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Gotham’s Joker Wasn’t A Proper Joker (But Still The Show’s Best Villain)

Cameron Monaghan as Jerome Valeska Gotham Header

Gotham's version of the Joker may have lacked franchise authenticity, but Cameron Monaghan's interpretation of the character still grew to become the best villain in the entire series. With only a handful of episodes left, Fox's Batman prequel series is coming to an end after 5 rollercoaster seasons of last-minute rescues, unexpected love triangles, and a butler going well beyond his job description. Throughout its time on screen, Gotham has attracted both praise and criticism, and while some of its live-action incarnations of classic characters have been received positively, others have failed to find favor with the show's audience.

Undoubtedly, the most hotly debated characters on Gotham have been Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, both played by Cameron Monaghan. Jerome first debuted in Gotham season 1 as a murderous young circus troupe member and the character's cheerful menace immediately drew comparisons to the Joker. With each appearance, Monaghan inched closer to looking and acting like Batman's most infamous nemesis and Gotham's producers promised that the identity of their Joker would be one of the show's core ongoing mysteries.

Related: Gotham's Bane Origin Borrows From The Dark Knight Rises

Even now, with Jerome's villainy transferred to twin brother Jeremiah, that mystery hasn't been completely solved. Gotham's most recent offering, the ominously-titled "Ace Chemicals," went so far as to recreate Joker's The Killing Joke comic book origin story and still, the villain was denied the Joker title. But despite that lack of an official label, here's why Jerome/Jeremiah remains Gotham's best baddie.

Gotham Made The Best Out Of What It Had

Gotham - Jeremiah becomes The Joker

As Gotham's omission of the Joker name continued into later seasons, the feeling of mystery around the character turned into one of confusion. Why would a series fighting for network renewal not make full use of its most bankable villain? Cameron Monaghan clarified the situation via his official Twitter account last year, stating that "a decision from high up" had banned the show both from using the Joker moniker and from giving Jerome or Jeremiah a trademark green hairstyle.

For Gotham, a show that thrives on introducing early versions of classic Batman villains, being unable to properly use the Joker character was a sizeable blow, in line with telling Smallville that their bald, wealthy criminal mastermind can't be called Lex Luther or that Star Trek: Discovery's angry, wrinkle-headed warriors will henceforth be known as "the Klangons." Such a policy meant that no matter how rapturously Gotham's version of the Joker was received, the villain would always be somewhat held back by a lack of authenticity. Like a Gucci handbag that only cost $20 from a local market, something would always feel a little off.

Admirably, Monaghan reasoned that the ban allowed for "creativity" on the show's part and it's certainly hard to disagree with that assessment. The success of each past incarnation of the Joker has largely come down to casting and from his very first appearance, Monaghan's Valeska was compellingly evil - a captivating addition to the show, with or without a connection to Batman canon. Whether by necessity or design, Gotham smartly took advantage of the confusion surrounding their potential Joker by leaning into the inherent anonymity of the character and turning the situation into Gotham's hottest point of discussion.

After over three seasons without an answer to its Joker mystery, Gotham massively swerved fans with the switch from Jerome to Jeremiah, allowing the show to freshen up the character and keep fans guessing as to how these two insane brothers were linked to the most infamous comic book villain of all time. Even without the Joker name, Gotham was ensuring Monaghan's character remained the show's main source of fascination.

Related: Gotham Season 5 Finds A Solution To Its Batgirl Problem

Impressively, Gotham found a way to hand Jeremiah the same Joker origin tale seen in seminal graphic novel, The Killing Jokeleft braindead and disfigured but technically still alive after a fight with Bruce Wayne. Jeremiah even manages to tell Bruce that he's "just a joke without a punchline" before falling into the transformative vat of toxic goop. Without breaching their gagging order, this is likely as far as Gotham could possibly go.

The question remains, would Gotham have been better off if it were allowed to go "full-on" with the Joker? Almost certainly. While permission from upon high perhaps wouldn't have dramatically altered Jerome/Jeremiah's story arc, it absolutely would've added an extra layer of canon credibility to both the character and the series as a whole. From a purely cynical point of view, full use of the Joker name would've also attracted a raft of casual viewers thanks to Mr. J's big bucks box office appeal. Considering the restraints placed upon it, however, it's difficult to see how Gotham could've improved upon their version of the Joker.

Page 2: What Is Cameron Monaghan's Joker Legacy?

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