“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.”
The Joker said it. Alan Moore wrote it. By the end of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, Batman has had exactly that bad day. The chilling laugh that closes out the book may not belong to the Joker. Having finally crossed the line and killed his greatest foe, Batman has mentally snapped, or so the reliable sources say. Batman truly was one bad day away from becoming the Joker. Bruce is a man who must constantly hold himself in check because each villain he faces, is a dark reflection of himself.
There is no doubt that Bruce Wayne lives a double life. It has become clear over the years that the strain of balancing his life as Bruce Wayne as well as his nocturnal activities as the Batman is immense. Bruce has, many times, come close to dropping either personality in favour of the other. Unfortunately, Harvey Dent does not have that option. On one side of the coin you have Harvey, the young promising attorney, while on the other, you find Two-Face. Harvey s constantly treading the line between his two personalities, and each time he slips, he moves farther and farther into the darkness.
Terror, real heart-gripping, gut-wrenching horror is powerful. It can influence the actions of those it is inflicted upon, reducing them to the most basic of creatures. These creatures know only their own survival, and it makes every move predictable. The Batman is a creature specifically created to instill fear. Seeing the dark shadow descend from the sky can fill criminals with fright. This is one of the greatest weapons in Batman’s arsenal. The Scarecrow, however, is a master of fear. He can inflict mortal terror on anyone for any gain, sometimes simply for his own pleasure. He uses his fear gas to stimulate the amygdala, the portion of a person’s brain that controls the fight or flight response. From here he can manipulate them into anything from handing over their valuables, to committing murder or suicide. In much the same way, Batman can use fear to drive criminals into traps, or sometimes into simply surrendering.
Oswald Cobblepot is more a reflection of Bruce Wayne than of Batman. The Bruce Wayne persona that Batman so easily affects is so very similar to the Penguin’s own wealth inspired attitude. The riches and status that come from Cobblepot’s family inheritance have made him greedy for more, and where Bruce uses these things to help people, Cobblepot uses people to help increase his status.
At times cold, emotionless, even accused of being heartless by the young Dick Grayson, Bruce and Batman are not very far apart. Alfred has often invited Bruce to take on a young protege to keep him from walling off his emotions altogether. However, Freeze has no Alfred to rely on as a surrogate father, no surrogate mother in Dr. Thompkins, no loving children like the Robins. Freeze has lost his wife Nora, the only person to ever mean anything to him. And so he has encased his heart in a wall of ice, just as Bruce may have done without his family.
Bane began as a master tactician and skilled martial artist. He and Batman were evenly matched, until the Venom was added to Bane’s system. This is because Bane represents Batman’s violence, not just his use of it, but also his skill with it. Batman’s tactics and skill can bring a halt to any opponent. However, while Batman’s ability is simply one more tool in his arsenal against crime, Bane revels in his ability to inflict pain, and in the chaos that violence brings.
To put it simply, The Joker is everything that Batman is not. Locked in the kind of duality that would only please Two-Face, he is the other side of Batman’s coin. Where Batman represents the triumph of order over all things great and terrible, the Joker is the living embodiment of chaos. Other rogues would commit their crimes for riches, or power, or revenge, but the Joker is bad simply because it feels good. The Clown Prince of Crime has even been known to undergo entire personality changes, evolving a sort of Super-Sanity, a term used most familiarly by Grant Morrison. The Joker is perpetually over the edge of reason, and believes that just the right push will send the bastion of Batman’s ordered world tumbling down like a house of cards.
Batman exists as all of these things. The whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. But, a good hard shove in any direction of the spectrum, and Bruce Wayne could become any of these rogues and scoundrels. This is what makes Batman’s enemies some of the best villains in comic history, and why the Batman franchise has survived 75 years.