worked.  Batman was a smash.

The Joker debuted in Batman Vol. 1, #1, in the Spring of 1940 and was created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson.  The Joker’s origin is shrouded in mystery, and his full name (canonically) has never been fully revealed in the comics.  Here’s what we do know:

Joker was once known as the criminal The Red Hood, and was once a chemical engineer working for a chemical company in Gotham City.  While leading a gang of criminals robbing the chemical plant he once worked, Batman interrupted.  During the scuffle that ensued, the Red Hood fell (or jumped or was dropped) into a vat of chemicals which hideously disfigured his face and hands.  Ultimately, the Joker’s origin doesn’t matter, because that is not what the Joker is about.  Batman is about reasons for doing things: He does this to avenge his parents’ death.  The Joker is about insanity, pure and simple.  There don’t need to be reasons; The Joker just is.

What interests me, is the fact they are each polar opposites of the other:

Bats in our culture represent evil and darkness, and is the symbol worn by the protagonist, who is himself a symbol of law and order.  Clowns, on the other hand, represent laughter and innocence, yet is the symbol worn by the Joker, the symbol of chaos.

Batman ostensibly chose to become whom he is.  The Joker had his role forced on him (alternatively, the Joker just is).

Batman is the Hunter archetype, while the Joker is the Trickster.

Batman is the Superego, while the Joker is the id, and just like their psychological counterparts, they are constantly at war with each other.

They are perfect nemeses for each other.