How I failed the Joker

*This blog contains spoilers for Season 1 & 2 of TellTales Batman*

We were sitting at a cafe when it happened. My buddy John was telling me about a girl he liked, and he wanted to know how I thought he should show his affections. I told him he should be himself. Sadly for both of us, he followed my advice.

In season one of TellTale’s Batman, I met John Doe in Arkham Asylum. It was clear from the start that this character was this Batman Universe’s Joker, but he wasn’t yet. Yes, there were some dangerous edges to him, but this was no Clown Prince of Crime. He clearly identified with Bruce and idolized Batman.

Season 2 rolls around, and John Doe is no longer in Arkham and is free in Gotham. Due to a “favor” I owed him, helping me get free of Arkham, he is now a part of my life. I, as the player, know who John Doe is and his seemingly inevitable descent to becoming the Joker, but as Batman, I believed I could save him.

I tried over and over to change him. He wanted to be like me. He wanted my approval. I was patient. I taught him right and wrong and tried to get him to follow a code, to show him that he could be a hero.

Along the road, there were temptations and slip-ups. His was being in love with Harley Quinn, and not the sycophant Harley Quinn from most Batman stories. This Harley was fiercely independent and much more chaotic than other iterations. John wanted to impress her, and she was not pleased with my attempts to soften him.

Time and again, our relationship was tested. Did I trust this man to go off on his own and find the information I needed? Did I trust him to hunt down Harley and tell me where she hid? And did I trust him when he swore to me he did not kill the Riddler? Against my better judgment, I trusted John.

For awhile that trust paid off. He did what I asked. He didn’t always seem to understand why, but he trusted me when I told him he was doing the right thing. Eventually, though, the ultimate test came up.

Harley vs Me. Harley had rigged a bomb and was going to blow up a bridge sending hundreds of Gothamites to their death. Harley hated me, and if I approached her, she would set off the bomb. John, however, she still trusted. He told me he could get her to stand down, so I let him try.

All of my allies thought I was the crazy one. I shouldn’t be trusting this man. He needed help. He was deranged. I had gone too far, but John Doe still needed me. He wasn’t the Joker yet, and if I abandoned him now, I knew that was who he would become. So I stood by him.

Once more, he came through for me. He took away Harley’s detonator and Gotham was safe once more. Thanks to my trust and friendship in John Doe, the city was saved. Still John did indeed become the Joker, just not the one we know.

This Joker was a vigilante who believed in justice. He modeled himself after me. And for a time, we worked well together. He geeked out when we rode in the Bat-mobile. Took a selfie with me for his collection. And together we took down Bane saving more lives in the process.

Then Amanda Waller happened. Like most incarnations of Waller, she didn’t play by the rules, and she knew how to get her hands dirty for her “greater good.” Plus, she knew my secret: that I was Bruce Wayne and Batman. She threatened to reveal that information if I didn’t turn the Joker over to her. Luckily I had some dirt on her too, information that if released would destroy her career. We were at a stalemate. And so, she agreed to leave Gotham and not return. Joker couldn’t allow that.

She was a criminal. She had broken the law. In Joker’s eyes, she needed to be punished. He was that justice. And his justice would be final, so I confronted him and told him what he was doing was wrong. I begged him to stop and told him he could still be a hero.

He didn’t understand. He called my code to not take a life stupid. He claimed I used him and betrayed him. This didn’t feel like the monologuing villain from most comic book stories. This was like a couple going through a messy breakup. He told me he had believed in me like he had never believed in anything before. And it was all a lie.

It was only then that John Doe truly died and the Joker was born. He snapped, driven by a madness only made worse by what he saw as my betrayal. A betrayal of the Justice I had sworn to uphold. Our fight was intense, and it was violent. Eventually, I stopped him, though the cost was high. As we sat there, both of us exhausted, he looked at me and said, “I really wanted to be a hero, ya know? I just can’t.”

I wanted him to be one too. Yet in my quest to save him, I had created an even worse version of the Joker. Rather than giving him the help he needed, I, in my hubris, thought I could change him. I was wrong. He then looked at me and said, “Did you ever think of me as a friend?” The sincerity and anguish behind that question devastated me. It really wasn’t until I’d gone through the pain of losing him that I realized, he was my friend. And I’d failed him.

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