Dr. Travis Langley, professor of psychology at Henderson State University, recently probed the mind of a master criminal with the help of one of the world’s most famous detectives. We are speaking, of course, of killer clown Joker and his nemesis, Batman.

Dr. Travis Langley, professor of psychology at Henderson State University, recently probed the mind of a master criminal with the help of one of the world’s most famous detectives. We are speaking, of course, of killer clown Joker and his nemesis, Batman.
Langley, along with a contingent of students and faculty from Henderson, attended Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif,. on July 25. Comic-Con is the largest convention for fans of comics in the world. In addition to panels, seminars, and workshops with comic book professionals, there are previews of upcoming feature films, portfolio review sessions with top comic book and video game companies, and exhibits for comic book dealers and collectibles merchants. Chances are you can also meet some of your favorite actors, artists or filmmakers at Comic-Con, talk to them about their art, and get an autograph. Founded in 1970, this year’s convention drew 125,000 paid ticket holders interested in comic books, toys, animation, videogames, fantasy novels — almost the entire gamut of popular culture. Dr. Randy Duncan of Henderson in 1992 co-founded the Comics Arts Conference, which hosts scholarly panel discussions at Comic-Con.
Langley organized and moderated one of those academic panels to talk about the psychology of the Joker, one of the most infamous (and beloved) villains in comic history. “Batman is my favorite superhero,” Langley said. “I wanted to talk with other professionals about the character of the Joker and the psychological effect the character had on the actors who played him.”
Joker has been portrayed on television and in the movies by the late Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger. (Mark Hamill of “Star Wars” fame also voiced the Joker on an animated Batman television series.) Ledger died several months before the release of 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” allegedly overdosing on pills he had taken to help him sleep.
Langley assembled an impressive panel. “I wanted to get Mark Hamill, but wasn't able to,” he said. “Robin Rosenberg lined up one of the producers of ‘The Dark Knight,’ Michael Uslan, comic book writer Steve Englehart, and Jerry Robinson, who created the Joker back in the 1940s.” The panelists were joined by psychologist Rosenberg, who edited The Psychology of Superheroes and developed the topic for discussion.
The addition of one other guest took the standing room-only Comic-Con audience by surprise: Adam West, who played Batman in the classic 1960s television series. “He didn’t play the Joker, but it was great having Adam,” Langley said.
West also performs the voice of Mayor Adam West on “The Family Guy,” a role that has extended his fame among younger audiences.
“I had to go through layers and layers of people to reach Adam,” Langley said. “I spoke to his daughter, Nina, about it, and finally I got the message that he was very interested in joining the panel and talking about how Cesar Romero played Joker.
“Adam has a lot of fun with the persona of Batman,” Langley said. “He can be a goofball, but he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
As to the Joker, Langley said the panel discussed whether the Joker would qualify as an insane person. “The Joker is a psychopath, but does he know the difference between right and wrong? He is evil through and through. He does not fit the legal requirements for insanity. A psychotic person is out of touch with reality, but one analysis showed that all of Batman’s enemies know what they are doing. The Joker is clearly a psychopath. He is indifferent to the harm he causes other people, and he’s destructive for the sheer sensation of it.
“Is Batman himself crazy? Well, he is a vigilante, and there have been times in history when it was appropriate for people to become vigilantes and protect their identities. Batman has his quirks, and he can be excessive, but he isn’t crazy. He recognizes degrees of black and white, where the Joker does not.”
West said that Romero would prepare for his role as the Joker by going to his canvas chair, sitting down and taking a nap. When he woke up he would be refreshed and ready to go. Both Nicholson and Ledger reportedly had trouble sleeping when they played the Joker on film. “Did Joker kill Heath Ledger? I tried getting Michael Uslan to answer that, but he never did,” Langley said.
Langley said Henderson students benefit from attending Comic-Con by meeting industry professionals and getting insight into a possible career field. By attending Comic-Con with the students, Langley said he “helps them find opportunities to enjoy themselves and to get the long-term benefit of meeting people. That’s part of what I enjoy about teaching.”