Giving the Clown His Due: Nelson on Joker's Asylum

This summer DC Comics tells the story of Batman's Rogue's Gallery through new eyes: The Joker. That's the key to the five one-shots coming out weekly under the umbrella title of The Joker's Asylum in July. But there's one in which the Joker is more than a mere narrator, acting as the lead and the voice of it all. The story in The Joker's Asylum: The Joker is entitled "The Joker's Mild" and comes from the team of writer Arvid Nelson and artist Alex Sanchez.

This is the writer's latest work for DC Comics, having come to this point with strong work on Rex Mundi and the recent Zero Killer series at Dark Horse. Nelson describes The Joker's Asylum: The Joker as a “seventies” tale, in which the Joker takes over a television game show and terrorizes the contestants. "It's basically the birth of reality TV in Gotham City," Nelson said.

We spoke with him for more.

Newsarama: The Joker has been portrayed many different ways, both in comics and film. To you Arvid, what is the character of Joker about?

Arvid Nelson: There are so many ways to portray him. He can be goofy and “fabulous” and Technicolor like Cesar Romero, or he can be dark and psychopathic, like Heath Ledger. Take your pick! That, to me, is what’s really unnerving about The Joker. It’s the psychotic quality, the unpredictability. Live or die, the joke is always at our expense.

NRAMA: The title of your story here is called 'The Joker's Mild'. Joker's been called many things, but mild isn't one of them. What's the story?

AN: Without giving away too much, it takes place in a television game show in the 1970s. The ‘70s just seem like the quintessential Joker decade. As to the meaning of “mild”, it gets back to the idea of the unpredictability of the character. There’s been a lot of emphasis on the dark, psychopathic, sadistic side of The Joker for a long time. But--he’s The Joker! He’s a prankster and a showman. That’s the side we’re going to see in “The Joker’s Mild”.

NRAMA: There's a common saying that everyone does something for a reason, and no one plans to be 'evil' but are merely doing things they think is right. Is that the case for Joker - is he doing bad things to people on purpose?

AN: Outward appearances aside, Shakespeare’s Richard III is a lot like The Joker. At one point Richard says “I am determined to prove a villain”, and in one sense that means “I deciding to be evil”. But “determined” also means “predestined”. So he’s also saying “I don’t have a choice, I was made this way”. It’s contradictory--and terrifying. Why does The Joker do what he does? There’s no clear answer.

NRAMA: How would you describe the chemistry between Batman and Joker?

AN: Batman’s pretty tightly-wound, let’s face it. I get the sense it’s a daily struggle for him not to snap completely. The Joker is the prime example of what happens to someone who loses that struggle. He’s the abyss Batman is always teetering over.

NRAMA: How does this fit in with the other one-shots in 'The Joker's Asylum'?

AN: The series is modeled on old-school comics like Tales from the Crypt. The Joker is the emcee, the Crypt Keeper. He leads you into and out of every issue. In my story, he’s introducing himself!

The Joker's Asylum: The Joker hits stores on July 2nd.

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