The Joker leads a media war against Gotham’s elite

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Marvel’s sales tanked, the Yawfle notes, when the writers decided to put ham-fisted political messages above good stories. Now it’s DC’s turn:

For Batman: White Knight, writer-illustrator Sean Murphy (The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus) created a version of Gotham with real, modern-day problems, and then let Batman solve them by making him the villain. How? In the comic mini-series’ alternate-reality, it’s the Joker — cured of his insanity — who sees that Bruce Wayne is just another part of the city’s vicious cycle of crime and sets out to stop him.

“My main goal was to undo the comic tropes while changing Gotham from a comic book city into a real city — a city dealing with everything from Black Lives Matter to the growing wage gap,” Murphy says. “[But] rather than write a comic about the wage gap, I gave those ideas to the Joker, who leads a kind of media war against Gotham’s elite by winning people over with his potent observations and rhetoric.”

I don’t think Murphy intended this to be a Rorschach test, but half his audience will probably see this new “heroic” Joker as perfectly villainous.


  1. Ross says:

    Completely unhinged.

    Takes a whole lotta soy lattés to hit that level of moob.

    What’s coming next? Joker leads V-for-Vendetta Gotham traffic blockages for BLM?

    It’s a dog’s breakfast of virtue signaling, white knighting, and autistic screeching.

  2. Graham says:

    Wouldn’t that scenario have to make the Joker the alt-right?

  3. Graham says:

    Also, trust DC to just do whatever Marvel does long after the ship has sailed and any profit to be had is exhausted. And do it in a more half-assed and obvious way.

    I’m starting to wonder if comic writers aren’t as bright as I had been led to believe.

  4. Kirk says:

    I dunno… I’ve always read much of the whole comic superhero scene as essentially being left-wing propaganda of the most egregious sort.

    Pay attention to the meta-message of most of it: Despite being camouflaged with patriotic themes and the coloration of culturally benign cover tropes, what are the actual themes, going back to the thirties?

    Consider: Social problems are being solved by powerful, superior beings beyond social control or recourse. You can read into Superman the left-wing desire for a “new man” coming on the scene, taking on the role of a Nietzsche-style Ubermensch and circumventing the rules of society to solve problems. What could possibly be more analogous to the various left-wing heroes, like Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler?

    To a degree, I see a lot of the superhero genre as being pure wish-fulfillment for the left-wing sorts that came up with the whole thing, and I think it was subtle propaganda agitating for the whole “man on a horse” philosophy of governance. The various patriotic trappings they camouflaged it all with were no more than cover, intended to slide the idea in that some superior sort of human being could be entrusted with vast powers to cut through the various Gordian knots bedeviling modern society.

    Take a long, hard look at the backgrounds of a lot of the creators of this stuff, and then think about what sort of mental fantasy lives they must have had, and what they either consciously or subconsciously were trying to communicate to the readers. When you fantasize about the superhuman, and dream about the possibilities of being free of the fetters of due process and common law, how much easier does it become to look at a creature like Hitler or Hugo Chavez as a potential solution? The political demagogue of the left usually comes to us clothed in the same sort of mental and cultural trappings that the superheroes do, in that they demand to be freed from the constraints of custom and law to solve our problems.

    There is something fundamentally “off” with the whole genre, to my eye. It’s always been there, and the more I’ve researched the backgrounds of the original creators, the less I’ve been surprised to find their ideological roots were deeply into the left, despite their protestations and cloaking of their works in outwardly patriotic forms.

    It’s all of a piece with the myths and stories told down the ages, whether you’re looking at the old Greco-Roman mythological structure, or the tales of the knight-errant that Cervantes was satirizing in Don Quixote. The idealized hero-figure is always a creature beyond the rules, forgiven trespasses and expected to solve complex problems through the cutting of the Gordian knot. You grow up on tales of the heroic, and you’re all too easily swayed into following men like Alexander, Caesar, or Hitler. You have set up in your mind the mental machinery necessary to see these creatures as being both heroic and beyond the normal strictures they should have been held to. There’s a continuity here, that I think all too many of us miss. You tell the kids tales of Superman, and how easily are they swayed to think that a man like Chavez could be “that great man”, and the solution to their problems?

    You want to understand how someone like Hitler gets to power in a nation so outwardly rational as Germany was? Look to the mythologies that nation has, and where the roots go. Nietzsche primed the pump that raised Hitler up, along with all the rest of the philosophers and story-tellers that placed those ideas into the popular culture, easing his path to power. If people hadn’t had the idea of a Nietzschean Ubermensch as a archetype in the first damn place, they’d have looked at a man like Hitler and said “Yeah, sure… You’ll fix everything, sure you will… Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”.

    The path to men like Hitler starts off in the nursery. Contrast the superhero comic with things like the Hardy Boys, or the Horatio Alger stories, and then ask yourself why our culture has taken a severe turn for the worse the more these tales of the Ubermensch take over the public imagination.

  5. Graham says:


    I see where you are coming from with a lot of that and I think I am sympathetic. If you dig into the archives of political blogger and movie reviewer James Bowman he has returned time and again to the idea that fantasy of the comic book style has had a negative effect on movies and on ideas of honor and manhood in American society over decades. I admit I was a little less than convinced since he included Indiana Jones in the critique, but it is true that even this character and story set unrealistic ideas in the mind. Plus I’m more sympathetic to his take as I am nearly a decade older than when I first read his work.

    More broadly, your critique touches on my own thoughts about the rise of this mode of hero-worship in the past few decades, and the closing of the pop culture space for more measured, contextual, realistic and traditional male [or female] archetypes of courage and perseverance. There is something in there about the corresponding rise of ‘nerd’ culture in general.

    Not that I can claim for a minute to be able myself to embody traditional male archetypes of courage. I’m a flabby guy and an introvert and always was. And I’ve partaken of nerd culture. But I’ve started to grow tired of it as it metastasizes. All sorts of societal junk that one could partake of in the 80s has gotten out of control in the intervening few decades.

    I do see it as partly driving the political values of our age which amount to either, government will save us, or, ‘high tech billionaires and superior minds will save us’. The latter is present in the media enough to make me feel like I’m being softened up. Tony Stark in Iron Man. Recent series “Pure Genius” about a hi tech hospital funded by a benevolent billionaire. This summer an event series “Salvation” appears to be about a group of super rich and super smart people who realize the government can’t save us from an asteroid and set out to do it themselves.

    One almost sees the embryonic form of a new system of rule. For Heinlein it was the veterans who would just substitute themselves for the system and rule. For mainstream progs it was long the idea that technocratic elites would rule primarily through the administrative state with a lingering veneer of ‘Democracy”. I’d have tolerated the man on horseback if he represented something I otherwise favored and could be envisioned as leaving a palatable legacy. Or if he were a Jacobite King.

    Today it seems as though the role of man on horseback is to be played by someone like Zuckerberg, the character Tony Stark is his John the Baptist, and comic superheroes his archetypes.

    Or so it seems. I concede these may be the ramblings of despair. Or just ramblings…

  6. Graham says:

    Sorry, I meant to add that I may part company with you in part on the classic myths.

    I also see the comic heroes as the myths of our time; the connection cannot be dismissed. But the differences are more than cosmetic. The comic heroes are the products of individual creator temperaments, influenced by their own social origins and personal anxieties, filtered through corporate media and packaged for consumption with appropriate messages.

    The traditional myths had — and for me retain — an organic, rooted quality, even when I realize that some of what we have is filtered through the minds of individual playwrights like Sophocles or such.

    As much as I see the role the comic characters played as similar, I’d hate to see the old stories and legends entirely sullied by association.

  7. Kirk says:

    @ Graham,

    I don’t mean to demean the old stories, myths, and legends–I just want people to think about the sources and the intent of the original storytellers, and not take things in without working through what is contained therein.

    I think that an awful lot can be discerned from looking at the stories told in a particular culture, and what tropes are emphasized in those stories. From there, it does us well to think about what stories we were told as children, and to carefully consider how we internalized those stories, which may be conceptualized as training simulations for us to base our conduct in life upon.

    Consider the tale of Aladdin: A young man finds another sentient being trapped within the confines of a prison. What does he do? Instead of freeing the victim, he exploits him, enslaving him to his whim. What does this tell us about the source culture, and the mindset therein?

    There’s that humorous summary of the Wizard of Oz, which synopsizes the movie thusly: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

    Like it or not, that is pretty much the gist of the story, and were it to be evaluated by someone looking at it from the standpoint of one of the expunged witches. And, it’s indicative of the behavioral values the culture of the time saw as being worthy of emulation–I’ve seen analysis that compares what Dorothy does in the Wizard of Oz to what the US did in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, and I’m not entirely sure that I think the guy who wrote that overwrought bit was completely nuts. There are some parallels there, in how the interventionist Dorothy wanders into Oz, removes the evil wicked witches, and “sets things to right” without any real consultation or input from the local Munchkins.

    Likewise, with an awful lot of the old stories. Look at the various fairy tales that were current in the old days, and wonder at the messages and lessons those tales were meant to impart to the listener. The old myths and romantic tales are much the same–The odds that Homer would have been able to tell subversive tales that didn’t “support the regime” are slim and none; it was all propaganda, either by intent or simple survival.

    I think we should all pause and contemplate the actual messages of what we take in as mere entertainment; humans are natural mimics, and we tend to model our actual real-world behavior on examples we’ve seen before, somewhere. Generally, we’re more prone to do this with stuff we’ve actually witnessed, growing up in the family, but the fiction and entertainments we partake in also influence these things. Ever wonder where that whole “sideways hold” on pistols came from, for the gang-bangers? Almost all agree that it goes back to that seminal work, Menace II Society, which everyone in the gangbanger community emulated. Where the movie makers got it? Who knows–They say the did it because it “looked cool”. Perfect example of what I’m talking about, here–Fiction making its way into real life.

  8. Kirk, I find myself sympathetic to your argument about superheroes, if tentatively, as I’m not a fan of the genre and therefore somewhat ignorant of it’s finer points. I think you’re being procrustean in your attempt to fit the heroes of ancient myth into that structure though.

    The nub is a bit of equivocation as to what “hero” means. We’re primed to think “hero” = someone who is good and helpful, a positive force who fixes the world, serves justice, etc. A savior figure. The problem is that the ancient heroes are nothing of the kind. What man of the ancient world, upon hearing that Herakles or Agamemnon were coming his way, would rejoice in the thought that they would put all their troubles right? More likely he would tremble in awed terror! Given the stories, were he smart he might flee for his life.

    These figures, though possessing great and often superhuman characteristics, were always attended by equally great and superhuman flaws (hamartia). They more often than not left trails of social (and physical) devastation in their wakes.

    In light of that, I don’t see how your idea that the ancient tales are some sort of regime propaganda is supportable. What ruler would have his pet storyteller inform the people that he was possessed of a few superhuman abilities, but would inevitably come to a tragic, bloody end?

    There’s also the issue that mythological heroes were not generally seen as moral exemplars. They were idolized (often literally) for their particular strengths, and as a mythical recognition of the archetypal character possessed by someone with that particular strength, but while every man might want the might of Herakles, no man would want his rage.

  9. Kirk says:


    My point isn’t necessarily that there was some kind of Ministry of Propaganda putting these stories out, but that the archetypes were of value to men like Alexander and Caesar–Both of whom likened themselves to Herakles, to one allusional degree or another. The myths don’t necessarily apply directly, but they are useful tools in guiding the thoughts of the masses for the elites of the various eras.

    How many knights actually lived up to the standards of the courtly chivalric romances? Vanishingly few, from the records. And, yet… We have all these tales of knight errantry, don’t we? Why were those valuable? Ask yourself, and if the answer you reach is that it was a good thing for Sir Bohemund Ripoff of Orc to be looked at as being akin to Sir Galahad, well… You might be as cynical as I am. All those tales of knightly virtue came in handy, when cozening the local peasantry into supporting your sorry thieving ass–And, that goes right up the chain of feudal command to the king, as well.

    I don’t think the ancients were much different, to tell the truth. The stories of Herakles were valuable, because they taught the peasantry that the noble warriors were a.) stronger and crazier, and that b.) they were prone to fits of surpassing violence, so stay the hell on their good side.

    I tend to analyze all this stuff in terms of “What did this feature of society support and enable…?”, and I do it mechanistically. When I first learned about all the ins and outs of Catholic confession, the very first thing that struck me was what a wonderful innovation that whole thing was for social control in a small village somewhere in Italy–Why, just tell all your secrets to the local priest! Do that, and there ain’t nobody gonna cross that guy, because he literally knows where all the bodies are buried in the community. Just the fact that he knows, alone…? Yeah; sure, Giuseppe is gonna chance the word getting out that he’s been boinking Josefina. And, think of the hush money he’s likely to pay, in the form of donatives and tithes…

    Yes, I’m that much of a cynic. Go peek behind the curtains, and you’d better have a strong stomach.

  10. It may very well have been useful, but that usefulness might have been more to the peasant than to the lord (of whatever era). Prior to the invention of firearms, the noble’s warriors were stronger (greater caloric intake, training, experience, etc.), and while some might have been prone to fits of surpassing violence, of more concern to the peasant was that they would most certainly not hesitate to practice surpassing violence on any uppity peasants. In this way the myth serves to encode a useful truth about reality, in addition, perhaps, to fulfilling the other half of the feedback loop as you suggest.

  11. Kentucky Headhunter says:

    “Bruce Wayne is just another part of the city’s vicious cycle of crime and sets out to stop him.”

    So the writer has no clue about who Batman is or how he got that way. Got it.

    The reason there is a “cycle of crime” is because Batman doesn’t kill the Joker, the real reason being it would basically end the comic.

    “created a version of Gotham with real, modern-day problems, and then let Batman solve them by making him the villain.” Did this string of words actually make sense to anyone?

  12. Graham says:

    Kentucky Headhunter,


    And no. No, that string of words did not make sense. Sometimes you just can’t get inside the comic writer’s mental loop. It probably looks more like a Mobius anyway.

  13. Graham says:


    I see better where you are coming from now and although I don’t evaluate the old myths quite the same way I can see value in that.

    What strikes me as interesting is that you seem to have arrived at a method of evaluating information that is based on a traditional American kind of skepticism but functions more or less the same way as Marxist critical theory.

    I appreciated that feature of your comments for demonstrating both that this aspect of Marxism has its utility [it can be taken to mad extremes] and that it isn’t necessarily a Marxist/structuralist invention.

    In these times, there’s a role for us all in eyeing cultural products critically and we can learn from them.

  14. Graham says:

    I must also point out that Dorothy’s first kill in the Wizard of Oz is wholly accidental. It can’t even be attributed to her own negligence.

    Which is a pity, because that analysis of The Wizard of Oz is otherwise awesome. Gangsta Dorothy. Assassin of the Yellow Brick Road.

    She does fit some of the mold of the classic pseudo-historical culture hero, mythical demigod, or other saviour hero/deity who arrives to set things right for the hapless people of some land to which the hero is otherwise alien.

    For my own prejudices, I prefer culture heroes that at least arise from within their cultures. I can get behind that more easily.

    Alternatively, Dorothy is deputized by one rival faction, Glinda, to do away with her enemy.

    I remember there have been analyses that depict the stories of Oz as analogs of late 19c monetary policy debates. Although I gather this widespread interpretation is equally widely challenged.

  15. Kirk says:


    I am kinda horrified to realize you have a point about my approach to this being akin to the Marxist dialectical BS, because I’ve always really disliked that and all of its attendant ideological baggage. I wonder if maybe I absorbed that way of looking at things subconsciously, and just rejected those things about it that I didn’t like, while thinking I was doing my own thing, intellectually. I certainly did have exposure to a lot of that stuff growing up, and maybe I just adapted it to my thinking. Interesting observation you’ve made there, and one I need to contemplate.

    I honestly don’t know where my attitude towards “story” comes from. I can always remember, even as a little kid, analyzing that sort of thing and trying to work out what the hell was going on. It’s kind of like Chekov’s Gun, in that storytellers are going to implement a “narrative conservation of detail” when storytelling, because there’s no damn point to tell you about anything that isn’t relevant to the narrative. So, if they show you a gun in scene one, the damn thing must be used somewhere later on, or why bother telling you about it?

    At a higher level, the same thing applies: If there’s no point to telling you the story, why bother? Every tale has a motivation, somewhere, and a reason for being told. The thing is, you have to pause to think out the “why” of it all, and not just leave things at surface value.

    Fairy tales are models for behavior, engrams for how to conduct yourself. Everything you hear, read, or view as a child and adult will almost inevitably resurface when and if you find yourself in the position of a tale’s protagonist, whether or not you are aware or even approve of their conduct. Very few of us work out “what to do” from first principles on the fly, in interpersonal relationships or interactions; those who do are generally considered somewhat autistic, because of how poorly they conform to other’s expectations, which are themselves formed from the inputs those people received from their “story meta-messages”.

    It’s something to keep in mind, I think, when trying to analyze other people’s behavior, and when trying to understand what is going on inside the various stories we tell ourselves. None of it is pure entertainment–Look at the pernicious influence of Disney’s current line-up of stories, and ask yourself how much of the dysfunction in how people view nature and human conduct doesn’t go back to the Disney anthropomorphism of animals and their bizarre take on how children should behave exhibited in a lot of Disney’s current TV fare.

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