Once upon a time, the demand came down to Grant Morrison from a Warner Bros exec, after writing the script for Batman: Arkham Asylum. That he couldn’t put the Joker dressed as Madonna in the comic because people might think this meant Jack Nicholson was gay. Ah, the wonderful logic of the eighties.
And now Russian comic book reader Elena Shestakova has launched a petition on Change.org aimed at persuading Geoff Johns to make The Joker gay again. Now, I’m not sure that Johns has much to do with the portrayal of Joker in the DC Universe, and indeed it seems that Tom King is up next.
Writing the Joker today. I control everything he says and does, and dude still scares me.
— Tom King (@TomKingTK) January 18, 2018
But the Joker is set to appear in Doomsday Clock. Anyway, Shestakova writes
The Joker is a comic book character with almost 80 years history, half of which he was portrayed as homosexual – for instance, in such significant graphic novels as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Neal Adams claimed that The Joker was and always had been homosexual. This opinion was shared by other comic books authors and artists for decades. That is why it’s so important to me and other queer readers to return his homosexuality.
The Joker repeatedly confessed his feelings to Batman and showed an interest in other men. Also there was Joker’s unnamed boyfriend in the graphic novel Devil’s Advocate. The Joker has many feminine traits – he uses lipstick, paints his nails, wears high heels and sometimes does crossdressing. We realize that some of these things is stereotypical, but it gives a very clear picture. Over the years, there were plenty of other queer moments in comics, cartoons and video games (especially in Batman: Arkham series).
However, in the late nineties someone decided to erase Joker’s homosexuality and introduced Harley Quinn as his girlfriend (by the way, Harley was made up for the Batman: The Animated Series to replace the Joker in one scene, in which he was supposed to jump from the cake in drag). In the mass consciousness Harley became his only love interest, although in canonical comics there is no evidence that there are romantic or sexual feelings from the Joker’s part. His enforced relationship with Harley Quinn looks like an attempt to retconned his homosexuality and turn him in acceptable straight man.
DC Comics already has a great cast of queer characters – heroes (Batwoman or Midnighter), as well as villains (Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy). Maybe some people don’t want to see the “terrible villain” as part of the LGBT community. But on the other hand, in Gotham series The Penguin became gay without any problem, and he is morally no better than the Joker. It’s not homophobic to have a queer villain. So why not let the Clown Prince of Crime “out of the closet”? DC Rebirth is an excellent reason to bring the Joker back to his roots.
We ask DC Comics to restore The Joker’s homosexuality in comics and other media. No one’s sexual identity should be changed, even it’s only a fictional character. Because sometimes fictional characters is something real people hold onto.
It’s an interesting argument but it may have the reverse intent, ignoring that many comic book characters’ original sexuality has changed, whether Northstar, described as being gay “from Day Two”, or Iceman, Catwoman, Alan Scott and Poison Ivy. Many characters were created at a time when sexuality wasn’t even being considered when creating such characters, resorting to a “default” cis heterosexuality – with the possible exception of Wonder Woman. And, yes, Neal Adams did decide the Joker was gay in 1973 – but that would also be a change.
If comic book pop culture insists on holding onto comic book characters that were created in the 30s, 40s and 60s, then in order to be a little more representative of the audience, some of them are going to embody more diverse elements, including sexuality. The argument “just create new characters” ignored the apparent fact that people don’t want new characters, they want old characters, either as they were or brought up to date.
As for the Joker, there is an argument that the queer coding that has been present is a reason not to have a gay Joker, it’s all just so stereotypical and full of tropes of homosexuality as madness, as theatre, as make-up and lipstick, as thin and lanky, and also evil with a facial disfigurement.
But then, there are still far fewer DC Comics gay characters than the population may suggest, especially prominent characters so… why the hell not? It may be less of a problem now that there are other openly gay DC characters, so one character doesn’t have the weight of an entire demographic or community on their shoulders.
So, gay Joker or nay Joker? The petition is yours to sign, or not.
Or just watch the Batman LEGO movie again, I mean, seriously.