Liveblogging San Diego Comic-Con: Day 4

Update 1: 11:45 AM: Woke up bright and early and headed to the convention center, having spent most of last night lying low for the festivities ahead. Due to the grunge of the past two days, I decided to leave the robin costume home.

Anyway, the first panel I went to was one I just couldn’t miss:

Comics Arts Conference Session #9: Is the Joker a Psychopath: You Decide!— Psychology professors Robin Rosenberg (The Psychology of Superheroes) and Travis Langley (Henderson State University) discuss the technical definition of a psychopath and review the criteria for antisocial personality disorder — does the Joker fit the clinical definition? Is he athan just crazy? They are joined by Joker experts Jerry Robinson (The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938—1950), famed “Joker-fish” scribe Steve Englehart (The Point Man), and film producer Michael Uslan (The Dark Knight).

Also there (awesomely) was Adam West. Anyway, the panel:

Fist up was Robin Rosenberg. She began examining the reasons for criminal behavior, ending with psychopaths, who say “just because,” “Why Not” and “it’s fun.” Psychotic is defined as out of touch with reality because of hallucinations or delusions. The joker doesn’t really fall under this category.

The Joker is instead diagnosed with Psychopathy.

Psychopathy is defined as a group of emotional and interpersonal and lifestyle characteristics that give rise to antisocial behavior.

Psychopaths are divided into two clusters: Interpersonal and social deviant.

Interpersonal cluster: psychopaths are Glib and charming, full of themselves, they patholoogically lie and manipulate others.

Emotional cluster: Lack remorse or guilt, shallow feelings (dramatic), callous/lack empathy, don’t accept responsibility for actions that go awry

Lifestyle: get bored easily. Prey and live off of others, no realistic long term goals, impulsive, irresponsible

She then showed three clips, one from the 1960’s show, one from the animated series, and one from the dark knight, to illustrate the various clusters psychopathy.

Next up was Travis Langley, who made sure to clarify that insanity refers to a legal, not psychological category. Insane means that you have irresistible impulses. I.e. Just because you hear voices doesn’t mean you’re legally insane. It’s only if you can’t ignore those voices that you can plead the insanity defense.

After that was Jerry Robinson who talked about the history of the creation of Joker. Which, while slightly rambling and off topic, was fascinating nonetheless. Before the joker, there were mostly gangsters and embezzlers or bankrobbers as Batman antagonists. All the great heroes in literature had an antagonist, and good characters had some contradiction in terms of their characters, and so, a villain with a sense of humor would be different.

And he needed a name. Luckily, one of Robinson’s older brothers was a champion bridge player, and he always had playing cards around his childhood home, so the image of the joker card was fresh in his mind. So he looked at his own deck of playing cards and adapted the picture on the card to a sketch. When fleshing out of the character, he remembered a formative illustration book: the stories of Edgar Allen Poe illustrated by Harry Clarkson. Clarkson’s figures are very elongated, and that was what made the joker have a tall, thin appearance.  He conceived of the Joker as a master criminal, who was antisocial, showed no remorse, and was clever enough to match wits with batman. He wasn’t insane, however, he was was just clever and lacked morals, while his motivation was self-aggrandizement.

Steve Englehart (via the wondrous technology of the mobile phone) talked about how he wanted to bring the joker back to the idea that he’s actually a really scary villain. The Laughing fish was an attempt to show that the character just wasn’t logical, in contrast with the hyper-logical batman. The idea of his joker is that he thinks  “I want to rob a bank” and his mind goes to “well i could steal a submersible car and swim under the bank to do it.” But in the end, he still wants to rob the bank.

Producer Michael Ulsan talked next about movie versions of the joker. He, in particular, was inspired by the Cask of the amontillado, the Poe story where horror is just masked by the backdrop fo Carnival. He also pointed out the fact that the good guy is dressed like a monster and the bad guy is dressed as a clown. In Nolan’s version, the story moved from Good vs. Evil to Order vs. Chaos, and stated that it was probably the best examination of post-9/11 psychology.

He then told a story about how Jack Nicholson was chosen because of an ad in the NY post for the Shining. Ulson took the picture, which was of the “Here’s Johnny” image from the movie, and whited out his face and drew red lipstick on his mouth. He showed everyone in Hollywood that picture as proof of why Nicholson was the only person who could play the joker.

Then it was Q and A time:

Is any incarnation of the joker clinically curable? Robin: If any, Romero’s. Psychopaths cannot be rehabilitated except for lobotomy. Their brains are different, respond differently to stimuli.

Can psychopath be created? They are grown. a lot of things that contribute. Like, is there an event that makes you an “extrovert?” same sort of thing. But you also need a genetic vulnerability.

Regarding the joker fish story: “Maybe he’s not insane, maybe he just misunderstands copywrite law. Or worst, he is a copywrite lawyer”

Adam West his idea of an origin was that he was kidnapped by a perverted clown as a youngster.

Question about morrison joker (about which I asked yesterday) and the reinvention of a personality. Robin responded that Chaos is scary–people like order. Batman is predictable, that joker is not, so that’s a valid interpretation.

After that panel was another panel in the same room, called Becoming Batman and Batman Becoming

Comics Arts Conference Session #10: Becoming Batman and Batman Becoming— E. Paul Zehr (University of Victoria) in Becoming Batman—Is There Science Behind the Superhero? answers the question of whether it is scientifically possible to train to become Batman—it is, but for how long? Gearoid O’Brien (National University of Ireland Galway) contends that Grant Morrison’s Batman: RIP is indicative of the way contemporary culture rejects conventional modes of resolution and ushers mainstream comic books headfirst into an age of uncertainty and cultural nihility

Zehr talked about how batman’s body was essentially an adaption to stress–when you put stress on the human body, it gets stronger–you can increase bone density through martial arts training of repeated impact.

Apparently there are apparently 3 stages of training: 3-5 years of basic training and physical prowess, 6-12 years of skill training and refining, and a 6-8 years of poise experience and “seasoning.” 12-15 year training, all for a 2-3 year career.

The reason that it’s so short a career is because of how the body reacts to trauma. As long as there’s health, you adapt, but if there’s too much, you get cumulative trauma disorder (carpal tunnel of your whole body basically).

The second panelist (who i was more interested due to the focus on Morrison, natch) was Gearoid O’Brien. He presented his paper “A Hole in Things: Ambiguility Apophenia and negative capability in Batman RIP.”

He begins with the idea that the detective is apotheosis of enlightenment, modernist bleief that reason can fix all of the world’s problems; he uses empirical reasoning for full comprehension. But in the post-modern world, there is the inevitable understanding that there are a plurality of meanings–i.e. there are no objective meanings.

The question now is: “Can the dark night detective survive when faced with unreason?”

Other detective figures who are confronted with irrationailty, like Charles Dexter Ward in HP lovecraft, who is confronted with Cthulhu and is driven insane.

Lyotard: The postmodern condition who says that metanarratives are rejected, with only mininarratives that are “provisional contingent temporary and relative”

He then talked about Negative Capability- an idea by John Keats that things are left deliberatively ambiguous in order to poke holes in metanarrative. The identity of Dr. Hurt, the great mystery of the RIP, is left ambiguous, i.e. that there are “incompatable and insufficient cues.”

One idea is that he is the Devil, but not the judeo christian devil the postmodern devil. Hurt represents the limits of reason, but you have to accept that they are all of them, or none of them, or something else entireley.

As the joker says: “You think it all breaks down into symbolism and structures and hints and clues. No batman, that’s just Wikipedia” The Joker is perfectly adapted to the post-modern condition: “If i’m going to have a past I prefer it to be multiple choice!”.

Batman has to give up reason to get into Arkham Asylum in the storyline. “Reason won’t fit through this door. You have to go it alone” i.e. have to accept that everything is contingent and irrational.

When faced with this dilemman, you can either delve into nihilism, or you can jump into Apophenia, which is the creation of patterns even in randomness. As the joker says:

“The real joke is your stubborn, bone-deep conviction that somehow, somewhere all of this makes sense:”

But when batman Dies in final crisis, all that’s left is the symbol. In a world devoid of reason (anti-life) he chooses his own good and evil and becomes even greater. To parphrase of Nietzsche: “Batman is dead, I teach you the Superman”

That was so. fucking. awesome.

Update 2 9:46 PM: Not much to report from the rest of the day–I ran around the convention center trying to find a copy of Paul Pope’s out of print One Trick Rip Off, which was a wholly unsuccessful endeavour. I ended up purchasing 2 Daredevil hardcovers that were on sale, thus starting the collection of the comic series that got me into comic books. After that I decided to lay low, read some comics i bought from the rest of the day, and walk out on the bay (beautiful, i may add). I met up with my friend Charlie from high school, I called it a day after dinner. Ben and I decided this morning not to go out to sunday, instead going around San Diego and actually seeing the city. All in all, comic-con was a great time, and I’ll definitley be going back next year.


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2 Responses to “Liveblogging San Diego Comic-Con: Day 4”

  1. The Bot Says:

    I just came a little.

  2. Travis Langley Says:

    Hey, thanks for covering our panel! Adam mentioned to Alex (writer at and later on twitter that the Joker panel was the first time he’d ever met Jerry – which stunned me. Working with all of those iconic figures for a single panel was a heck of an experience, and I’m glad to see that people appreciated it.

    P.S. I hope you get the chance to correct the spelling of “Travis Langley” in “Next up was Travis Angley.” No worries. I’m still very grateful that you enjoyed the talk.

    (Fixed your name, thanks for pointing that out! -A.)

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