Ain’t coming out of my allowance (Joker’s Wild)

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It’s November 19, 1992, three days after “Heart of Steel: Part 1,” so see that episode’s entry for headlines and charts.

As the title implies, “Joker’s Wild” is another Joker episode, and appropriately for the character it’s a pun–that apostrophe transforms it from the poker term to a statement about the Joker’s state of mind. It’s not a particularly good pun, mind, but then that’s also part of the point, because, like “Christmas with the Joker,” this is an episode about the Joker taking over the show.

As in that episode, we begin and end with him in prison. He also dominates the setting, the Joker-themed casino Joker’s Wild (which, note, shares the same pun as the title, a clue that the purpose of the place is not to entertain guests or encourage them to spend money, but to anger the Joker). The episode even spends more time following the Joker than it does Batman. Even the setting, a casino, is a place of excess where people revel in chance, which is to say chaos.

This ought to be the Joker’s triumph. The show is his; he has devoured every aspect of it. It is another sense in which he is “Wild”–this should be the Joker rampant, a victorious explosion of chaos that rewrites the show in his own image.

But it isn’t; it’s a casino, and the thing about casinos is that they are built of illusion. The illusion of excess, of chance and chaos, when in reality the house controls all and the house always wins. Yes, there is a randomness in the games themselves, but rest assured, everything has been carefully calculated such that, on average, the house always ends up making a tidy profit.

Cameron Kaiser’s casino is even more of an illusion. Its Joker theme is literally wallpaper thin, overlaying the originally planned Camelot theme, and even its nature as a casino is an illusion; in actuality it is a trap, a complex insurance fraud that, in true casino fashion, finds ways to channel the Joker’s randomness into predictable paths for profit.

We’ve talked before about how Harley Quinn seems to have a habit of outdoing the Joker at his own game, and this episode is further evidence of that. Specifically, it shows how easy the Joker is to manipulate when she isn’t around, how quickly the avatar of chaos becomes just another tool for the established powers that be, exemplified by (admittedly, struggling) corporate tycoon Kaiser. Indeed, from the episode’s start the Joker is at the mercy of such powers, as it’s a corrupt Arkham guard who both shows him the news program about the casino and permits his escape.

Consider again that initial scene. Joker and Poison Ivy are squabbling over what TV show to watch, a gardening show or a comedy. In a sense, this is an argument over what kind of TV show we in the audience are going to watch, a Poison Ivy episode or a Joker episode–at this early point, it could conceivably go either way, though the Joker’s considerable gravity as a character suggests that he’ll probably win both the argument and the episode. But he doesn’t–the guard does. The guard–which is to say, state power–has pretty obviously been purchased by Kaiser’s corporate power, and they’re making use of the media as the first step in their plan to control the Joker.

And they’ll largely get away with it. The casino is financially underwater and heavily insured–that’s a little suspect, but hardly proof. Nor is the last-minute change of themes; that could be simple creative inspiration. Batman isn’t going to testify against Kaiser–he can’t, because Kaiser would then have a right to know his identity. The Joker could, but no jury in the world would believe testimony from the Joker.

No, Kaiser gets away with it. He’s stuck trying to run a casino while deep in debt, but that hefty insurance policy will cover the damage the Joker did, so he’ll have a casino to run. We don’t even get a scene of the sort we got at the end of “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich,” Kaiser trembling in terror at the knowledge that sooner or later, the Joker will be back. It’s a plausible enough outcome, but not certain, and there’s nothing in this or any other episode to suggest that the Joker does come back.

So, the Joker, our primal force of chaos, our symbol of anarchic change, is reduced to a mere pawn of a no-name corporate criminal–not even Roland Dagget or someone like that, just a crooked CEO we’ve never seen before and never will again. But that’s what we’ve come to expect, isn’t it? Harley Quinn is funnier and more entertaining (and, when she gets the chance, better at pulling one over on Batman). The Joker cannot prove the absurdity of order and bring it all crashing down; that particular apocalypse will be endlessly deferred, if for no other reason than that the Cameron Kaisers of the world run Warner Bros. too. The structures of power which undo the Joker in this episode are the very structures that empower Batman: the police and money, which have served as signifiers for Batman since the opening credits of the very first episode.

No. The Joker may not realize it, but he has already lost right from the beginning. The apocalypse already failed to happen, and it will be a long time until there is room for another. Until then, the Joker is doomed to perpetual failure. The joke, in the end, is on him.


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