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A History of The Joker

Since his arrival in 1940, Batman’s arch-nemesis – The Joker – has reflected some the most important trends and changes in America’s changing cultural landscape in the twentieth and early twenty-first century.  In this brand-new American Studies lecture, following on from last week’s episode which analysed Superman’s début in 1938, we will examine what the Joker’s changing portrayal tells us about the social and cultural changes which have helped to shape America since his inception.  From his Chicago gang culture roots through to his transformation into a twenty-first century terrorist, this lecture will explore how various changes to American culture have been represented in one of the most consistently inconsistent characters in the comic book medium.  In this lecture we will look at the references his original appearance made to Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, his sanitised appearance in the 1950s and 1960s, the impact of Vietnam upon his characterisation, and finally his emergence in the twenty-first century as a modern-day terrorist.  You can listen to the podcast in this page by clicking play in the media player at the bottom of this post.  


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Related Content

To discover more about gender at the dawn of the superhero age, you might want to read my articles “Superman: Action Comics #1 and Gender Politics” which was published by The Comics Grid.  To listen to my series of lectures on comic books and history, check out the American Studies and History Podcast page.  Listen to “Up, Up and Away: Action Comics #1 in the Great Depression and the Depression Recession (1938 and 2011)” which compares DC’s original superhero classic to its modern day remake.  Also of interest for DC fans is my brief “History of the Joker” which explores how Batman’s arch nemesis has evolved from his first appearance to his modern day incarnation.  Finally, Marvel fans have something to think about in “Captain America’s Racist Sidekick”, a lecture which explores the problematic character of Whitewash Jones and how racism in comics worked in the early years of the genre.

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