Cast member Joaquin Phoenix arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Joker” at TCL Chinese Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker isn’t nearly as subversive and dangerous as some critics claimed it to be – there’s nothing particularly new, or bold, about a homage to Taxi Driver. But considered in the context of comic book movies, specifically superhero stories, Joker is very subversive indeed.
Not only did the iconic Batman villain rise victorious at the end of his movie, the film also showed a new side to Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, who is depicted as a selfish, out-of-touch billionaire. At one point, Thomas calls poverty-stricken protesters “clowns.”
Prior to Joker, Thomas Wayne has almost always been depicted as a warm-hearted philanthropist, one of the good ones. He has to be, for Batman’s origin story and motivations to ring true; we’re supposed to view the infamous alley shooting as entirely the fault of the individual gunman. Reflecting on the social issues that might have sparked the violence, let alone the wealthy Wayne family’s potential contributions to them, dampens the appeal of Batman.
Bruce Wayne, the man who inherited a fortune and uses it to buy bladed batarangs to hurl at destitute, desperate criminals, could easily be viewed as an authoritarian.
Of course, that’s not the point of superheroes, at all; that deconstructive stuff is best left to stories like Watchmen, The Boys, and Joker. In fact, Batman’s villain gallery is particularly well-suited to political satire and social critique because the majority