EVEN SUPERHEROES NEED TIME OUT
“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” – The Killing Joke, 1988
Think back to the last time you had a bad day. How did it make you feel? Were you exhausted, lethargic, drained, and wanting nothing but to crawl into bed to sleep off your worries in the hope that tomorrow would be kinder to your weary soul? Or were you angry and defeated at how unfair the world really is?
In a sense, everything could come crashing down in a moment’s notice and there would be nothing we could do about it. That itself is the unpredictability of life. One man who’s all too familiar with the effects of bad days is none other than the Joker himself.
Written by Alan Moore, The Killing Joke (1988) presents the pale-faced villain in his attempt to prove to Batman, and himself, that all it takes to tip an ordinarily sane person into madness is one bad day; his being when his wife and unborn child were killed in a tragic accident. The subject of his twisted experiment is Commissioner Jim Gordon, who he abducts and tortures mentally on a deranged carnival ride. What is more, at the time of the kidnapping, Joker and his henchmen paralyse Gordon’s daughter, Barbara (also known as Batgirl), from the waist down. Crippled and degraded, she is then stripped naked and photographed in what may be one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in comic book history. Those horrific images are later made the main attraction of Gordon’s nightmarish ride.
However, even after enduring such atrocities, Gordon’s sanity remains intact as he insists the Joker be “brought in by the book”. So is the clown wrong? Was he just simply too weak to handle the burdens of life? The answer is yes and no.
A critical flaw in his plan was picking Gordon as his “average man” where in reality, he is nothing of the sort. It is common knowledge that Gotham’s police force is corrupt – often under the power of formidable mob bosses. There is only a handful of honest cops in the entire precinct and Gordon is always depicted to be the most unwilling to yield to the mafia’s control. He is a stubborn yet virtuous individual who believes in the perseverance of justice even when the city has long given up hope. Hence, there is no point about humanity to be proved with him because he is one of a kind.
The same could be said about his daughter. In some iterations, she remains paralysed from the events of The Killing Joke and ultimately adopts a new persona, Oracle, that aids Batman in fighting crime with her advanced technological abilities. In others, she recovers physically and returns to her post as Batgirl yet suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder – an issue that may not have been highlighted otherwise. Barbara persisted through her bad day and took her future into her own hands. In other words, she showed that it was possible to survive and fight back at even the greatest of atrocities.
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On the contrary, Bruce Wayne’s persona, Batman, is the product of just one bad day: the death of his parents. Although he is not psychotically deranged, it is undeniable that his mental stability has been severely compromised. One could say he is on the brink of insanity.
For instance, the end of The Killing Joke is purposefully ambiguous yet many fans theorise that Batman snaps the Joker’s neck during the final scene. In doing so, he would have broken his one rule: no killing. This mantra the caped crusader has stood by for decades defines him as a vigilante and separates him from other characters in the same vein. It is his identity. Anyone can take a criminal life in the name of the greater good but a true hero fights this urge and aims to apprehend wrongdoers ethically. So, by casting it aside, Batman discards his moral values and succumbs to madness.
Furthermore, the Dark Knights: Metal event (2017-2018) encompasses the “one bad day” philosophy as it portrays a storyline where the crazed Bruce Waynes from alternate universes join together to take over the world. Simply put, these twisted versions of Batman all endured the same bad day yet they were tested further by fate. In the end, they snapped and abandoned their humanity meaning our Batman may just be on the verge of doing the same.
All in all, the Joker is indeed wrong about the notion of a single day being able to reduce a person to insanity. Even before his bad day, he showcased signs of anxiety, anger management issues, and was under tremendous stress due to his failing career as a comedian. It is safe to say that the loss of his family was likely the last straw.
Nonetheless, the Joker’s point is that this series of events can happen to anybody regardless of social status or moral stance. These adversities of life can then gradually chip away at a person’s mental well-being until they can no longer live with its weight. Everybody’s limits are different and many can prevent themselves from reaching their breaking point by seeking professional help or confiding in their loved ones. Nonetheless, some are pushed a little too much and a little too often and eventually, they break. Hard.