After all the superhero films that have been made thus far (there are too many that have been made since Superman) and that have had the success of giving power to the title hero, the villain is just as helpful to making it effective. So far, Joker has had the biggest legendary status of getting the most attention whenever a Batman movie rolls around, from Jack Nicholson in Batman to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. After Ledger won his posthumous Oscar for the Joker, he not only fulfilled a last great performance for his life, but set a standard for just how iconic the supervillain can get with audiences.
When I look at all the superhero flicks made so far that come in handy with a villain, from Gene Hackman in Superman to Ian McKellen in X-Men to Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man to Hugo Weaving in Captain America: First Avenger, not many of them get much press attention or iconography the way that the Joker has gotten when you watch Ledger’s performance, listen to his voice, look at his make-up, hear his laugh, and pay attention to every word he says. He’s really proven so far that he is the best supervillain that was ever created, without having any super powers. He has no machines, no paranormal abilities, and no extraterrestrial blood in him, yet that’s what makes him the best. One line that stays with me from him is that he tries to show “how pathetic [schemers] attempts to control things really are”, and I think that line applies to almost every one of those other supervillains that have appeared in print and on screen, because they are all schemers that want to “control their little worlds” whether it’s ruling the universe or showing off a mad scientific experiment or getting revenge on the hero.
The Joker’s probably the only supervillain who avoids telling people what he wants to gain or profit from his crimes because he’d rather surprise them and when he does, it’s never pretty. His messages and his crimes are haunting and memorable to the point that you begin to forget how powerful all those other supervillains are with their machines and their super powers (e.g. Braniac, Loki, Mister Sinister, Doc Ock, Doctor Doom). True he’d probably lose in combat if he were face-to-face with the Justice League or the Avengers or the X-Men when he has no super-strength to combat them with, but I doubt he would cringe or beg for mercy. He’d laugh in their faces and accept death as a final punchline. It’s like he’s one of the few villains that can’t be vanquished for good because he feels satisfied with his evil, whether he lives or dies. If any of those superheroes killed him, it’d be considered wrong because Batman can never have the guts to do it, so that probably means none of the others would dare to either.
In that way, he seems to get the last laugh out of everything; in regards to Nietzsche’s concept of the “superman”, the Joker fits in well with that concept because he sees himself as above humanity without having any real superpowers by setting an example to humanity that he wishes they would follow against traditional values. He is above them because nothing can control him or change his mind, which leaves a very bleak statement that he will get away all the time. In that case, he’s somehow superior to any supervillain and will be kept alive in whatever comic, movie, or TV show is made of him. He’s going to live in popular culture forever I bet and no one can ever put him in his place within the fiction, either because they are too attached to him or because they think nothing can put him away for good.
He is unique as a nihilistic supervillain, to him destruction is an end in and of itself. I don’t think he fits Nietzsche’s concept of the super-human because he’s not somebody you aspire to be, somebody who sets new goals and values for humanity (that’s the role of the super-hero). Rather, I would liken him to Diogenes because of his cynicism, his contempt for wealth and property and his rejection of society and its morality.
Batman and the Joker are most interesting paired with one another.