This article contains MAJOR Batman spoilers.
When the Joker heard that his beloved Batman was going to marry Catwoman, he immediately offered up his services as the Dark Knight’s best man… by murdering a church full of people and shooting his fiancee. Tom King and Mikel Janin spin yet another deceptively complex yarn, a two-parter that’s almost as good as “The Gift,” the best arc of King’s run thus far.
Batman #48 left the fate of the Bat and Cat dynamic duo in the air, as the Clown Prince of Crime outsmarted the Caped Crusader and forced Catwoman into a daring rescue mission where the unpredictable Joker had the upper hand. I was admittedly a little underwhelmed by the first part of “The Best Man,” although the panel where Batman and Joker pray together is pretty outrageous. But issue #49, the lead-up issue to the big wedding in the oversized #50, which is out on July 4, puts everything in perspective.
By the end of the issue, in his own psychotic way, Joker gives Batman the best wedding gift he can: his own life. As Joker reveals to Catwoman after they fatally wound each other (the Clown shoots the Cat in the gut and she slits his throat with her claws), he knows that what Bruce has wanted all along is a bit of happiness. While it seems at first that the Clown’s attack is fueled by jealousy — and, in a way, it certainly is — Joker has really lured the duo to the church in order to stop Bruce from finding that happiness.
“He can’t be happy,” the Joker tells Catwoman. “And also be Batman.”
If Joker kills the Cat, his dance with the Dark Knight continues as normal. The Clown has always believed that he and the Bat are one and the same, that they complete each other. Without Batman, what is left for the Joker? (And how peculiar is it that King’s Batman #49 sort of mirrors Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s #49, the issue when an amnesiac Bruce decides to become Batman again?!)
Of course, the Clown’s plot isn’t all that it seems. There are two sides to it, and King and Janin play with this motif of duplicity masterfully, incorporating nonsensical conversations about Two-Face and just what the hell the Penguin’s umbrella is meant to be (or is it a cane?). Not to mention that the Joker and Catwoman are two sides of Batman’s psyche — one part thrives in misery while the other is searching for happiness and peace. Batman is a complex character and here are both sides of him having a tug of war.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that the ending of the story is left open to interpretation: does the Joker actually mean to kill Catwoman, or is the Joker playing one final prank on the Caped Crusader and therefore getting that great punchline he so desires? (As Joker points out, “Death is a kind of victory. It’s the punchline to the joke. If you’ve told it well enough, you can take your bow.”) Joker knows that if he tries to reload his gun, he’ll probably bleed out. But is his own life worth “saving” Batman? Joker decides it is, as he moves his hand away from his wound and tries to reload and shoot Catwoman. But he’s too slow. He dies, but not before taking an (involuntary?) bow…
To me, it seems that Joker allows himself to die, and therefore allows Bruce to have the happiness he deserves — even if it means that Batman will be happy without him. In a sick way, and credit to King and Janin for making me feel even the slightest bit of sympathy for the Joker, he makes the ultimate sacrifice for his beloved. The Joker really is the greatest best man the Bat could have wished for, which is why Catwoman breaks out in laughter in the final panel.
This also feels like an object lesson for the soon-to-be-wed. Joker shows Batman and Catwoman how quickly this could be taken away from them, how quickly love can turn into heartbreak. His message to the happy couple? Don’t muck this up.
I’ve thought of at least two others ways to interpret this story since the last paragraph, but I think it’s time for you to draw your own conclusion. For now, King’s version of the Joker has met his. How this affects the run going forward (and the upcoming “Three Jokers” story from Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok) is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that the Joker will return. And probably not as a hopeless romantic.
Batman #49 is out now!