Why Batman joined forces with the Joker against Gotham City Council

The comic-book rivals teamed up Wednesday to fight a proposed $175 licensing fee and mandatory background check for costumed characters working for tips in New York City's Times Square.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Lucia Gomez (second from left) of La Fuente, a not-for-profit organization that brings together organized labor, speaks on behalf of costumed characters during a rally in New York's Times Square, Aug. 19. After a spate of arrests and bad publicity, the costumed characters who pose for tourist photographs in Times Square in the hopes of a tip have formed an association to preserve a livelihood that has come under increasing scrutiny.

Gotham City archenemies Batman and the Joker – dressed in full array – joined forces Wednesday to fight the Gotham City Council as lawmakers mulled whether to force the superhero and his villainous rival to wear badges revealing their secret identities.

The caped crusader and his scary, bright-lipped grinning counterpart – as well as a few street-clothes-clad Minnie Mouses and Hello Kitties – cried foul as lawmakers proposed on Wednesday to make the comic characters get a $175 license and undergo a background check before hustling for tips in Times Square.

“I might look like a clown, but I’m speaking from the heart,” said the Joker, aka Keith Albahae, to Gotham City Council members Wednesday, according to the New York Post. “I do this from my heart and not for tips. OK, I do ask for tips. And many people are glad to give them, but this is about the First Amendment and this is about discrimination.”

“This straight up seems like fascism,” the supervillain said, without a trace of irony.

But the New York City Council was responding to a number of near-ominous incidents recently. In July, Spider-Man, or someone dressed like him, was hardly neighborhood-friendly when he cursed at and punched a New York City cop in front of tourists and their kids.

Elmo, too, has been busted for yelling obscenities at tip-stingy tourists this year, and even Cookie Monster was cuffed for allegedly shoving a little boy when his mom wouldn’t tip after snapping a pic.

Dozens of popular costumed characters roam among global tourists in Times Square’s famously flashing din almost every day, but more and more of them have been surly and aggressive – or, really, kind of Joker-like – as they troll the square for tips. New York police have arrested 38 costumed characters in Times Square since 2009 – including 18 so far this year.

“[Elmo] kinda lost his mind because he felt he wasn’t properly tipped and berated a father and a son,” said Democratic Councilman Andy King, who introduced the legislation to require the street license and ID badge in September.

But the Dark Knight, aka José Escalona Martinez, testified that any restrictions would simply be un-American.

“The First Amendment is to protect us,” said Mr. Martinez (who was suspiciously not Bruce Wayne.) “The First Amendment protects the characters in the Constitution.”

Democratic Councilman Rafael Espinal, however, was not impressed.

"Batman, I just have to say I’m a little disappointed,” he told the caped crusader. “The Joker showed up earlier, and you were nowhere to be seen. He took over City Hall.”

Other city council members worried that the bill could put up unnecessary obstacles for low-income people simply struggling to get by. Others noted that the city already prohibits aggressive panhandling and suggested that the real need was for stricter enforcement of existing laws.

New York Police Department officials supported the new requirements being considered by Gotham lawmakers – though they said they also supported the superheroes scrapping for a buck.

“The administration of course recognizes that most costumed individuals are not engaging in criminal activity or intending to take advantage of unwilling tourists,” testified Ed Winsky, commanding officer of the Midtown South precinct. “They are simply trying to make a living for themselves and their families, and we respect their right to do so."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.