Back Issues

Joker and Lex: Looking at DC’s Preeminent Villains

Back in 2010 a comic came out called Batman/Superman #75, and one of the features of the book was this short little homage to Calvin and Hobbes featured DC’s two biggest profile villains.

Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

It’s pretty fantastic.

It also really gets into how different the two characters, and how they interact with their respective heroes. I feel like it’s not hyperbole to say that Superman and Batman are DC’s biggest heroes, in term of impact, sales, and influence. And Lex Luthor and Joker are their arch-nemeses.

Now, I’m a huge Batman fan. Have been since I was a kid. The original Tim Burton movies came out the year I was born, so I’ve always had the Batman movies in my life, and of course the absolutely stellar Batman: the Animated Series. He’s probably my favorite super hero, and except for maybe Daredevil, I’ve read the most comics about him. Superman on the other hand…not a fan. I’ve read good Superman books before, but by and large, he doesn’t do it for me. I think I just can’t connect to how incredibly powerful he is. No one really provides a good enough threat. When he’s done right he can be a compelling character, but I feel like it’s a lot harder than Batman to get him right.

Like a lot of people, I was obsessed with the Joker for a long time. For most of high school and early college I thought the Joker was the absolute coolest. He represented anarchy and chaos, which really appeals to high schoolers. He’s unpredictable and essentially pure evil. There’s not a lot of depth to the Joker. The little comic up there really explains his motivation for fighting Batman. His whole life revolves around trying to drive Batman mad, to bring him down to his level. The Joker has had a few different backstories of the years, but the most common ones have Joker driven insane after some particularly stressful and horrible event, and he’s convinced that anyone would become a murderous clown if put under the same stress, even Batman shouldn’t be immune to the effects of one bad day. The Joker’s ideal endgame with Batman would be for Batman to break his one rule and kill him. Which seemed like the coolest thing in the world, when I was in high school.

Don’t get me wrong, There are still ways that the Joker can be interesting, and there’s stories that I still find great. Some writers understand that the Joker is best used sparingly. The Joker works like the shark in Jaws. He’s been in culture for so long that people get his schtick. We know what he does, and we know that he’s scary. So if you barely get to see him, your imagination kicks in and makes him even scarier.

I’ve always felt that the best version of the character was the one they had in the Animated Series. It really balanced the two halves of the Joker, the ridiculous clown and the homicidal killer. I feel like in recent years the scale has tipped too far into the homicidal killer side. Every since the Dark Knight it’s felt like people want to take the character too seriously. I’ve really loved the Scott Snyder/ Greg Capullo run on Batman lately, but I feel like the crazy missing face Joker went a little too far. The Joker needs to be terrifying, but then vacillate to silly. Cracking a knock-knock joke before killing someone. For a great Joker story, I would definitely recommend the “Soft Targets” story line from Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark’s amazing Gotham Central series. That whole run is tremendous, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it in depth later, but I think it’s hands down the best Joker story.

Gotham Central

And then there’s Lex Luthor. Like I said earlier, Superman has never been my favorite, so as a result I haven’t had that much exposure to Lex Luthor. I had always seen him as a relatively simple villain. He was just either a mad scientist, or an evil businessman. Not much depth. But, as time has gone one, I feel like I find Lex more and more interesting and compelling. Whereas Joker wants to prove that Batman’s just as bad as he is, Lex’s ultimate goal is to prove that he’s a better man than Superman. To me, the perfect Lex Luthor is the ultimate self-made man. He’s one of the world’s smartest men, he plays multiple games of chess while learning a new language. He’s created one of the most successful companies in the world. And he somehow has managed to continuously trick the world that he’s not a villain. Metropolis should be thanking it’s lucky stars for Lex Luthor. He should be their shining hero, their example of the perfect citizen. But then some alien shows up with powers and abilities that he didn’t earn. He just has them. And everyone loves him for it. It’s a very compelling backstory, way more than the old one where Superboy made him go bald, so he devoted his life to destroying him.

Adventure Comics #271

Adventure Comics #271

There’s something very human about Lex Luthor’s hatred for Superman. It’s the story of a man who does his best, but there’s someone with innate abilities whose better. Everyone can sympathize with that. The difference is that Lex Luthor takes that frustration to the extreme. Most people wouldn’t escalate to devoting their lives to killing the person whose better than them. But hey, it works for him. Honestly, Lex works better and better in the modern world. He seems right at home in a world with whiny, self entitled “men’s rights activists.” He thinks he deserves the world, and he’s going to take down anyone who gets in his way.

At least he’s not stealing cakes anymore.

Lex Pies

Lex Luthor was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

the Joker was created by Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. Not Bob Kane. Screw that guy.

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