Cain and Abel: A Modern Retelling

batman-joker-deadThroughout the Batman mythos, the greatest rivalry is between Batman and the Joker. From the time of his origin, the Joker has this perverse brotherly relationship with Batman. From the beginning (Joker’s one bad day), Batman and the Joker have been continuously entangled with one another, sharing a remarkable amount of habits and traits. Their relationship, when properly understood, can be likened to a modernized tale of Cain and Abel.

The Cain and Abel type relationship between Batman and the Joker is an interesting concept, but something that adds to the depth of the theory even more, there are times at which discerning which represents Cain and which represents Abel. The vast majority of the time, the Joker is Cain, having jealous fits of rage, killing, stealing, cheating, etc. A great part of this is because he is jealous of his righteous “brother” in the same way Cain was of Abel (Gen. 4:5). But what’s interesting is when the Joker succeeds at getting Batman to sin, effectively showing him that he is not that far removed from being Cain just like the Joker. There is no clearer example of this than in the end of The Killing Joke, in which the Joker is trying to prove to Batman that all it takes to be just as crazy as him is one bad day. Batman has been hunting down the Joker who has (just in the past day alone) paralyzed one of his closest friends for life, and tortured another to the brink of insanity. In the end of the story, Batman has apprehended the Joker, and the two are simply standing with one another, waiting for the police to come. The Joker decided to kill time by telling Batman a joke about two mental patients attempting to escape an insane asylum, and Batman begins to laugh. A small chuckle, at first, but the chuckle eventually develops into a full blown laugh, even bordering on a maniacal cackle. The Joker has broken the Batman. Another instance of the Joker getting Batman to break his rules comes in A Death In The Family when Batman is hunting down the Joker following the murder of Jason Todd. Though the Joker ultimately comes out alive, Batman clearly breaks his rule against killing, and is obviously trying to kill the Joker in response to Robin’s murder at his hands, and there are other instances of similar events happening between the two of them (The Dark Knight Returns, for example). What we see on the other side is that the Joker (as Cain) doesn’t want to kill Batman so long as Batman plays the role of Abel, but he wants to show Batman that the two of them are morally separated simply by (although I doubt the writers of Batman understand it this way) common grace. Abel is not Abel by some great moral substance of his own, but rather by the grace of God, and we see this clearly in this example from Batman and the Joker.


Another parallel which can be drawn between the brotherly enmity between Batman and the Joker is that of their origins. We know that Cain and Abel were born following the fall and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24-4:2). In the same way, both Batman and the Joker are born out of extreme tragedy. Those moderately familiar with the Batman universe know that Bruce Wayne became Batman following the death of his parents, after vowing to avenge their deaths. What’s not quite as well known is the origin of the Joker. Prior to becoming the Joker, he was a rather normal, reasonably healthy man. He had a steady job, he had a wife and a child on the way, and he dabbled in standup comedy (which he was absolutely awful at).

His descent into being Cain came when he attempted to stage a robbery at a chemical plant in order to support his wife and child during some tough financial times, which can be paralleled to Cain’s offering up an unworthy sacrifice due to his perceived lack of resources. Without going on too long about the story, the Joker eventually falls into a vat of acid which changes the color of his skin, stretches his face, and leads to chemical imbalances in his brain, completely transitioning him into the Joker. He is marked, much in the same way Cain was following his sins against his brother. Both he and Batman come from tragic falls from grace, the difference is in their response. Batman turns to honest labors for the good of Gotham City, and attempts to make the world a better place, while the Joker turns to a life of crime and chaos, attempting to make others feel the same pain that he felt, and ultimately to drive anyone who crosses his path as insane as himself.

Batman and the Joker represent a perverse version of Cain and Abel. Their brotherly relationship, born out of similar life circumstances, and possessing strikingly similar personalities (despite one being far more righteous than the other) provides an excellent and artistic representation of Cain and Abel in modern literature and film. Theirs is far from the only representation of Cain and Abel in recent literature (East of Eden being another, and perhaps the best) but when their relationship is viewed in this light, simple comics and superhero films become significantly more interesting and meaningful than they otherwise would have been.


Miller, Frank, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. New York, New York: DC Comics, 2002.

Moore, Alan. Batman: The Killing Joke. deluxe ed. Batman. New York: DC Comics, ©2008.

Rocksteady Studios. “Batman: Arkham City” (PS3 Game). Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, October 18, 2011.

Starlin, Jim, and Marv Wolfman. Batman: A Death in the Family. New York: DC Comics, ©2011.




Essential Libertarian (Fiction) Reading List

Libertarian literature is known for being profoundly dry, and typically non-fiction for the most part. This is an understandable and fair characterization, given that most libertarian literature is focused on economics (the dismal science) and moral argumentation regarding the use of force. That said, here are ten great fictional works that while maybe not distinctly libertarian, still provide insight into libertarianism and its various facets.


1. 1984, by George Orwell. Orwell’s greatest accomplishment, 1984 is a piece of dystopian literature still unmatched by any other. Orwell deals with the common issues of statism, surveillance states, censorship, state education, kangaroo court systems, and more, while presenting a compelling and enjoyable story.


2. Anthem, by Ayn Rand. Gives a simple insight into the ethics and political ideology of Ayn Rand, without requiring the 1,000 page slogfest that Atlas Shrugged does. This piece does an excellent job of exposing the dangers of collectivism, and the importance of allowing every man to (non-aggressively) pursue is own happiness and betterment.


3. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. While not distinctly anti-state, this work focuses on a man who has a profound sense of self-ownership and his quest for survival following his unfortunate shipwreck. Crusoe’s initiative and dedication to improve himself as well as his environment through hard work are admirable, and a great example for libertarians everywhere.

Lord of the Flies (1959)

4. The Lord of the Flies, by Peter Golding. Gives a prime example of the arbitrary nature of the state and its rule, while providing a helpful analysis of the darkness of the heart of man. Golding shows from the very beginning what power hungry men will do in the name of “maintaining order” in times of crisis, an important issue to take notice of in a time where our state consistently adds to their reach in response to crises and emergencies.


5. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s portrayal of puritan society (skewed as it may be)still serves as a powerful argument against the state sanctioning and legislating morality beyond acts of aggression.


6. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Orwell’s second entry on the list, this book is not on the same level literarily as 1984, but it provides an excellent example of the problems of violent revolution, particularly violent revolutions which place another government in power in place of the former state.


7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Probably the greatest anti-censorship work of fiction, Bradbury presents the darkness inherent in a society without a free press or a right to free speech. This same theme is paramount in Orwell’s 1984, but Fahrenheit 451 gives a darker, more violent view of the censorship going on throughout than Orwell. Although 1984 contains some violent instances of censorship, most of the censorship presented is through controlling education and re-writing history, rather than the violent book burnings in Bradbury’s work.


8. Horton Hears A Who, by Dr. Seuss. While this may be a far easier read than the rest of the books on the list, Dr. Seuss packs a number of punches into this classic children’s story. From the principles of non-agression, to a strong anti-collectivism and anti-xenophobia slant, and even to a strong example of what can be accomplished through voluntary cooperation, Horton Hears A Who is a great piece for any libertarian to read.


9. The Vile Village, by Lemony Snicket. What happens when you put the care of children in the hands of an entire village? Bad things. This book also deals with the issues of slave labor and kangaroo courts, and is an easy, entertaining read, despite dealing with major issues with the state.


10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Another work that’s not explicitly libertarian or anti-state, but if one looks at Dr. Jekyll and his will to power and violence, all while under the cloak of decency, it’s very easy to see how he relates to the state. Every state starts by offering itself to the people as Dr. Jekyll, but is eventually exposed as Mr. Hyde.