The Killers of Comedy: Comedian vs. Joker
The Dark Knight and Watchmen were born of comics that took the traditional hero stripped of his super powers and then rebuilt them as otherwise super. Of course, there were casualties.
Source: Warner Bros.
Being more human than super, Batman and all of the Watchmen both exist in the shadowy, moral grey area that interests us. That’s where the casualties always happen. Superman is super good and always wins. Batman killed the man that shot his parents – eye for an eye. Rorschach uses Gitmo-style torture tactics and an unflinching violence to dispense his own twisted vision of swift justice.
But this isn’t about either of those comics as a whole. It’s about two, specific characters. They’re two funny (but not ha-ha funny) studies in nihilism, anarchy, and ironic (yet functional) costumed adventuring. I’m talking about the Joker and the Comedian.
Being the anti-hero of the already-flawed Watchmen, the Comedian is far from good. But, for some reason, we raise him to hero status. The Comedian started young as a roughneck vigilante, then he graduated to costumed adventurer, and eventually became one of only two heroes in “Watchmen” to be tapped by the government as a soldier. He has, though, the darkest side of any hero in the book. He is a rapist and a murderer. After shooting a pregnant woman carrying his unborn child, he walks away in a rage. He famously laments “Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense.”
But we find out through flashbacks that, indeed, the Comedian wasn’t just a rowdy character that murdered innocents. He felt remorse for certain of his deeds. He told the very much super-powered Doctor Manhattan: “Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Pregnant woman. Gunned her down. Bang. And y'know what? You watched me. You coulda changed the gun into steam or the bullets into mercury or the bottle into snowflakes! You coulda teleported either of us to goddamn Australia...but you didn't lift a finger,” revealing a scarred awareness of his own moral debt.
The interesting part about the Joker is that he appears to have no plan, yet has a very precise one. People talk about how he’s a symbol of chaos despite the mantra he chants in every HD preview that “It’s all part of the plan.” People talk about the Joker like he’s “a mad dog.” This isn’t entirely accurate. The Joker didn’t randomly plant 50 gallon drums of gas on ferries and then, by chance, herd two perfect candidates for a life-and-death demonstration of the Prisoner’s Dilemma onto those same ferries.
So, the Joker is embracing chaos in much the same way as the Comedian. The difference, though, is that the Joker’s plan-for-chaos is one that is decidedly unapologetic. It not only sacrifices innocents joyfully (which the Comedian’s does), but it never walks back from the edge. There is no regret. The Joker sees the chaos coming, resigns himself to it, then pushes an old woman in front of it as it passes at 60 miles per hour. Hanging an inch from his own death, he leers at Batman and recites, “You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
Source: Warner Bros.