Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker presents a very different origin story for Bruce Wayne. How might these changes affect Batman’s methods in the future?
How would Bruce Wayne’s altered backstory in Joker change his eventual evolution into Batman? After numerous re-tellings across various mediums, you’d have to look long and hard before finding someone who couldn’t recite the origin of the Caped Crusader from memory. The young son of the wealthy Wayne family, Bruce and his parents leave a movie theater and are accosted in an alley by an armed thug, who guns down Thomas and Martha, leaving only Bruce behind. When the billionaire heir grows up, he could’ve laid a memorial, or set up a charity. Instead, he dresses up as a bat and brings down hard vigilante justice on the criminals in Gotham City. Barring a few cosmetic tweaks, more or less every Batman origin story follows this same format.
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A DC film Joker may be, but Todd Phillips’ effort is a radical departure from the world fans know and love. With Joaquin Phoenix in the title role, Joker upends the superhero movie formula in terms of tone, the DC timeline, and key Batman events. The Oscar-winning 2019 release sees Thomas Wayne run for mayor, and become the target of anti-elite protests exploding across Gotham City, sparked by the actions of a certain clown. Bruce and his family exit a theater on the night of these riots, and it’s a clown-masked demonstrator that guns down the Waynes. The death of Bruce’s parents is obviously the defining moment in his superhero transformation, but how would the tweaks made in Joker alter the path of Gotham City’s Batman?
The first major alteration is to Thomas Wayne himself. Traditionally, Bruce’s father is rich, but still incredibly noble and generous, working toward improving the lives of ordinary folk. In Joker, he’s kind of an ass – a self-serving, arrogant political type who may or may not have covered up an illegitimate child. Assuming Bruce idolizes his father in Joker as much as he does in regular continuity, Thomas Wayne may have instilled his son with an entirely different, less admirable, set of values. Usually, Batman hates criminals because criminals made him an orphan, but in Joker, the Wayne murders are part of a working class uprising against the rich elite. In this context, perhaps Bruce becomes a more elitist superhero.
The Batman fans have enjoyed for the past 80 years is a champion of the every-man – a figurehead all citizens can look to for justice, regardless of their background and status. But with class playing such a big role in Joker‘s Wayne murders, Bruce might turn into a vigilante for the elite, deeming the rich necessary to the smooth-running of Gotham City and protecting the wealthy more than ordinary citizens. This Batman would be more likely to overlook acts of corruption too, since it seemed his father was liable to dabble in bribery.
The other big change Joker makes is in the murder itself, committed by a guy in a clown mask, and inspired by Arthur Fleck. Since Bruce Wayne uses his own fears (bats) to intimidate criminals, it’s feasible that the sight of a clown shooting his parents gave Bruce another phobia. In Joker‘s timeline, therefore, Batman could incorporate clown elements into his costume to reflect that traumatic experience. Perhaps a red and white smile beneath the cowl, or blue points above and below the eyes. Naturally, this Batman would have a burning grudge against Joker from the very beginning, and could break his golden “no killing” rule especially for Fleck. Bruce struggles not to kill Joker at the best of times; knowing he was involved in the Wayne murders, Batman might just cave. So, if there’s ever a Joker 2, expect an elitist, clown-faced Batman propping up the aristocracy and killing the Joker. If this alternate Batman seems too outlandish, however, Bruce Wayne’s Joker story could lead him down another path…
Following the riots that killed his parents, Bruce might side against the elite, rather than with them. As he grows older, Bruce may come to understand why his father became a controversial figure, and blame Thomas for getting Martha killed – mourning his mother, hating his old man. This iteration of Joker‘s Batman (still potentially with the clown design additions) could rally against the elites of Gotham City, believing that the likes of his father only attract death and dishonesty, and fighting to take down the rich for good – something he’d be well positioned to do with Bruce Wayne as a secret alter ego.
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