Who’s Laughing now? Anyone? Anyone?
by Jeff Bowles
At one point in time, the Joker was the super villain you loved to hate. Introduced in the very first issue of Batman, published in 1940, the Clown Prince of Crime has spent decades as an icon of the kind of humor that kills. He’s crazy, occasionally buffoonish, almost always invested in some overly complex hair-brained scheme, and what else can be said? The guy loves to laugh.
Except the Joker has evolved in the last ten years or so, predicated by Heath Ledger’s legendary turn in 2008’s The Dark Knight. His Joker was different, more menacing, quicker to kill with a gun or a knife, as opposed to laughing gas or a rubber chicken set to explode. This was not the Joker that generations of fans had grown up with, but Ledger’s performance was outstanding, and the fact that he died before the movie came out only increased his popularity. Warner Brothers and DC Comics seemed to have decided something at that point. The Joker people really wanted to see was less Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson and more Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Enter Jared Leto’s performance in 2016’s Suicide Squad, which, while certainly enthusiastic, was more or less utterly ridiculous and clearly manufactured to up the ante on Ledger’s Joker on every front.
And now we finally have a Joker standalone film, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. It’s R-rated, morose as a funeral, and seems to have misplaced the classic jolly clown that keeps hyenas as pets and shacks up with a blonde in a jester costume. Notably, even DC Comics has altered the Joker in their own source books, because, I suppose, they don’t understand what too much of a good thing is. This character has in recent years been a literal monster, a frightening urban legend, a crazed sadist, who in one famous 2009 story line, removed his own face and pinned it to a wall (though he still had time for a joke or two).
2019’s Joker film has done something with Batman’s arch nemesis that has never been attempted before. It’s taken the fun out of him. Phoenix’s portrayal is both woeful and terrifying, sympathetic and pityingly childlike. Batman isn’t in this movie, but if he were, you’d kind of hate the guy for beating the crap out of poor Arthur Fleck. In basic truth, we never love to hate this Joker. First we feel bad for him, then we want to run the hell away. He’s an unfortunate guy in a series of tremendously unfortunate events who learns the value of self-confidence once and only once he’s blown away three miscreants on the subway. The movie is more or a less a monotone depiction of a modern mass killer. It’s only got one speed: decay.
More than this, it feeds into the stereotype that people with severe mental illness are dangerous and scary. I hate to break the movie reviewer fourth wall here, but as someone who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, it’s a little demoralizing. As I write this, the guns vs. mental illness debate rages here in America. Phoenix’s portrayal of an alienated, unstable, abused, and traumatized individual who one day decides to take his pain out on the world hits a bit too close to home. We live that reality. Do we also want to watch it on the big screen?
The rest of the cast includes Brett Cullen as Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, Robert DeNiro as a late night talk show host (completing DeNiro’s King of Comedy destiny), Francis Conroy as Arthur Fleck’s frail mother, and Zazie Beetz, a kind of romantic interest who turns into a Fight-Club-like twist that goes nowhere. A talented cast, not improperly used, but still, to quote the clown himself, why so serious?
And the truly insane thing about it is we’re talking about the Joker! Beloved cultural icon since 1940. Yes, it’s a more realistic version of the character, and yes, the guy has been shown in so many different ways, there’s almost certainly a financially viable infinite multiverse of Jokers who could range from saccharine sweet to, well, Joaquin Phoenix depressing. But for crying out loud, I laughed once and snickered once during the entire running length, and in both those instances, not a single exploding chicken!
I kid of course. Someone ought to.
Ultimately, the real sin of this movie is a cinematic one. It’s a bit of a slog. It’s the equivalent of painting a jolly portrait using only grey. There are no highs, no true delirium, nothing of the brilliance it yearns to express. Joker isn’t exactly a bad movie. It’s probably ill-timed, and it’s debatably irresponsible, but for true Batman fans, it’s gratifying to see a favorite character shown so much respect. Or is that disrespect? Mileage may vary.
If only they’d remembered to invite Batman to the party. Does it say something about 2019 that we’d rather watch a movie about the villain than the hero? Joker is a downward plunge that never comes back up. It never relents, never provides us a single ray of light or shred of hope. That would normally be, you know, Batman’s job to provide. Speaking of which, if the guy dressing up like a giant bat is saner than you are, it’s entirely possible you’re not as funny as you think you are. Which explains… everything, really.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Joker a 6 out of 10.
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My earliest years were spent in Westernville, NY. Right down the street was the beautiful Lake Delta, a place we visited frequently. My parents and I played on the beach. We walked the trails through the woods. One day my father mentioned that when he used to fly his plan over Lake Delta, he could see the foundations beneath the water. That puzzled me – why would there be foundations down there? Were they like the shell fossils we found in our backyard sometimes?
He explained that a village used to be there, but it was flooded to create the lake. My imagination went wild. He also told me that my grandmother’s house on the farm where we lived was moved from the lost village. That amazed me, and gave me my first glimpse at history. My fascination with Lake Delta continued, but we moved to a neighboring village and didn’t visit the state park as often.
One day, the Westernville Town Clerk, Mary Centro, spoke at my hometown about Delta. My mother and I attended the lecture, and we were enthralled. I wanted to write a story at once, but I didn’t know where to take it.
My parents moved back to Westernville and I met with the town clerk to discuss Lake Delta in more detail. She told me about walking the land while the lake is low and finding treasures washed up on shore. The next year, my parents and I walked the lake, but we didn’t find anything. Again, I felt the need to write about the lost village of Delta, but I didn’t know who my main character would be yet.
The town clerk wrote two non-fiction books about Delta and my dad bought copies. While visiting my parents, I looked through them, and then did some research online. I learned that one house hadn’t been torn down the first time they flooded the land. It wasn’t until later, when the water receded, that they demolished it.
That was my story. A little magic seeped into the tale, and Lottie came to life. You can read about Lottie in DELTA, my first historic fiction novella that is appropriate for teens and adults.
About the real Delta…
New York State decided it was time to expand the Erie Canal. Many of the ports along the canal were no longer being used, because shipping goods by train became the more popular method. Shipping by train was cheaper than shipping via canal. It wasn’t just the price, though, that encouraged manufactures to choose train travel. The modern barges that were needed to ship the goods couldn’t go on the Erie Canal, which was too small and far too shallow. The water level of the Erie Canal tended to fluctuate. By expanding the Erie Canal, the ports would flourish once again. Many farmers were excited by this. They would be able to transport their goods to cities elsewhere in New York State. Expanding the canal required the use of five reservoirs. These reservoirs would provide enough water to keep the level of the canal even. New York State chose Delta because they would only need to build one dam.
The village of Delta rested inside of a deep valley. This made the perfect bowl-shape to fill with water from the Mohawk River nearby. Flooding Delta meant that privately owned land would need to be seized by the government. Everyone living on that land would need to move elsewhere.
In 1903, surveyors arrived in Delta to measure the land and create maps. In 1908, New York State officially authorized that Delta would be cleared to make way for the reservoir. Blue evacuation notices were presented to the village’s five-hundred residents, forcing them to relocate. One hundred buildings were torn down and destroyed. Some, however, were dismantled and moved to other towns in the area, where they were rebuilt. People moved away and their village became a reservoir. The dam was completed in October 1912. Water first went over in May of 1916.
Despite the great expenses incurred in the relocation of the Black River Canal, it closed in 1921.
Jordan Elizabeth is a fantasy author who is obsessed with history and ghosts. You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com. The photo above shows Jordan on the shores of Lake Delta. You can often find she and her son enjoying the beach.
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Through the Nethergate, by Roberta Eaton Cheadle, is a captivating journey in the here and now that reaches through the barriers of time to bring legend to life, and it’s a very scary legend. This is a tale of horror, but not all spirits are evil, and many of Cheadle’s ghosts make up the cast of characters. Cheadle brings the characters in this story life masterfully, even the ghostly ones, whose backstories are woven into the legend’s tapestry to become part of the whole while still standing on their own individually.
When Margaret comes to live with her grandfather in a haunted old inn that has been in their family for centuries, she discovers that she has the uncanny ability to bring spirits back and make them more real and substantial. But, she doesn’t possess the ability to release them from the tethers that bind them to this plane. As she meets each of the inn’s ethereal occupants and learns their stories, she finds they are all held by an entity of local legend, Hugh Bigod, who prefers to appear in the form of a huge black demon dog. Hugh Bigod was a truly evil man and his spirit is just as nasty. When he feels the spirits pulling away from him, as Margaret’s presence breathes new substance into them, he blames her and vows to stop them by putting an end to her.
Through the Nethergate is a brilliant production of the stories within the story, and an excellent example of god vs. evil dark fantasy. Filled with plenty of suspense and clever story twists. I give it five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
When I was a young girl, I loved to read and so I did. I read and I read, until there were no children’s books left in the children’s section of the library for me to read. South Africa during the 1980’s was a conservative place to live, so the librarians did not allow children to go into the adult section of the library, never mind take out books for it.
Fortunately for me, my mom was a big reader herself. Her taste ran to classic literature, horror / supernatural books and the odd sexy book too. The temptation of her collection was to great for me and I resorted to reading her books behind the couch in the lounge. By the end of my tenth year I had read, possibly without full understanding but with enough for me to enjoy the stories, The Shining, The Stand and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz, Lace by Shirley Conran and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. By the time I was thirteen, I had added all of my mom’s Charles Dicken’s books and her collection of books by Winston Churchill to my list. I read these ones with a dictionary and looked up words I didn’t know, some of which I have never forgotten.
When I had my own children, I didn’t want them to have to lie about the books they read. My motto was “If they can read it, I will let them read it,” I do not believe in sheltering children from life, death and everything in between, within reason. I do not have the same view about visual products like television or video games. The reason I see these differently is that I believe a child can only visualise the things he/she reads to the extent of their personal experience. A visual depiction puts the picture into the child’s mind and that content will be outside of their experience and could be very frightening.
Greg quickly evolved into a big reader and I had trouble feeding his book appetite. He read all the books I read as a child, including the sad and unusual ones like I am David by Anne Holm, Struwwelpeter by HeinrichHoffmann and Fattipuffs and Thinifers by Andre Maurois. Some books I offered to him, but he didn’t fancy their themes such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. I had read both of these when I was twelve, but Greg has never read them and probably never will.
Other moms from his school were shocked that I didn’t restrict his reading, but my son had the freedom to choose while their children did not. Some of their sons read books behind their mothers back so they could not discuss their content with their children and demystify it. Greg has grown into a balanced and intelligent young man with strong views on personal freedom. He always support the human rights of the “underdog” and I think he will turn out okay.
These are my thoughts, but what do other people think about this. I did some research on the internet and this is what I found:
- Children need to know that all circumstances in life can’t have a happy ending. Sometimes people and animals we love die and our sense of loss is profound;
- Many sad and scary stories for children come from folklore. Folk stories are good for children as they gain cultural awareness and learn about life among different peoples of the world;
- Know your audience, if your child is highly sensitive or prone to nightmares, or simply doesn’t want to read the book [like my son, Greg], don’t force them. Respect their views;
- We live in a scary world and our children need to be prepared and also learn how to deal with emotions like fear, anger, frustration and jealousy. Scary and sad books help them learn how other people deal with these emotions;
- Scary stories can get children interested in, and exhilarated by, reading; and
- There are life lessons to be learned in scary and sad books such as don’t take sweets from strangers.
As October is Halloween month and I love scary books of all kinds, I read a review a few to include in this post.
The Haunting of Hiram by Eva Ibbotson – Goodreads review
The Great Ghost Rescue by Eva Ibbotson – Goodreads review
The Witchlet by Victoria Zigler – Goodreads review
Dragon Kingdom & the Wishing Stone by StacieEirich – Goodreads review
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.
I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. I also have three short stories in Death Among Us, a collection of short murder mystery stories by 10 different authors and edited by Stephen Bentley. These short stories are all published under Robbie Cheadle.
I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
***Just a note here, since Robbie is so modest. She has five stories of dark fiction coming out in anthologies this month. “The Siren Witch”, “A Death Without Honour”, and “The Path to Atonement” will appear in Dan Alatorre’s Nightmareland horror anthology, and “Missed Signs” and “The Last of the Lavender” will be featured in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers in the Dark.
Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Growing Bookworms” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.