Comic-Con 2009: Get The Joker out of Arkham—He's Not Insane. Who Knew?

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | July 24, 2009 6:19 pm

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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Comics, Conferences
MORE ABOUT: Batman, Comic-con

Comments (10)

  1. Christina Viering

    6 or 7? cool.

  2. They were promoting a website at the beginning of that panel. Do you remember what the URL was?

  3. wildofski

    There are wrong on the Joker, he’s a classic case of sociopathological behavior.

  4. kelsey

    sociopathy is a synonym for antisocial personality disorder, which is what they said he had.

  5. wildofski

    I beg to differ. Would you say Ted Bundy or Charles Manson were sane?

  6. batwing

    they said insane is a legal term not a psychiatry term. and in the eyes of the law, sociopaths don’t have a serious mental illness and get sent to prison not a forensic psych hospital.

  7. ProjectPAT

    Batwing is right. Bundy and Manson belonged in prison, not the psych ward. No, they were NOT normal. But yes, they were in control of their actions, just like most criminals.

  8. Christina

    wildofski not saying about Manson but Bundy… Do you know what he implied he used the skulls with broken out front teeth for to FBI agents? Now if he wasn’t playing the insanity bit to avoid execution and really did that…

    Now legally They were both deemed sane. Bundy was executed but I believe the reason Manson wasn’t was because at the time of his conviction they had repealed the death penalty (meaning there was no death penalty) in that State.

    If you go by legal definition they were both sane, when interviewed they did show awareness that murder is illegal aka wrong for example. If you go by clinical psychiatry however (DSM IV) then they were insane because they both had diagnosable conditions which fit the criteria for mental illness acording to the DSM IV .

  9. sgMarshall

    I realize the blog is a retelling and may be not accurate as to what was actually discussed.

    “… and concealed identity…”

    I am not sure that’s accurate. I haven’t read the Joker in years, but he’s not concealing his identity. He not like Batman and taking the Cowl off when off duty. As far as I know the Joker is his persona. It is a bit like saying goths are concealing their identity if they wear mascara and paint their nails.

    P.S. To the poster above. Manson isn’t in a California Mental Institution, but was last I checked (and I actually checked) in the California Prison System.

  10. Kim

    I am happy to know that Manson was in the California prison system.


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