Why The Joker’s origin should always remain mysterious

For over a full year, rumors have circulated that Jared Leto’s Joker could be the end-result of the tragedy that is Jason Todd. Even with the news coming out that the dead Robin is in fact Todd, there remains some belief that his death might be in a more non-traditional sense, i.e. the demise of Todd being the birth of Joker.

The logic attached to this rumor is primarily built on a changing of dynamic between Batman and Joker, ultimately creating a new and deeper emotional layer to their relationship – which is a fair term to use at this point. The two have an unmistakable intertwined relationship based on decades of interactions in various degrees.

But there is a flaw in the logic of turning Joker into Todd. A flaw of such magnitude that it’ll ultimately unravel everything we hold dear about the Joker character, and one that’ll ruin our shared foundation with Batman, and in extension of that, Bruce Wayne.

Knowing who Joker is, will nullify Batman’s one remaining mystery.

The world’s greatest detective is rarely baffled, and solves complex Riddler-puzzles quicker than most of us finish a page of Sudoku. He’s of nearly unmatched wits and intelligence, and yet, his one greatest failure is his most important. For decades, the main mystery within the cave has been to uncover the true identity of the Clown Prince of Crime to gain a deeper understanding of what, if anything, drives this homicidal sociopath.

Giving Joker a name, and especially one that’s close to Bruce’s family, which Jason will always be regardless of what he’s done, will create a sympathetic view of Joker from Bruce’s eyes that can never quite go away, and it’ll leave the character missing several elements of what makes his perpetual fight with Mr. J so intoxicating. In other words, Batman would no longer be fighting his nemesis, he would be fighting Robin.

For all the progress Batman has made over the years in acquiring himself valuable insights into Joker’s mind, it always turns out that it goes yet another level deeper. There’s always another layer. We understand that both dynamics can’t live without one another, but the difference between them is that Bruce wants to live without Joker, whereas Joker simply can’t. In some ways, the true love of Joker’s life is Batman, because he makes him feel whole.

Making Jason the Joker offsets that balance, and noticeably so. In order to portray the psychology of Jason Todd accurately, he needs to be an angry young man who despite his best efforts cannot shake that deep-rooted anger, regardless of guidance. You’d have to re-create Jason in way that spins his persona into something of the opposite, almost like making the character literally turn that frown upside down, which there is some interesting merit in doing, but it’d ruin the basis of how Todd was created, and take away more from Bruce’s persona, than it’d offer to a storyline. The loss of Jason was always Bruce’s biggest failure as Batman, but if Jason isn’t dead, that failure still has an open window to be corrected, and that removes certain layers of Bruce’s motivation.

Now, I understand why some might feel inclined to see a potential shake-up in the relationship between Bats and Joker, and I’ll even agree that on the surface, the idea is interesting and even thought provoking. But doing it this way will sacrifice too much of the emotional energy that’s between the pair, while also ruin whatever relationship between Bruce and Jason that’s built on hope, simply because that hope, in this case, would be too dominant. Bruce always hoped to set Jason on the right path, which is an innocent one. As the Joker, Bruce’s hope would be all over the place. It’d have to start with him hoping to stop Joker Todd from murdering people, proceed to hoping Todd will discover sanity, and finally hoping he’ll be rehabilitated. But even if all that happens, how does that leave Todd in a good place? The memories of murdering hundreds of people would haunt him forever, and the Joker’s legacy would be dramatically lessened in the midst of some journey to self-discovery.

However you spin it, you can’t ever have a Batman who looks at the Joker with hope. Rage, frustration, and even hate, are all elements that needs to be present in that delicate balance of the two forces. Therefore, separating the two aspects is necessary to keep that balance intact.

Going back to the knowledge of Joker’s identity for a moment, not knowing his name or background is Bruce’s biggest failure, and what makes him human. It’s an issue that no one really dares to touch, because it’s his fight, his failure, and in his world his fault for the killings made by his nemesis. What Batman doesn’t know about the Joker, and what Bruce knows of Jason, can never go hand-in-hand as the factor of uncertainty (Batman and Joker) and the factor of certainty (Bruce and Jason) is what ultimately carry each dynamic between the respective pairs. Cross those over into one another compromise the entirety of the relationship that we know and love between the Dark Knight and purple-and-white foe, but it’d compromise the very fabric of Batman himself.

The fact that the Joker murdered Jason has added value to Bruce’s internal struggles for over two decades. It’s played a significant part in his own psychological development, both as a partner, and as an isolated hero. Going after Joker now, the punches are harder and the fight is deadlier. The sheer volume of effort in keeping himself from killing Joker has amped up, solely because their dynamic changed after Todd’s murder. Joker crossed a line that had him set foot into Bruce’s personal world, which is otherwise an off-limit area, and forced himself into the very core of his mind. That dynamic, too, would be lost.

Indulge me for a minute and let’s play out a scenario. If Joker Todd went on a killing spree, would Bruce give up hope and toe on the line of hatred towards Jason? No, because that’s where the hope factor hops back into the conversation. At the core of Batman is the one thing that keeps him humane and from crossing that line he refuses to cross: Hope. Hope for Gotham. Hope for Alfred. Hope for Harvey. Hope, even, for himself. And of course hope for Jason. But hope for Joker? That’s always been where the line has crossed. And if Jason Todd and the Joker is the same person, then you can’t have it both ways.

Thus, to uphold the core of both Bruce and Batman, you have to let Joker continue to be riddled in mystery. Not out of loyalty to the comics. Not out of convenience. But because if you don’t, the essence of Batman himself will die.