With the release of Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad , and the marketing focus on a huge part of people’s interest in the film, the Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship, there’s been a wave of the exact same sentiment repeated ad nauseam on social media, that this relationship is toxic and should not be endorsed on any level. Going on any social media platform and searching the words “Joker and Harley” invites an avalanche of people lecturing no one in particular to “Stop shipping these 2! It’s abusive!” or some variation of “When I see a person who ships those 2 I think they are TERRIBLE and get MAD!”. The phrase “shipping” refers to basically anything having to do with wanting two people to be in a romantic relationship with each other, it usually refers more to potential couples rather than established ones, but it has evolved into being more of a nebulous term for fictional couples (and sometimes even celebrity ones). The Joker and Harley Quinn relationship has become a particular point of interest because it is not a healthy relationship, it is an abusive one between two very dangerous people. The knee jerk reaction becomes outright rejection of it among several circles of the internet, to the point of intolerance of anyone who enjoys watching them together. But it’s in that where people are overlooking what so many people liked about the pair in the first place.
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There are many, many reasons to dislike Zack Snyder’s awkwardly named Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. A miscast villain here, a forced Justice League tie-in there, and a confused attempt to mash the stories of The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman together ruin what should have been a slam-dunk of a movie. There are a ton of weird choices that went into making this the disaster that it is, but the most alarming to me has to be the way Batman was characterized in this film. Ben Affleck gave a fine performance as Batman, but the central issue with his character all comes back to his hotly debated “no killing rule” that gets more than a little bent in this film, and more critically, entirely ignored. Fans have debated whether or not Batman should even have such a rule for years, “The Rule” has served as a central plot point in both The Dark Knight and Under the Red Hood films, and Batman himself exists as likely the most iconic practitioner of this rule in fiction. My issue with Snyder’s Batman isn’t that he kills criminals (directly and indirectly) with sadistic glee, but that it happens without any discussion within the film for what that means for Batman. I know the last thing this film needs is more pseudo-philosophical drivel shakingly spoken by insecure meat heads, but in this case it’s kind of an important thing to get out of the way.
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Batman: Endgame acts as a conclusion to the story Scott Snyder started with Batman: Death of the Family. Both stories centre around Batman and Joker’s relationship, and both stories focus on the love and hatred shared between these two. From the very beginning, these two stories seemed to have the goal of redefining comic book’s greatest rivalry, with many commenting that they have done exactly that. I would argue however, that these stories (with Endgame in particular) clarified aspects of the relationship between the Batman and the Joker that have always existed, but shown more effectively than ever before. Never have these dynamics been as well connected as they have been in these stories.
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Scott Snyder’s Batman: Death of the Family is one of the most ambitious Batman stories I’ve ever read. It is one that seeks to make a definitive statement about Batman’s relationship with his arch-foe and it succeeds in doing so in a way that was never done before. The attention to detail and the obvious reverence Snyder has for the source material is palpable. The Joker is simultaneously at his most loving and deranged in this horror story as he takes Batman down memory lane and makes a serious effort in emphasizing why their relationship is so important, and why the one he has with his supposed family is the part of Bruce’s life that truly needs to be destroyed. The characterization of the Joker in particular is what proves to be both this story’s greatest strength and weakness.
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