This article contains heavy spoilers for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Batman and The Joker. Two characters that have existed alongside side each other for more than 80 years now. Arguably the most popular duo in superhero history, the two archenemies have seen many incarnations of themselves over the years across comics, cartoons, movies, video games, books, and any other form of media you can possibly think of. There have been excellent portrayals of the characters individually and together, but very few hit the mark of a perfect depiction of the relationship between the two iconic characters as much as ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ did.
While there are hundreds of Batman & Joker stories, there are a couple that standout as terrific examples of how the two feel about and deal with each other that provide a basis for why ‘ZSJL’ so perfectly nailed their relationship. The two biggest elements of their relationship are how much Joker loves Batman/how much Batman hates Joker, and how they are the only two people who can get at each other so easily.
Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which shows the lengths Joker will go to get at Batman and how close Batman will go to crossing the line he swore he would never cross, is a a great showcase of both. Joker wants Batman’s attention and is willing to kill and maim as many people as he needs to to make that happen. The Arkham games are another ideal portrayal of the duo. Joker’s ability to tear Batman apart piece by piece in an organic way is something not often achieved in Batman/Joker stories, but it’s what the Arkham games excel at. The Arkham games also feature some crass dialogue and actions from Joker, regarding wanting to “be inside of” Batman and even sitting on his lap while he’s tied up. Grant Morrison’s graphic novel, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth is another depiction of the two that is a prime example of these elements. Joker’s psychological torture of Batman, and a panel where he smacks Batman’s butt, are a great mix of the depictions of the two in The Killing Joke and the Arkham games. But as far as live-action depictions go, ‘ZSJL’ takes the cake for the best depiction of their rapport.
‘ZSJL’ utilizes all of those elements in just a single scene, perfectly exemplifying how Batman and Joker should interact together onscreen. Joker taunting Batman about all the people he hasn’t been able to save, including Robin, whom Joker killed, which eats away at him in a way that no one else could make happen. Batman trying to keep his composure just makes Joker more antagonistic, going into even greater detail about Batman’s inability to save those around him, and making a crass “reach around” joke that is very in-line with Joker’s infatuation with Batman. But even Batman can only keep his composure so long. It eats away at him to the point where he stoops to Joker’s level, firing back about Harley Quinn’s death and how he will kill Joker slowly, as he promised a dying Quinn he would do. Only that could make the Joker tremble in fear, before quickly regaining his composure playing off his fear as a gimmick.
In a scene carried by engrossing delivery from Ben Affleck and Jared Leto, Snyder hits all the high notes of their antagonistic relationship, especially Joker’s depraved obsession with Batman and Batman’s pure hatred for Joker. While there have been some terrific live-action Batman/Joker adaptations over the years, none hit the mark as much as this one does. And who knows, if we’re lucky this may not just be the last we see of Affleck and Leto’s incarnations of the characters together.
‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ is streaming now on HBO Max.