Todd Phillips’ Joker has, in addition to making a killing at the box office, spawned seemingly no end of press lately for the character. Numerous Best Of lists are making the rounds, ranking Joker actors and comic book storylines – and that’s to say nothing of the controversy over whether the film is glorifying a homicidal maniac or simply a nuanced character study... of a homicidal maniac.
Lost in all of these discussions, however, is the fact that the Joker just isn’t that great of a bad guy. He terrorizes one city, and, really, just one other mentally-unstable guy in a bat costume. Yes, the real-world implications of a murderer being idolized and turned into a tone-deaf folk hero aren’t, you know, great, but even the most ardent Joker fanboy has to acknowledge that the guy’s a villain. That’s literally his whole brand.
No, if you really want to get into it over grandiose evil deeds and overly sympathetic bad guys, there’s only one character that needs mentioning, the single greatest super villain in all of film, television, and literature: Bender. The robot. From Futurama.
Bender Bending Rodriguez, born on an assembly line in the bad part of Tijuana, has been far, far eviler – and far more forgiven – than any iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime so far. Though the character of the Joker was created more than fifty years ago, a literal lifetime before Bender first graced our television screens, the magical metal man has committed a multitude of horrible atrocities in a scant twenty years, more than even the craziest meat-bag in greasepaint could dare hope to accomplish.
A full list of Bender’s admitted crimes would break the internet. But, for the sake of due diligence and context, here’s a highlight reel: Bender, the “lovable scamp,” regularly kidnapped children and celebrities, robbed graves, and stole anything of value almost literally all the time. He openly called for the death of all humans, and murdered – or attempted to murder – several of them throughout the series. (He once “pounded a guy into the ground like a stake with a shovel,” which, even by cartoon physics, sounds pretty fatal.)
Bender routinely kicked and verbally abused Tinny Tim, an adorable orphan. He pretended to be homeless to get free soup, then stole more soup from an actual homeless robot. At different times, Bender both blinded and deafened Turanga Leela, a close friend of his; he also posted nude photos of her on the internet, lying and saying they were of his other friend – and eventual girlfriend – Amy Wong.
But that’s not all: Bender has openly advocated for the castration of his best friend, Philip J. Fry, by aliens. He joined the Robot Mafia, only to leave because they weren’t committing enough crimes for his liking. He fraudulently adopted ten children, abused them, and then tried to sell them for food, misrepresenting their weights to the prospective buyers to boot -- the latter of which did, admittedly, net him some much-needed jail time.
There was also that time he enslaved an entire alien planet and forced them to build a stone statue of him, so gargantuanly over-sized that it actually breached the atmosphere. And that’s to say nothing of the numerous occasions in which he stole Fry’s blood, or what he did to the office coffee maker.
Again, this is just the tiniest tip of the villainous iceberg.
But, look, some version of the Joker has probably attempted at least a couple of those things, right? So let’s dive into the worst of the worst things Bender’s ever done: that time he straight-up tried to murder Heaven.
In the second of the Futurama direct-to-DVD movies, “The Beast With a Billion Backs,” Bender is upset that his friends are happy. Admittedly, they’re all in the thrall of an extra-dimensional tentacle monster, but that’s not what’s bothering him. No, he’s just pissed off that they don’t want to hang out with him as much.
So, Bender hatches an evil plan. He willingly, immediately, and almost gleefully, gives his (never-before-mentioned and apparently long-abandoned) first-born son to the Robot Devil – an act that takes the literal devil aback – then raises an army of the dead with which he tries to, finally, after years of talking about it, kill all humans.
Alas, the humans have decided to abandon Earth and go live with the extra-dimensional tentacle monster – who, it turns out, was the actual inspiration for the Judeo-Christian Heaven. Bender, incensed that his friends are content and happy without him, commandeers a pirate ship and then goes into space to try and actually, literally murder Heaven.
And, yet – and yet! – in the very next episode/movie, Bender is not only forgiven for attacking Heaven and destroying humanity’s collective happiness but given a sympathetic story about how hard it is for a robot to not have an imagination.
That abrupt change from warmongering murder machine to beloved sidekick was actually a fairly common occurrence – despite his actions, and his repeated claims of being a career criminal and evil, no one actually ever treated Bender as the super villain he so clearly was.
He was arrested maybe twice, and never for more than a night, over seven seasons of Futurama. Professor Farnsworth never fired him. Leela once unironically called it “sweet” when he tried to murder her. Fry was never anything but beholden to his best friend – even though, again, Bender regularly stole his blood.
Though the characters weren't, the show was, to its credit – and counter to some current directors and A-list actors – at least marginally aware of this being a problem. Despite the near impossibility of a cartoon robot inciting a viewer to violence or crime or commandeering a pirate ship to murder another universe, they still addressed the matter head-on.
An entire fourth season episode, in fact, pointedly titled “Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV,” is devoted to the debate over whether or not Bender should be allowed on TV.
After cheating his way onto a soap opera, getting robbed by children he inspired, and then stealing a gun and holding the production crew hostage, Bender makes this impassioned and, given some of the current state of discourse, a nuanced plea: “Viewers of the world,” he asks, “do smoking and drinking on TV really make me cool? Of course, they do. How about committing crimes and violence? Again, the answer is ‘yes.’ But do we really want our kids exposed to that kind of trash on TV? I say absolutely not!”
He then almost murders the Professor and advises parents to hit their children, because, again, Bender is a monster who revels in being a monster and wants nothing more than to be remembered as a monster and has absolutely no designs otherwise.
The Joker wishes he was that evil.
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