This is the question Jef Rouner asks and, after breaking down certain scenes of the movie, he comes to the conclusion that “Heath Ledger’s Joker is the real Dark Knight”. He believes “The Joker does more to eliminate crime and corruption in Gotham than Batman ever comes close to.”
I am going to dissect Jef’s argument and break it down piece by piece because the Joker, even on his best day, is definitely not the hero of The Dark Knight.
Jef begins his argument with the opening scenario where The Joker has hired a bunch of thugs to rob a bank. His argument hinges on the fact that paying his accomplices to murder each other is acceptable because these people are “dangerous murderers.” In reality, only two of the accomplices actually murder anyone. Meanwhile, The Joker assassinates Judge Surrillo and Police Commissioner Loeb. He kidnaps Harvey Dent. He murders Brian, a Batman pretender. He invades Bruce Wayne’s fundraiser and robs the partygoers at gun point. He murders Rachel Dawes. He even has people murder each other in order to join his gang. This is not heroic. This is downright villainy.
However, let’s strike at the heart of Jef’s argument. He believes murder and theft are completely acceptable and even heroic if you are doing it against other murderers and thieves. This is absolute insanity. Murder and theft are crimes that are inherently wrong and evil. Father Tad Pacholczyk says it best; they “will trigger those alarm bells almost universally, irrespective of time period, culture, or upbringing within a particular society.” Committing evil to stop evil is still evil.
Imagine The Joker as the Punisher. This is Jef’s attempt to justify his claim. First off, the Punisher is anything but heroic. He is an antihero motivated by vengeance or, in the case of First Strike: Spider-Man, he was an outright villain paid to hunt down Spider-Man. In a number of other stories, he is psychologically damaged, even threatening to kill his partner. He goes so far off the deep end; he attempts to kill Nick Fury. Comparing The Joker to the Punisher further solidifies the fact The Joker is anything but a hero.
Jef’s next point of emphasis is Batman’s inability to subdue the mob and stop the spread of Scarecrow’s fear toxin. However, in the scene following The Joker’s bank heist, mob activity is down. Drug dealers are ditching their buyers simply because the Bat-Signal shines in the sky above Gotham. Not only are the drug dealers afraid to peddle their wares, but Batman apprehends the Scarecrow without killing a single person. He then coordinates with Jim Gordon to take down all of the mob’s banks in one fell swoop, freezing their assets. Batman extradites Lao and gives Harvey the opportunity to try the entire Maroni crime family on RICO charges.
Jef also posits that Batman is required to dispense justice in a broken system. This is inherently false. Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes are pursuing a case against the Maroni crime family in a court of law without the assistance of Batman. Dent has even put all of Lau’s competitors out of business. The system is working although it may be prolonged or have some errors along the way.
Even if Rouner was right and the system was broken, Batman is a symbol of what is right and what it can become. Dent recognizes this stating, “Gotham City is proud of an ordinary citizen standing up for what is right.”
Rouner’s next argument revolves around Harvey Dent’s murderous crusade. Rouner’s false idea about killing other bad guys continues to cloud his reasoning. He believes that “only when Dent is threatening to kill innocents that things become a problem.” He believes that Batman should be hunting down Two-Face despite the fact The Joker just blew up Gotham General and is currently threatening two ferries. It seems Jef expects Batman to be everywhere at once to save the day.
I do believe Jef makes a decent point when he recognizes that The Joker understands organized crime in all levels of society to be the real problem. However, he doesn’t really capture what this means. We have to look to Frederic Bastiat’s The Law to fully understand the perversion that has happened in Gotham. In Gotham, the law “has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain. … The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder.”
There are also a number of untrue statements in Rouner’s analysis. One of them being The Joker telling the origin of his scars only to people he believes are already lying to him. Yet, he attempts to tell the story to Batman at the end of the movie before he is apprehended. Rouner also believes The Joker somehow forced Two-Face to embark on his deadly crusade. Instead, The Joker clearly advocates for Dent to choose his path and Dent’s corruption is purely his choice.
Finally, Rouner concludes by stating “The Joker does more to eliminate crime and corruption in Gotham than Batman ever comes close to.” This is patently false. The entire movie is a result of The Joker committing crime after crime. He murders and steals all to prove his idea that, “Their morals. Their code is a bad joke.” His idea is wrong and the people of Gotham prove it to him. They refuse to blow each other up on the ferries.
The Joker must then rely on the corruption of Dent to prove his idea. However, Two-Face has his own idea of morality. He no longer believes in justice but believes in fairness. He believes the only morality is chance. Batman throws this theory out the window by interrupting Harvey’s coin toss and making a choice to stop him.
In closing, I would like to quote Alfred: “That’s the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice no one else can make. The right choice.” Batman is the hero of The Dark Knight.