Batman is the subject of a later Retro Reaction analysis. But today we
look at his arch nemesis The Joker.
We know a hero without the villain doesn’t work.
Would we have cheered for Hulk Hogan if we hadn’t hated Rowdy Piper
Would the power ranges be anything if not for lord “naked-man” Zed

Here we are looking at the Joker through films leaving a somewhat massive
chunk of comic and animated history untouched.

Batman The Movie (1966) – The Clown Prince of Crime is Batman’s number
1 villain (Played perfectly by the late Cesar Romero). Though he is undoubted
a first class foe he doesn’t kill. His weapon of choice, sometimes knock
out gas and sometimes confetti.

What He represents – In the 60s the US were in a “Cold War” was still very
much ongoing with the Missile Crisis just a few years earlier. The cold
war spills into the series  (For example the red phone seen in the series
is similar to the Washington to Moscow line). I Wonder if the ever present
real danger effected the decision for the lighter tone the series takes.

In the episodes Joker Goes to School and He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul
The Joker clearly represents the (at the time) perceived degeneration of American
youth. Something the Joker still often represents today.

Batman (1989) – This time played by Jack Nicholson. This Joker does kill. In fact
he is a flat out psychopath who  for the majority of the film is trying to poison
the residence of Gotham City with Smilex toxin.

What He Represents – In this case the fears Nicholson’s Joker preys on are
those of poison. Perhaps the fear of Chemical warfare or of the  80s  war on

The Dark Knight (2008) – This time Joker is played by Heath Ledger. This
time the character is contemporary by design. He has a knife and kills
to play with his prey.

What he represents

“Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything
becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing
about chaos? It’s fair!”

It’s worth noting that ledgers Joker uses a knife and taps in to the very modern
fear of being killed in the street for no reason other than anarchy.
A fair reflection of our fears perhaps?

For all his inclinations the joker opens a window in time to the fears of the society
that create him in each incarnation. A Very Real bogeyman.