Vigilante Joker: A Desire for Justice

posted by James Windeler March 20th 2018

[Note: Light spoilers from the first four episodes ahead. You can read about the Villain side of The Joker here, and get the season finale March 27!]

Hello Telltale Fans,

Early in our development process, the Batman team got excited by the idea that you, the player, would be responsible for creating The Joker. If we were able to create a sense of ownership over that transformation and get players invested, we thought we would be telling a unique story that carried dramatic and emotional weight. Episode five of Batman: The Enemy Within represents the culmination of that idea.

While many of the story beats were little more than notecards on a wall for quite some time, we knew we were building towards a climactic moment in episode four. Batman would shatter Harley’s Pact, and John Doe would reach an emotional breaking point. The image of John free-falling from the bridge and disappearing into the murk of the Gotham River resonated with the team and gave us a target. John’s submersion represented a kind of unholy baptism. When he emerged from those dark waters, the fragile asylum patient would have transcended, becoming the larger-than-life character he was always destined to be. From that point on, he would be The Joker. But what would he look like? How would he act? And what would the final chapter of the story hold for Bruce?

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Answering these questions was one of the more exciting challenges facing the Batman creative team. If you’ve seen any of our videos or posts from the last few days, you know episode five is the branchiest piece of content the studio has ever created. The episode contains not one but two complete Joker storylines, each with its own strikingly different portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime -- Vigilante and Villain.

Villain Joker is closer to canon. He represents our take on Batman’s classic nemesis, and episode five’s Lead Writer, Meghan Thornton, digs into his tortured psychology in her awesome post here. Vigilante Joker, by contrast, is unlike any previous incarnation of the character. I’m reluctant to spoil too much of the story, but this Joker wants nothing more than to fight crime at Batman’s side, which is all fine and dandy except that John… well, John has never been the most stable individual.

If you’ve been following the series, you know the team has put a lot of effort into making it possible for our players to genuinely care about John and see him as a friend. We introduced him as a well-meaning but rudderless ex-patient, adrift in the real world outside Arkham. Through the season, we’ve given players plenty of opportunity to be charmed by him, such as when he first confides that he’s in love or in episode three’s unforgettable “coffee date”.

As the story progresses, one thing becomes clear: John Doe harbors a deep, almost obsessive admiration for Bruce Wayne, and for Batman. He looks up to us, and we exert our influence over him. Vigilante Joker, with his passionate desire to eliminate corruption from Gotham, evolves naturally out of this admiration. He’s what becomes of John if you instill him with self-confidence and ultimately trust him to do the right thing. Of course, being a costumed vigilante isn’t for everyone, and for John, it’s by no means the perfect fit. He wants so desperately to be a hero, just like Batman, but he can’t quite grasp what that really means.

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This awkward incompatibility with the role he wants to fill defines Vigilante Joker and colors every aspect of his character. It’s like he’s trying on a suit that’s two sizes too big. His enthusiastic pronouncements about justice are his misguided interpretation of how a hero should talk. He’s built himself a Jokerrang and grapple, because no crime-fighting persona would be complete without the toys. And he’s given himself a name, one that all Gotham will remember, because, well, that’s just what vigilantes do.

Despite his naivety, it certainly seems that his heart is in the right place and that his desire for justice is real. The question, though, given his history of indulging his impulses, is whether he’ll cause more problems for Batman than he’ll solve. To answer that, you’ll have to play the episode. I cannot wait to see what you think.