At yesterday’s Comic-Con panel Unlocking Arkham: Forensic Psychiatry and Batman Rogues Gallery, three psychiatrists—H. Eric Bender (UCLA), Vasilis Pozios (University of Michigan), and Praveen Kambam (Case Medical Center)—applied real-world psychiatric standards to Gotham to see whether whether Batman’s enemies were really criminally insane, and belonged in Arkham Asylum, or if they were just mean and belonged in Blackgate Penitentiary.
The trio paraded out a series of cases: Maximillian “Maxie” Zeus, who thought he was Zeus and above the law; Victor Zsasz, who killed people to spare them from the misery of life; Joker groupie Dr. Harleen Quinzel (aka “Harley Quinn”); and the Joker himself. The charges were your standard supervillain fare: kidnapping, conspiracy, murder, a raft of unpaid parking tickets, etc. The docs broke down the scientific criteria needed to gauge whether each had the competency to stand trial and the nuances between personality disorder and severe mental illness.
Turns out, Gotham and New York forensic psychiatry don’t exactly see eye to eye.
Zeus was deemed delusional because, well, he thought he was Zeus; what’s more, he couldn’t tell right from wrong. Verdict? Insane. Back to Arkham, would-be lord of Olympus.
Zsasz, on the other hand, was deemed delusional but still cognizant of right and wrong. Verdict? Sane. To prison with you, Vic.
(“Did they start them in solitary confinement or therapy sessions?” a man dressed as Nightwing wanted to know.)
Quinzel was trickier. At first, she seemed a clear case for a diagnosis of folie à deux, or “madness shared by two”—when someone hangs with a nutter and becomes one herself. (An animated projection of the curvaceous Quinzel brought whistles from the audience, which prompted a bodacious blonde dressed as Quinzel to stand up and squeal, “Thank you!)
But the expert panel diagnosed Quinzel with dependent personality disorder, not a mental illness. Verdict? Sane; prison.
The big surprise was the Joker. The audience unanimously determined him to be criminally insane—the prototypical Arkham resident—but Kambam asked, “Does the Joker have a legally defined mental illness?”
“He’s got, like, six or seven!” a girl yelled.
Not so fast. Despite the Joker’s extreme antisocial personality disorder, his highly planned scheming and concealed identity to thwart arrest suggested an awareness of right and wrong. “The Joker would not be put in a forensic facility,” Kambam announced, to much surprise.
No, in real life, he’d have gotten his own reality show.
—Guest-blogger Susan Karlin