WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Todd Phillips' Joker, in theaters now, and DC's The Joker: Year of the Villain, by John Carpenter, Anthony Burch and Phillip Tan, on sale now.
One of the main concerns with director Todd Phillips' Joker was that it would portray violence as a way for mentally ill and toxic males to express themselves. Some theaters were extra cautious in case of potential shootings. Also, following a leak of an early draft of the script that suggested Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck broke bad after being rejected by a woman in his apartment complex, people anticipated controversy.
Luckily, the film isn't that extreme. It's a character study of Arthur and portrays Gotham's mistreatment of the lower class. However, when it comes to a toxic Joker story, look no further than this week's Joker: Year of the Villain one-shot from legendary director, John Carpenter, which is as problematic as it gets.
Carpenter's known as a master of action and horror due to movies like The Thing, Christine and Escape from New York, so fans were eagerly anticipating this story, co-written with Anthony Burch. But rather than having an organic reason for the Joker to descend into the chaos we're accustomed to, in this story the character goes off the rails after he's rejected by the Enchantress.
After escaping Arkham, Joker and his henchman, Six of Hearts dress up as Batman and Robin, parody the Dynamic Duo and wreak havoc with a spate of violent murders. However, Enchantress teleports in on behalf of Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad to survey the damage. An intrigued Joker asks if she wants help but she tells him and Six to stay out of her way. This triggers an enamored Six, as well, who can't believe she's not giving the pair the time of day.
Joker, however, takes it a step further. He uploads a video to a Reddit/YouTube-type website that's meant to be a rallying cry for the men of Gotham to unite against Enchantress. He insists they stand tall and proud, banding together to defeat the witch. This is similar to when folks lash out in the real world at women for not taking kindly to their advances.
Honestly, it's gross and downright uncomfortable the way Joker manipulates his minions. He says Enchantress won't be happy until all of Gotham's men "are on their knees," echoing the tactics sexists use to attack the concept of feminism. In the current climate, especially with all thie vitriol on social media, this isn't a message we should be reading.
Online uproar is one thing but physical violence is another. Sadly, the men hunt Enchantress down, but she's way too powerful for them and enslaves the goons with her magic. Ironically, as Joker escapes, he kills these lackeys in a moment of irony, proving they're nothing but pawns.
Still, his mindset isn't something to promote. Rejection doesn't warrant aggression. Joker and Six come off as privileged and entitled. It's the kind of misogyny that fuels incel culture. The story also puts mental illness in a bad light. Six was depressed, vulnerable and a tad deranged, so his actions in the story seem to indicate someone like him will simply go off their rockers if they don't get their way.
Also, for Joker to use Six and the other guys who buy into his message -- some of whom are also mentally ill -- plays into the stigma that mentally troubled people are walking weapons. Seriously, using the men of Gotham like this doesn't feel right at all, and painting a target on a strong woman trying to stem the trouble brewing just isn't a good look.
Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Shea Whigham. The film is now in theaters.