The Joker on the cover of Batman: The Man Who Laughs.
Art by Doug Mahnke
Publication information Publisher DC Comics First appearance Batman #1 (Spring 1940) Created by Jerry Robinson (concept)
In-story information Team affiliations Injustice Gang
Club of Villains
Notable aliases Red Hood
The Joker is a fictional character, a comic book supervillain published by DC Comics. He is the archenemy of Batman, having been directly responsible for numerous tragedies in Batman's life, including the paralysis of Barbara Gordon and the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. Created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, the character first appeared in Batman #1 (Spring 1940).
Throughout his comic book appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a master criminal whose characterization has varied. The original and currently dominant image is of a highly intelligent psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor, while other writers have portrayed him as an eccentric prankster. Similarly, throughout the character's long history, there have been several different origin tales; they most commonly depict him as falling into a tank of chemical waste, which bleaches his skin white and turns his hair green and his lips bright red, giving him the appearance of a clown. He has been repeatedly analyzed by critics as the perfect villain to Batman, their long, dynamic relationship often parallels the 'Yin and Yang' concept.
The Joker has been portrayed by Cesar Romero in the Batman television series, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman, and Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, which posthumously earned Ledger the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Larry Storch, Frank Welker, Mark Hamill, Kevin Michael Richardson, Jeff Bennett, Corey Burton and John DiMaggio have provided the voice for the character in animated form.
As one of the most iconic and recognized villains in popular media, The Joker was ranked #1 on Wizard's list of the 100 Greatest Villains of All Time. He was also named #2 on IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time List, was ranked #8 on the Greatest Comic Book Characters in History list by Empire (being the highest ranking villain on the list) and was listed as the fifth Greatest Comic Book Character Ever in Wizard Magazine's 200 Greatest Comic Book Characters of all Time list, also the highest villain on the list. On their list of the 100 Greatest Fictional Characters, Fandomania.com ranked the Joker at number 30.
The credit for creation of the Joker is disputed. Kane responded in a 1994 interview to claims that Jerry Robinson created the concept of the character:
“ Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo. [...] Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, 'Here's the Joker'. Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it, but he'll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card. ”
Robinson has countered that he created the Joker to be Batman's larger-than-life nemesis when extra stories needed to be written quickly for Batman #1, and that he even received credit for the story in a college course. Regarding the character's similarity with Conrad Veidt, Robinson said:
“ In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker, Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was the first mention of it...He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine. Bill finished that first script from my outline of the persona and what should happen in the first story. He wrote the script of that, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals, so Bob was also. ”
In his initial dozen or so appearances, starting with Batman #1 (1940), the Joker was a straightforward homicidal maniac, with a bizarre appearance modeled after the Joker playing card. He was slated to be killed in his second appearance right after he escaped from prison, but editor Whitney Ellsworth suggested that the character be spared. A hastily drawn panel, demonstrating that the Joker was still alive, was subsequently added to the comic. In the next issue he is in the hospital recovering, but is broken out by a criminal gang. For the next several appearances, the Joker often escaped capture but suffered an apparent death (falling off a cliff, being caught in a burning building, etc.), from which his body was not recovered.
From the Joker's first appearance in Batman #1, he has committed crimes both whimsical and brutal, all with a logic and reasoning that, in Batman's words, "make sense to him alone." In his first appearance, the character leaves his victims with post-mortem smiles on their faces, a modus operandi that has been carried on throughout the decades with the concept of the character.
In Batman #1, he challenges Gotham's underworld and police department by announcing over the radio that he will kill three of Gotham's most prominent citizens at certain times. Batman and Robin investigate the crimes and find the victims' bodies stricken with a perpetual grin upon their faces. The Joker traps Robin and is prepared to murder him with the same deadly Joker venom, but Batman rescues Robin and the Joker goes to prison. (This story is retold in the 2005 graphic novel Batman: The Man Who Laughs.)
The Joker was one of the few popular villains who continued making regular appearances in Batman comics from the Golden Age into the Silver Age as Batman comics continued publication through the rise of mystery and romance comics. With the rise of the Comics Code Authority, the Silver Age Joker was characterized as a goofy prankster, with none of the homicidal menace featured in earlier incarnations. The use of the character lessened somewhat by the mid-sixties, when Julius Schwartz took over editorship of the Batman comics in 1964.
The Joker’s actual first appearance as an Earth-One character is a matter of interpretation, as there has never been an actual distinction between when the Golden Age Earth-Two Joker ceased making regular published appearances and when the Silver Age Joker was introduced. Due to retcon, DC continuity cites Batman #85 as the earliest documented meeting of the Earth-One character. Detective Comics #168 introduced the origin of what is now considered the Earth-One Joker. Batman #97 (Feb 1956) and World's Finest Comics #88 (May 1957) are the first comic book appearances of the Joker in what we now consider the Silver Age of Comics.
In June 1985, after the intertitle Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity was put into effect, the Multiverse continuity was discontinued. Earth-One and all of its denizens, including the Joker, were merged into the restructured Post-Crisis continuity commonly known as New Earth.
Bronze Age revision by O'Neil and Adams
In 1973, after a four year disappearance the character was revived and profoundly revised in Batman stories by writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams. Beginning in Batman #251, with "The Joker's Five Way Revenge", the Joker returns to his roots as a homicidal maniac who murders people on a whim, while enjoying battles of wits with Batman. O'Neil said his idea was "simply to take it back to where it started. I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. I tried to get a sense of what Kane and Finger were after." Writer Steve Englehart and penciler Marshall Rogers, in an acclaimed run in Detective Comics #471-476 (Aug. 1977 - April 1978), which went on to influence the 1989 movie Batman and be adapted for the 1990s animated series, added elements deepening the severity of the Joker's insanity. In the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers story "The Laughing Fish", the Joker is brazen enough to disfigure fish with a rictus grin, then expects to be granted a federal trademark on them, only to start killing bureaucrats who try to explain that obtaining such a claim on a natural resource is legally impossible.
The Joker had his own nine-issue series during the 1970s in which he faces off against a variety of both superheroes and supervillains. Although he was the protagonist of the series, certain issues feature just as much murder as those wherein he was the antagonist; of the nine issues, he commits murder in seven. This interpretation of the character continues with the 1988-89 A Death in the Family storyline and the The Killing Joke graphic novel in 1988, redefining the character for DC's Modern Age after the company wide reboot following Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (who, unknown to him, was then known as Batgirl and in later comics as Oracle), rendering her a paraplegic. He then kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and taunts him with enlarged photographs of his wounded daughter being undressed, in an attempt to prove that any normal man can go insane after having "one bad day." The Joker ridicules him as an example of "the average man," a naïve weakling doomed to insanity. Batman saves Commissioner Gordon, and sees that the Joker's plan failed; although traumatized, Gordon retains his sanity and moral code, urging Batman to apprehend the Joker "by the book" in order to "show him that our way works." After a brief struggle, Batman tries one final time to reach his old foe, offering to rehabilitate him. The Joker ultimately refuses, but shows his appreciation by sharing a joke with Batman, provoking an uncharacteristic laugh.
The Joker murders Jason Todd, the second Robin, in the story A Death in the Family. Jason discovers that a woman who may be his birth mother is being blackmailed by the Joker. She betrays her son to the Joker to keep from having her medical supply thefts exposed, and the Joker savagely beats Jason with a crowbar. The Joker locks Jason and his mother in the warehouse where the assault took place and blows it up just as Batman arrives. Readers could vote on whether they wanted Jason Todd to survive the blast. They voted for him to die, hence Batman finds Jason's lifeless body. Jason's death has haunted Batman ever since, and has intensified his obsession with his archenemy.
In the (non-continuity) one-shot comic Mad Love, Arkham Asylum psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel ponders whether the Joker may in fact be faking insanity so as to avoid the death penalty. As she tries to treat the Joker, he recounts a tale of an abusive father and runaway mother to gain her sympathy. She falls hopelessly in love with him and allows him to escape Arkham several times before she is eventually exposed. Driven over the edge with obsession, she becomes Harley Quinn, the Joker's sidekick/girlfriend.
During the events of the "No Man's Land" storyline, the Joker murders Sarah Essen Gordon, Commissioner Gordon's second wife, during a confrontation over kidnapped infants. The Joker is shown frowning in the aftermath of the murder. He surrenders to Batman but continues to taunt Gordon, provoking the Commissioner to shoot him in the kneecap. The Joker laments that he may never walk again, and then collapses with laughter as he "gets the joke" that Gordon has just avenged his daughter's paralysis. While in transit back to Arkham, however, he takes control of the helicopter transporting him, and flies off to Qurac, where he becomes part of the government and helps to speed the country's decline into war with its neighbors. He is subsequently sent to New York as the country's ambassador, in which position he then threatens to use a neutron bomb to kill everyone in Manhattan if the United Nations doesn't withdraw its forces. Power Girl and Black Canary of the Birds of Prey capture him, however, and Barbara Gordon tricks him into telling them how to stop the attack, after which the Joker is sent to 'the Slab' "with the rest of the supercreeps."
In "Emperor Joker", a multi-part story throughout the Superman titles, the Joker steals Mister Mxyzptlk's reality-altering power, remaking the entire world into a twisted caricature, with everyone in it stuck in a loop. The Joker entertains himself with various forms of murder, such as killing Lex Luthor over and over and devouring the entire population of China. The conflict focuses on the fate of Batman in this world, with the Joker torturing and killing his adversary every day, only to bring him back to life and do it over and over again. Superman's powerful will allows him to fight off the Joker's influence enough to make contact with the weakened Mxyzptlk, who along with a less-powerful Spectre, encourages Superman to work out the Joker's weakness before reality is destroyed by the Joker's misuse of Mxyzptlk's power. As time runs out, Superman realizes that the Joker still cannot erase Batman from existence, as the Joker totally defines himself by his opposition to the Dark Knight; by this logic, the Joker would be incapable of destroying the entire universe, since he is incapable of doing so to Batman. This breaks the Joker's control, and Mxyzptlk and the Spectre manage to reconstruct reality from the moment the Joker disrupted everything, but Batman is left broken from experiencing multiple deaths. Superman has to erase Batman's memories of these events so that he can go on.
In a company-wide crossover, "Last Laugh", the Joker believes himself to be dying and plans one last historic crime spree, infecting the inmates of The Slab, a prison for super criminals, with Joker venom to escape. With plans to infect the entire world, he manipulates the super-powered inmates to allow a jailbreak, and sets them loose to cause mass chaos in their "Jokerized" forms. The Joker is not cheered as, using the example of vandalized Easter Island statues, he does not believe that the altered inmates are being appropriately funny. The entire United States declares war on the Joker under the orders of President Lex Luthor; in response, Joker sends his minions to kill the President. Black Canary discovers that Joker's doctor modified his CAT scan to make it appear that he had a fatal tumor in an attempt to subdue him with the threat of death. Harley Quinn, angry at the Joker's attempt to make her pregnant without marrying her, helps the heroes create an antidote to the Joker poison and return the super villains to their normal state. Believing Robin had been eaten by Killer Croc in the ensuing madness, Nightwing eventually catches up with the Joker and beats him nearly to death. To keep Nightwing from having blood on his hands, Batman resuscitates the Joker.
In their attempt to destroy Batman, Hush and the Riddler convince and manipulate several other villains to help. Part of this includes fooling Bruce that his childhood friend Tommy Elliott is the latest victim of the Joker. This brings Batman to the brink of murdering the Joker; he is only stopped when former GCPD commissioner Jim Gordon talks him down by reminding him that by killing the Joker, Batman would become just another killer, and Jim refuses to let the Joker ruin Batman's life like that.
In the "Under The Hood" arc (Batman #635-650), Jason Todd returns to life. Angry at Batman for failing to avenge his death, he takes over his killer's old Red Hood identity, abducts the Joker and attempts to force Batman to shoot him. Even though the Clown Prince of Crime is surprised that Todd is alive, the resulted antagonism between the former Dynamic Duo is even more rewarding to the villain than the Boy Wonder's death and apparently does not care whether he would die or not.
In Batman #655, a deranged police officer impersonating Batman shoots the Joker in the face, leaving him physically scarred and disabled. After having undergone extensive plastic surgery and physical therapy, the Joker reappears in Batman #663 with a drastic new appearance, now permanently fixed with a Glasgow smile. While in intensive care at Arkham, the Joker develops a new, more lethal variant of Joker Venom, instructing Harley Quinn to use it to kill his former henchmen to signal his spiritual "rebirth". He then goes on a rampage through Arkham, attempting to murder Harley (her death being the final "punchline" of his rebirth) before being stopped by Batman. These events ultimately lead to the Joker's association with the Black Glove in their attempt to destroy Batman.
The 2007-2008 miniseries Salvation Run depicts the Joker as leading one of two factions of supervillains who have been exiled from Earth to a distant prison planet. In issue six of the series, Joker engages Lex Luthor in an all-out brawl for power. Just as he gains the upper hand, however, the planet is invaded by Parademons; The Joker helps fight off the invasion and later escapes along with the rest of the surviving villains via a teleportation machine.
After returning to Earth, Joker is yet again a patient in Arkham Asylum. Batman visits him to ask him if he knows anything about the Black Glove, but Joker only responds by dealing a Dead man's hand. During routine therapy, Joker is met by a spy for the Club of Villains who offers him a chance to join them in their crusade against Batman. He participates in their action, considering it a farce all along (knowing Batman will survive their attempts, which he spitefully reveals to them just when they think their plan has come to fruition) and casually murdering some Black Glove members before escaping in an ambulance, only to be driven off the road by Damian, Batman´s son.
During the events of the "Last Rites" story arc, the Joker is mentioned and shown several times in Batman's past experiences as his history is explored. He is also shown entering the funeral service for Batman in Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to The Caped Crusader?" story.
The Joker remained unseen or heard from since the end of "Batman R.I.P." In his absence, Dick Grayson took up the mantle of Batman in the wake of Bruce Wayne's disappearance at the hands of Darkseid in Final Crisis. A British journalist/detective named Oberon Sexton appeared in Gotham City in the early issues of Batman and Robin, with the nickname "the Gravedigger." At the time of Sexton's appearance, a murderer known as the "Domino Killer" also appeared, killing members of the Black Glove systematically. The new Batman confronts Sexton about his connection to the killings, deciphering that the manner in which the men were killed followed a set routine of jokes. Sexton then takes off his mask to reveal himself to be the Joker, having been operating as Sexton the entire time.
After the Joker is arrested once more, he appears to underestimate the current Robin (Damian Wayne) by trying to win the Boy Wonder's pity. He receives a beating with a crowbar (mirroring Jason Todd's murder) from Robin, who he realizes is a son of his old foe after noting the resemblance between the child and the original Batman. The officers at GCPD ignore the Joker's pleas for help after they conclude that Robin can handle the villain easily.
However, the Joker's apparent helplessness is yet another ruse. Feigning injuries from Robin's assault, he scratches Robin with a paralyzing toxin painted onto his fingernails, going on to reveal that he has once again manipulated events toward his own ends and mocking Robin for going so far as to provide his own crowbar (another reference to the murder of Jason Todd). Appropriating Robin's utility belt, the Joker escapes to execute his attack on the Black Glove, unleashing his signature venom on an audience gathered under Professor Pyg (via tainted popcorn) and guiding Batman and his allies to a climactic confrontation. The Joker is seen in an undisclosed location, with Robin bound and gagged, and possessing what appears to be a nuclear weapon. Help arrives in the form of the original Batman (who just returned after the events of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne), who aids his successor and his son in their battle against the Black Glove and the Clown Prince of Crime in Wayne Manor and the Batcave. The second Batman pursues and captures the Joker, while the original Dark Knight, Robin, and Alfred Pennyworth disarm the Clown Prince of Crime's weapon and defeat the remaining Black Glove members.
In Arkham Asylum, the Joker was bound in a straightjacket and muzzle, while been taking by corrections officers with a psychologist for answers, but they were being infected with Joker venom by an accidental touch of his skin. The Joker then was freed and escaped from Arkham Asylum. Batman learns the Joker apparently attacks Commissioner Gordon's wife with Joker venom. Batman manhunts and locates the Joker's hideout to battle him. After the Joker is defeated, Batman warns him to leave Gordon's family alone, but the Joker reveals that he did not attack Commissioner Gordon's wife, the attacker was James Gordon, Jr. himself.
The Joker is reintroduced as a homicidal killer being hunted by Gotham's police force in Detective Comics. His appearance in the relaunched DC universe has changed relatively little. After a skirmish with Batman, the Joker is caught and taken to Arkham Asylum. Dollmaker, a new villain, visits Joker. The two speak for a short time about their arranged meeting before the Dollmaker cuts the Joker's face off.
Powers, abilities and equipment
The Joker commits crimes with comedic weapons such as a deck of bladed playing cards, an acid-squirting flower, cyanide-stuffed pies, exploding cigars filled with nitroglycerin, harpoon guns that utilize razor-sharp BANG!-flags, and a lethally electric joy buzzer. His most prominent weapon is his Joker venom, a deadly poison that infects his victims with a ghoulish rictus grin as they die while laughing uncontrollably. The venom comes in many forms, from gas to darts to liquid poison, and has been his primary calling card from his first appearance. The Joker is immune to every known venom as well as to his own laughing toxin; in Batman #663, Morrison writes that "being an avid consumer of his products, the Joker's immunity to poisons has been built up over years of dedicated abuse".
The Joker is portrayed as highly intelligent and skilled in the fields of chemistry and engineering, as well an expert with explosives. From his first appearance onward, he has been consistently portrayed as capable of hijacking broadcasts- usually news programs- of both the television and radio varieties. In a miniseries featuring Tim Drake, the third Robin, the Joker is shown kidnapping a computer genius, and admitting that he doesn't know much about computers, although later writers have portrayed him as very computer literate.
The Joker's skills in unarmed combat vary considerably depending on the writer. Some writers have shown Joker to be a very skilled fighter, capable of holding his own against Batman in hand-to-hand combat. His versatility in combat is due in part to his own extensive array of hidden gadgets and weapons on his person that he often pulls out on a moment's whim (rolling a handful of explosive marbles on the ground, retractable knives attached to his spats, etc.); other writers, on the other hand, prefer portraying Joker as physically frail to the point that he can be defeated with a single punch. He is, however, consistently described as agile. Joker's skills in combat also differ in the film and television adaptations.
The Joker has cheated death numerous times, even in seemingly inescapable and lethal situations. He has been seen caught in explosions, been shot repeatedly, dropped from lethal heights, electrocuted, and so on, but he always returns once again to wreak havoc.
Over several decades there have been a variety of depictions and possibilities regarding the Joker's apparent insanity. Grant Morrison's graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth suggests that the Joker's mental state is in fact a previously unprecedented form of "super-sanity," a form of ultra-sensory perception. It also suggests that he has no true personality of his own, that on any given day he can be a harmless clown or a vicious killer, depending on which would benefit him the most. Later, during the Knightfall saga, after Scarecrow and the Joker team up and kidnap the mayor of Gotham City, Scarecrow turns on the Joker and uses his fear gas to see what Joker is afraid of. To Scarecrow's surprise, the gas has no effect on Joker, who in turn beats him with a chair. In Morrison's JLA, the Martian Manhunter, trapped in a surreal maze created by the Joker, used his shape-shifting abilities to reconfigure his own brain to emulate the Joker's chaotic thought patterns. Later in the same storyline, Martian Manhunter uses his telepathic powers to reorganize the Joker's mind and create momentary sanity, albeit with great effort and only temporarily. In those few moments, the Joker expresses regret for his many crimes and pleads for a chance at redemption. However, during Batman: Cacophony, the Joker is again rendered sane when he is dosed up on painkillers after being fatally wounded by Onomatopoeia, and, during a subsequent conversation with Batman, although expressing regret for the loss that motivated Batman to never allow people to die if he could help it, informs the Dark Knight that he does not hate Batman because he is crazy, but is crazy because he hates him, stating that he will only 'retire' when Batman is dead.
In Elseworlds: Distant Fires, the Joker is rendered sane by a nuclear war that deprives all super beings of their powers. In Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #145, the Joker became sane when Batman put him in one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits after being shot, a reversal of the insanity which may come after experiencing such rejuvenation. However, the sanity is only temporary, and soon the Joker is reverted back to his "normal" self.
The character is sometimes portrayed as having a fourth wall awareness. In Batman: The Animated Series, the Joker is the only character to talk directly into the "camera" and can be heard whistling his own theme music in the episode adaptation of the comic Mad Love. Also, in the episode "Joker's Wild", he says into the camera, "Don't try this at home, kids!" In the DC vs. Marvel crossover, he also demonstrates knowledge of the first Batman/Spider-Man crossover even though that story's events did not occur in the canonical history of either the Marvel or DC universe. On page five of "Sign of the Joker", the second half of the "Laughing Fish" storyline, the Joker turns the page for the reader, bowing and tipping his hat in mock politeness.
Though many have been related, a definitive back-story has never been established for the Joker in the comics, and his real name has never been confirmed. He himself is confused as to what actually happened; as he says in The Killing Joke, "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha!" In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, written by Grant Morrison, it is said that the Joker may not be insane, but has some sort of "super-sanity" in which he re-creates himself each day to cope with the chaotic flow of modern urban life.
The first origin account, Detective Comics #168 (February 1951), revealed that the Joker had once been a criminal known as the Red Hood. In the story, he is a chemical engineer looking to steal from the company that employs him and adopts the persona of Red Hood. After committing the theft, which Batman thwarts, he falls into a vat of chemical waste. He emerges with bleached white skin, red lips, green hair and a persistent grin.
The most widely cited backstory, which the official DC Comics publication, Who's Who in the DC Universe credits as the most widely supported account, is featured in The Killing Joke. It depicts him as originally being an engineer at a chemical plant who quits his job to become a stand-up comedian, only to fail miserably. Desperate to support his pregnant wife Jeannie, he agrees to help two criminals break into the plant where he was formerly employed to get to the card company next door. In this version of the story, the Red Hood persona is given to the inside man of every job (thus it is never the same man twice); this makes the man appear to be the ringleader, allowing the two criminals to escape. During the planning, police contact him and inform him that his wife and unborn child have died in a household accident.
Stricken with grief, he attempts to back out of the plan, but the criminals strong-arm him into keeping his promise. As soon as they enter the plant, however, they are immediately caught by security and a shoot-out ensues, in which the two criminals are killed. As the engineer tries to escape, he is confronted by Batman, who is investigating the disturbance. Terrified, the engineer leaps over a rail and plummets into a pound lock of chemicals. When he surfaces in the nearby reservoir, he removes the hood and sees his reflection: bleached chalk-white skin, ruby-red lips, and bright green hair. These events, coupled with his other misfortunes that day, drive the engineer completely insane, resulting in the birth of the Joker. This origin is supported in Batman: The Man Who Laughs when Batman performs chemical tests on the Red Hood he recovered from the chemical plant during his first investigation into the Joker. Joker's Red Hood identity is further confirmed in Batman #450 when Joker finds an old Red Hood costume he kept and puts it on to help his recovery after the events of A Death in the Family.
The story "Pushback" (Batman: Gotham Knights #50-55) supports part of this version of the Joker's origin story. In it, a witness (who coincidentally turns out to be Edward Nigma) recounts that the Joker's wife was kidnapped and murdered by a corrupt cop working for the criminals in order to force the engineer into performing the crime. The Joker attempts to find the corrupt cop who committed the murder, but is beaten badly by Hush and expelled from Gotham before this takes place. "Payback" also shows pictures of the pre-disfigurement Joker — identified as "Jack" — with his wife, giving further support to this version.
The Paul Dini-Alex Ross story "Case Study" proposes a far different theory. This story suggests that the Joker was a sadistic gangster who worked his way up Gotham's criminal food chain until he was the leader of a powerful mob. Still seeking the thrills that dirty work allowed, he created the Red Hood identity for himself so that he could commit small-time crimes. Eventually, he had his fateful first meeting with Batman, resulting in his disfigurement. However, the story suggests that the Joker remained sane, and researched his crimes to look like the work of a sick mind in order to pursue his vendetta against Batman, able to evade permanent incarceration via insanity defense. Unfortunately, the written report found explaining this theory is discovered to have been written by Dr. Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, the Joker's insane sidekick/lover, which invalidates any credibility it could have in court.
The second arc of Batman Confidential (#7-12) re-imagines the Joker as a gifted criminal and abandons the Red Hood identity, also called Jack, who is nearly suicidal due to boredom with his "job". He talks to a waitress, Harleen Quinzel, who convinces him to find something to live for. Jack becomes obsessed with Batman after he breaks up one of his jobs, leading Jack to attract Batman's attention at a ball. Jack injures Lorna Shore (whom Bruce Wayne is dating), leading Batman to disfigure his face with a batarang. Jack escapes and Batman gives Jack's information to mobsters, who torture Jack in a chemical plant. Jack kills several of his assailants after escaping, but falls into an empty vat as wild gunfire punctures the chemical tanks above him, and the resultant flood of antidepressant chemicals alters his appearance to that of a clown, completing his transformation into the Joker.
The Brave and the Bold issue #31, penned by J. Michael Straczynski, builds on this origin for the Joker. In it, Atom assists in an operation on the Joker's brain. While inside the Joker's head, he sees the flashes of his life as "Jack", before his fateful first encounter with Batman. As a child, Jack savagely beats a bully; as a teen, he locks his parents in their house and sets it on fire after they find him killing neighborhood pets. Jack eventually joins a gang and needlessly kills a shopowner, causing his allies to potentially be charged with the murder, and kills a gang member who scolds him for the murder. His career as the Joker begins soon afterward, including one panel alluding to the film The Dark Knight.
Although all comic appearances of the Joker set in the mainstream DC Universe conform to the notion of Joker's skin and hair being permanently altered by the chemicals, some portrayals have suggested that his red lips however are purely the result of wearing lipstick. Additionally, some writers and artists have inconsistently depicted the Joker's iconically large smile as resulting from some form of additional disfigurement (in a similar manner as his cinematic counterparts), which in some cases is explained by conflicting versions of his origins, while in others remains unacknowledged. Most comic portrayals over the decades, however, default to depicting the Joker as unscarred and fully capable of not smiling, should the mood take him.
The Joker has been referred to as the Clown Prince of Crime (or Chaos), the Harlequin of Hate (Havoc), and the Ace of Knaves. Throughout the evolution of the DC Universe, interpretations and incarnations of the Joker have taken two forms. The original and currently dominant image is of a highly intelligent psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor. The other interpretation of the character, popular in the late 1940s through 1960s comic books as well as the 1960s television series, is that of an eccentric but harmless prankster and thief. Batman: The Animated Series blended these two aspects, although most interpretations tend to embrace one characterization or the other.
The Joker's victims have included men, women, children, and even his own henchmen and other villains. In the graphic novel The Joker: Devil's Advocate, the Joker is reported to have killed well over 2,000 people. Despite having murdered enough people to get the death penalty thousands of times over, he is always found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the Batman story line "War Crimes", this continued ruling of insanity is in fact made possible by the Joker's own dream team of lawyers. He is then placed in Arkham Asylum, from which he appears able to escape at will, going so far as to claim that it is just a resting ground in between his "performances".
Batman has been given numerous opportunities to put the Joker down once and for all, but has relented at the last minute. As an example, in one story line, Batman threatens to kill the Joker, but stops himself upon realizing that such an act would make him "a killer like yourself!" Conversely, the Joker has given up many chances to kill the Batman because the Joker defines himself by his struggle with his archnemesis. However, after a man dressed as Batman shot the Joker, Joker became enraged at the fact that his old enemy tried to end his life. Additionally, in a confrontation with a resurrected Jason Todd, Batman admits that he often fantasizes about killing the Joker, but that he will not allow himself the pleasure because he knows that there would be no turning back.
The Joker is renowned as Batman's greatest enemy. While other villains rely on tried-and-true methods to commit crimes (such as Mr. Freeze's freeze gun or Poison Ivy's toxic plants), Joker has a variety of weapons at his disposal. For example, the flower he wears in his lapel sprays (at any given time) highly corrosive acid, poisonous gas, or soda water. In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and much earlier in "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker!" (Batman #321), or more recent in Detective Comics 866 (June 2010), the Joker has a gun which at first shoots a flag saying "BANG!", but then, with another pull of the trigger, the flag fires and impales its target (in the edited version of Return of the Joker, the gun shoots Joker gas). His most recurring weapons are a high-voltage hand-buzzer, which he uses to electrocute his victims with a handshake, as well as his iconic Joker venom, which will either cause a victim to become paralyzed, comatose, or even die, depending on the strength of the particular batch. What all versions share however, is that the effects are always preceded by hysterical fits of laughter, as well as a frozen grin. His unpredictable, homicidal nature makes him one of the most feared supervillains in the DC Universe; in the Villains United and Infinite Crisis mini-series, the members of the villains' Secret Society refuse to induct the Joker for this reason. In the mini-series Underworld Unleashed, the Trickster remarks, "When super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories."
Another version of the Joker appeared in the DC Comics imprint Tangent Comics, a line set in on an alternate earth. The heroes have the same names (The Flash, Batman, etc.), but their histories and powers are vastly different. This Earth is now listed as Earth-9. The Joker of this Earth is a female hero who uses her array of jokes and comical devices to mock the tyrant Superman's authority. This Joker is actually three women: a student named Mary Marvel, an entrepreneur named Christie Xanadu, and a reporter, Lori Lemaris. Mary is eventually captured by the evil Superman and tortured into giving up the names of the other two before she is killed. Lemaris is sent to prison, but Christina's fate is left unknown. Later, Lemaris is re-offered the mantle of the Joker in order to take down Superman, but refused as there was too much pain associated with the costume, and instead chooses to take up that of her fallen comrade, Manhunter.
Planetary/Batman presents the Joker as a field agent for Planetary working under Richard Grayson named Jasper. He's apparently harmless and has a habit of giggling when he's nervous. Elijah Snow mentions not liking the way Jasper "kept hugging himself" when looking at pictures of homicides.
The one heroic version of the Joker from an alternate Earth is called the Jokester. He appears as a hero battling Owlman, a villainous version of Batman. He is killed by the rogue Monitor Solomon, who had also killed his daughter Duela Dent, beforehand.
The Joker of the new Earth-2 is depicted as an old man, frail and wheelchair-bound after a lifetime of exposure to deadly chemicals, and ironically unable to laugh without hurting himself. After disfiguring Huntress' boyfriend, Harry Simms, in an attempt to create a replacement for the deceased Two-Face, he is tracked down by the vengeful heroine. The Joker attempts to kill Huntress with a lethal joy buzzer, but the attack is intercepted by the Power Girl of New Earth, and the Joker is himself electrocuted to death as a result.
Batman: Digital Justice
In the 1990 graphic novel Batman: Digital Justice created by Pepe Moreno, an artificial intelligence calling itself the "Joker Virus" takes over a futuristic, technology-dependent Gotham City in the late 21st century and claims to be the reincarnation of its creator, the original Joker. Batman — in this version, the grandson of Commissioner James Gordon — stops the virus with help from another A.I.: the Batcomputer, as programmed by the long-dead Bruce Wayne.
Joker Graphic Novel
Another graphic novel, called simply Joker focuses on the character in a more gritty, realistic version of the Batman mythos.
The Dark Knight Returns
- In the alternate future of The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker has been comatose since Batman's retirement, and regains consciousness after seeing a news story about his archnemesis' remergence, his first word upon waking up is "BATMAN!". He manipulates his psychiatrist into declaring him cured, and hires a publicist to book him on a late night talk show. He attempts to destroy the television studio, drawing Batman out into the open. He attacks Selina Kyle, apparently aware of her identity as Catwoman, and proceeds to bind and gag her in a Wonder Woman outfit. He uses special lipsticks and nail polishes in his crimes, using them to paralyze Catwoman when he confronts her. Batman follows the Joker and his crew into a carnival where Joker kills his final victims, a man and a woman trying to avoid his rampage. Batman pursues him into the Tunnel of Love where, after a long fight, he breaks Joker's neck in a fit of rage, but cannot bring himself to kill his old foe. The Joker comments that after all these years and all he's done Batman never had the "nerve" to kill him, then commits suicide by twisting his fractured neck until it breaks completely, doing so to successfully frame Batman as a murderer for his death.
- In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker apparently resurfaces from the dead as an indestructible figure who begins killing off old superheroes, even wearing recognizable suits of former heroes and villains — including Cosmic Boy and Mister Mxyzptlk. His victims include Martian Manhunter, Creeper, and the Guardian. However, it is revealed that the new Joker is actually Dick Grayson, driven insane after years of radical gene therapy by Luthor and others. When he confronts Batman, the Dark Knight states that he sacked him "For incompetence. For cowardice"; in fact he shows no sympathy for Grayson whatsoever and contemptuously organizes his death there and then. Batman and Grayson fight their final battle which ends with Batman setting off the self-destruct sequence for the Batcave and Grayson falling to his death in a pool of lava.
All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder
A slightly altered Joker makes an appearance once again in Frank Miller's non-canon series, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.
In Batman: Nosferatu, The Joker appears as The Laughing Man, a monstrous cyborg created by the experiments of the depraved Dr Arkham, who uses him as an assassin. This version of the Joker ironically ends up creating this world's Batman after an assassination attempt on Bruce Wayne's counterpart.
In Batman: Bloodstorm- a sequel to Batman & Dracula: Red Rain-, the Joker becomes the leader of a group of vampires after the death of their original leader, Dracula, pointing out their inability to think beyond their next meal in their current condition. Although he successfully coordinates their efforts to turn and take control of all of Gotham's major crime families, the now-vampire Batman- aided by were-cat Selina Kyle- is able to destroy the Joker's minions. Unfortunately, Selina is killed in the final battle with the Joker's vampires, her death leaving Batman so enraged that he finally succumbs to his lust for blood and drinks from the Joker, staking him to prevent him from coming back as a vampire but nevertheless aware that, at the last, the Joker has won by turning him into a monster as bad as Dracula and even the Clown Prince of Crime himself.
Batman: In Darkest Knight
In Batman: In Darkest Knight, the Joker appears in a handful of panels as Red Hood and never suffers the disfiguring accident that turns him into the Joker (Although Sinestro turns into a Joker equivalent when he absorbs the mind of Joe Chill while trying to learn about his new enemy). When he gets arressted, he tells Green Lantern that he's "had a really bad day".
Superman & Batman: Generations
In Superman & Batman: Generations, the Joker collaborates with Lex Luthor during a plot in the 1940s that results in a pregnant Lois Lane being exposed to gold kryptonite, thus rendering her first-born child a normal human. In the 1960s, the now-elderly Joker is able to secretly escape Arkham Asylum and pose as 'Joker Junior', claiming to be his son or protege to stop people guessing his true identity, managing to kill Dick Grayson with his last plot before his true identity is discovered (Although Bruce Junior, Bruce Wayne's son and Grayson's Robin, manages to switch costumes with his mentor to create the impression that the Joker killed Robin rather than Batman). Grayson's spirit later attacks the Joker in Superman & Batman: Generations II in an attempt to kill the Joker, but the spirit of the deceased Alfred Pennyworth convinces Grayson to pass on as the Joker can be no threat to anyone. Learning that his old enemy is about to die of old age, the now-retired Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl for an allegedly final time to visit the Joker on his deathbed, but rejects the Joker's request to learn his true identity on the grounds that the Joker is the last man he would want to bring peace to.
JLA: The Nail
In JLA: The Nail, the Joker is provided with Kryptonian gauntlets and launches an attack on Arkham Asylum, forcing most of the inmates to fight each other before brutally murdering Batgirl and Robin while forcing Batman to watch. Catwoman distracts Joker long enough for Batman to escape, but the traumatised Batman subsequently kills the Joker in a rage. During JLA: Another Nail, Batman encounters the Joker in the afterlife when dimensional anomalies allow him to escape from Hell, briefly attempting to sacrifice himself to ensure that the Joker will remain trapped, but Robin's spirit halts Batman's attempted sacrifice and gives him the strength to move on from his guilt.
Just'a Lotta Animals
In Just'a Lotta Animals, a pig analogue of the Joker called the Porker appears.
- When the Shaper of Worlds becomes mentally ill after passing through a unique field of radiation, he begins to lose control of his powers, making contact with the Joker to steal gamma ray equipment from Wayne Enterprises that could be used to treat his condition. Despite the intervention of the Hulk, the Joker manages to escape with the equipment by tricking the Hulk into fighting Batman, Batman narrowly defeating the Hulk with his knock-out gas. The stolen ray proves ineffective, but exposure to the Hulk's unique gamma radiation manages to cure the Shaper instead. As part of a deal with the Joker, the Shaper agrees to make the Joker's dreams real, but Batman and the Hulk are able to stop him, Hulk fending off the Joker's new minions while Batman tricks him into overloading his ability to dream.
- Carnage teams up with and later turns against the Joker during Spider-Man And Batman #1, the two's mutual psychoses leading them into a brief alliance before their differing methods of murder cause a clash, Carnage favoring numbers in his murder sprees while the Joker prefers the artistry of his usual traps and tricks. The Joker tries to kill Carnage with a bomb, but Carnage drapes a piece of symbiote over a corpse to fake his death. It's Batman and Spider-Man, however, who first notice the trick, and Batman is subsequently engulfed in Carnage's symbiote tendrils. Carnage—feeling the need to mimick the Joker's "theatrical" nature—proposes to kill Batman, but the Joker threatens to set off a bomb to destroy Gotham—himself and Carnage included—rather than see Carnage kill Batman. As Batman battles Carnage, Spider-Man follows the Joker—putting the "Spider-Signal" on him and threatening a brutal attack. The Joker defiantly dares Spider-Man to kill him, however, and Spider-Man is unable to stoop to his level, electing instead to apprehend the Joker in classic hero style.
- In the 1997 DC/Marvel special "Batman/Captain America", the Red Skull hires the Joker to steal an atomic bomb during World War II. Joker evades Batman, Cap, Bucky, and Robin and delivers it to the Skull, but is horrified when he learns that the Skull is a Nazi (saying "I may be a criminal lunatic but I'm an American criminal lunatic!"). When the Skull threatens to drop the bomb on Washington D.C., the Joker actually fights him in the plane's cargo bay. When Captain America and Batman take over the plane and bring it over the ocean, the two villains are dropped out with the bomb just before it explodes. Both Captain America and Batman are convinced the two are still alive somehow.
In other media
The Joker appears in several other media. He is perhaps the most well-known Batman villain and is usually portrayed as the main antagonist of the film, show, or video game he appears in.
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- Why So Serious? - The Many Faces of Joker
- The Origin of Joker at DCComics.com
- Joker on DC Database, an external wiki, a DC Comics wiki
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