|First appearance||Batman #1 (Spring 1940)|
|Notable aliases||Red Hood|
The Joker is a fictional character, a comic book supervillain appearing in publications by DC Comics. The character was created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and first appeared in Batman #1 (Spring 1940). The credit for creating the character is disputed, as both Kane and Robinson claimed responsibility for the Joker's design, but acknowledged Finger's writing contribution. Intended to be killed off during his initial appearance, the Joker was spared by editorial intervention, allowing the character to endure as the archenemy of the superhero Batman.
Throughout his comic book appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a highly intelligent, master criminal. Originally introduced as a psychopath with a warped and sadistic sense of humor, the character became a goofy prankster in the late 1950s in response to the regulation of the Comics Code Authority, before being returned to his darker roots in the early 1970s. As Batman's nemesis, Joker has been a part of many of the defining stories of that character, including the paralysis of Batman's ally Batgirl, and the murder of Jason Todd, Batman's ward and the second Robin. The Joker has been given a variety of origin stories throughout his seven decades in publication, but the most common has him falling into a tank of chemical waste, which bleaches his skin white, turns his hair green and his lips bright red, with the resulting disfigurement driving him insane. Presented as the complete antithesis to Batman's character, the Joker has been repeatedly analyzed by critics as the perfect adversary for the superhero.
One of the most iconic and recognized characters in popular culture, the Joker has been repeatedly identified as one of, if not the greatest comic book villain, and one of the most popular fictional characters. The Joker's prevalence has seen him adapted into a variety of merchandise, such as clothing and collectable items, real-world structures such as theme park attractions, and references in an array of media.
The Joker has appeared as an adversary for Batman across a wide spectrum of media in both live-action and animated incarnations, including the 1960s Batman television series where he is portrayed by Cesar Romero, and in film by Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989), and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008), for which Ledger posthumously earned the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Mark Hamill, Brent Spiner and Michael Emerson, among many others, have voiced the character in animation.
- 1 Publication history
- 2 Fictional character biography
- 3 Characterization
- 4 Cultural impact
- 5 References
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane are generally considered to be responsible for creating the Joker, but much like his arch-enemy Batman, the character's origins are disputed, with each man providing their own version of his conception and their role therein. Accepted elements of the characters inspiration include a photo of actor Conrad Veidt portraying Gwynplaine—a man with a disfigured face giving him a perpetual smile—in The Man Who Laughs (1928) seen by Finger, and a Joker playing card provided by Robinson. Individually, Finger would state that he also found inspiration from an image he saw at Steeplechase Park on Coney Island, and Robinson cited a sketch he had made in 1940 as the source of the Joker's design. Although Kane adamantly refused to share credit over many of his characters and would refuse to credit Robinson's involvement up until Kane's death, many comic historians credit give credit to Robinson as the Joker's creator, with development by Finger. In a 1994 interview, Kane said:
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 however credits himself, Finger and Kane for playing a role in the Joker's creation. Robinson 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 received credit for the story in a college course. 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.
Robinson was only 17 years old when he was hired as an assistant by Kane in 1939. Kane had noticed Robinson wearing a white jacket decorated with his own illustrations. Starting as a letterer and background inker, Robinson quickly became the primary artist on the newly created Batman comic book series. In a 1984 interview on creating the Joker, Robinson said that he wanted a supreme arch-villain who could test Batman, but was not another typical crime lord or gangster designed to be easily disposed. Robinson wanted a character who was more exotic and enduring, to serve as a continuing source of conflict for Batman in the vein of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, and thus designed a diabolically sinister but clownish villain. Robinson found villains more interesting characters and his studies at Columbia University had taught him that some characters are built on their contradictions which led him to give the Joker a sense of humor. Robinson said that the name came first, followed by the image of the playing card from a deck he often had at hand. He said "I wanted somebody visually exciting. I wanted somebody that would make an indelible impression, would be bizarre, would be memorable like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or any other villains that had unique physical characters." Robinson told Finger of his concept by phone, before later providing sketches of the character accompanied by images of what would become his iconic Joker playing card design. Finger thought the concept was not yet complete, providing the aforementioned image of Conrad Veidt bearing a ghastly, permanent rictus grin. An interview from the same time period saw Kane dispute Robinson's story, but because Finger had given credit to Robinson, historians generally accept Robinson's version of events. By 2011, Robinson, Finger, and Kane had died, leaving the complete story unresolved.
The Joker debuted in Batman #1 (1940) as Batman's first villain, a handful of months after Batman's own debut in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). The Joker's initial appearance depicted him as a remorseless serial killer with a mirthless grin, and an appearance modelled after a Joker playing card, who killed his victims with "Joker Venom"—a toxin that left their faces stretched with a smile. The character was to be killed in his second appearance in Batman #1 after being stabbed in the heart. Finger wanted the Joker to die, as he was concerned that allowing recurring villains would make Batman appear inept, but he was overruled by then-editor Whitney Ellsworth who suggested that the character be spared. A hastily-drawn panel, demonstrating that the Joker was still alive, was subsequently added to the comic. The Joker went on to appear in nine of Batman's first twelve issues.
The Joker's frequent appearances quickly defined him as the archenemy of the dynamic duo Batman and Robin, with his murderous persona continuing to claim lives and even derail a train. By issue #13, Kane's work on the Batman syndicated newspaper strip left him little time for the comic book, leaving artist Dick Sprang to take over his duties, and editor Jack Schiff to collaborate on stories with Finger. It was during this era that the first signs of change in the Joker began to appear, with the character kidnapping and ransoming Robin, only to be thwarted when the ransom is paid with a personal check, preventing him from claiming his money without being arrested. Around the same time, DC Comics had found it was easier to market their stories to kids without the darker elements that had originated the characters. The 1942 cover of Detective Comics #69, known as "Double Guns" (as it depicts the Joker emerging from a genie lamp, wielding two guns at Batman and Robin) is considered one of the greatest superhero comic covers of the Golden Age. Ironically, this was the only image to show the character using traditional guns. Robinson said that other common villains of the time used guns, and the creative team wanted the Joker to be more resourceful, in order to be a worthy adversary for Batman.
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. In 1951, Finger wrote an origin story for the Joker in Detective Comics #168 which introduced the concept of him formerly being the criminal Red Hood, and his disfigurement being the result of falling into a chemical vat.
By 1954, the Comics Code Authority had been enacted in response to growing public backlash to the content of various comics instigated by Frederic Wertham, who hypothesized that mass media—particularly comic books—was responsible for the rise in youth delinquency, encouraging violence and homosexuality, generally in young males. Parents banned their children from reading the books and in some cases mass burnings of comics took place. The Comics Code banned gore, innuendo and excessive violence, stripping Batman of his menace, and transformed the Joker into a goofy, thieving trickster, with none of the homicidal tendencies featured in his original incarnation. The use of the character lessened somewhat by the mid-sixties, when Julius Schwartz—who despised the Joker—took over editorship of the Batman comics in 1964, and the character remained largely absent throughout the decade. The character risked becoming an obscure figure of the preceding era until this goofy prankster version of the character was adapted into the 1966 television series Batman, portrayed by Cesar Romero. The campy show's popularity saw—and the Romero Joker's iconic status—Schwartz instructed to keep the comics of a similar tone, but as the show's success waned so too did Batman series. Once the series had ended in 1968, the increase in public visibility had not stopped the comic books sales decline, and editorial director Carmine Infantino resolved to turn things around, moving stories away from schoolboy-friendly adventures. The Silver Age introduced several of the Joker's defining character traits like the use of acid-squirting flowers, trick guns, and the committing of goofy, elaborate crimes.
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. The story began a trend where the Joker was used more sparingly as a central character. 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." O'Neil's 1973 run introduced the concept of Joker's legally defined insanity, that resulted in the Joker being sent to Arkham Asylum (then Arkham Hospital) following its creation in 1974, instead of prison. Adams also modified the character's appearance, changing his more average body type to look taller and leaner, with an extended jaw.
The 1970s were a testbed of experimentation at DC, leading to the Joker becoming the first villain to headline as the star of his own ongoing comic book series, The Joker, in 1975. The series followed the character's interactions with other supervillains, and the first issue was written by O'Neil. Stories forged a balance between promoting the Joker's characteristic criminality and making him a likable protagonist that readers could support. He murdered thugs and random civilians, but he never fought Batman, preventing The Joker from becoming about good triumphing over evil, but a scenario where Joker's brand of villainy won out over rival expressions of the same. Because the Comics Code Authority mandated that villains receive punishment, each issue ended with the Joker apprehended; this limited the scope of stories that could be told and, combined with the series never finding an audience, The Joker was cancelled after only 9 issues, despite a "next issue" advert promoting an appearance by the Justice League.
When Jenette Kahn became DC editor in 1976, she redeveloped the company's many struggling titles, and under her tenure the Joker would become one of DC's most terrifying characters. While O'Neil and Adams work was critically acclaimed, it was writer Steve Englehart's and penciler Marshall Rogers's mere eight-issue run in Detective Comics #471-476 (August 1977-April 1978), that would define the Joker for the decades to follow. Their stories added elements deepening the severity of the Joker's insanity. In "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. Engelhart's and Roger's work on the series would go on to influence the 1989 movie Batman and be adapted for the 1990s Batman animated series. Rogers also expanded on Adams' character design, adding a fedora and trench coat to the Joker's wardrobe. Discussing his Joker, Englehart said "He was this very crazy, scary character. I really wanted to get back to the idea of Batman fighting insane murderers at 3 a.m. under the full moon, as the clouds scuttled by."
Years after the end of the 1966 television series, sales of Batman continued to dwindle and teetered on the edge of cancellation. While the 1970s had restored the Joker as an insane and lethal foe to Batman, it was in the 1980s that the Batman series started to turn around and the Joker was allowed to come into his own as part of the "Dark Age" of comics, an era of mature tales depicting death and destruction. The move was derided for moving away from the tamer superheroes and villains, but comic audiences were no longer largely children. Only a few months after Crisis on Infinite Earths launched the era by rebooting DC Comics characters, killing off Silver Age icons like the Flash and Supergirl and undoing decades of continuity, Frank Miller's prestige format The Dark Knight Returns (1986), reimagined Batman as an older, retired hero, and the Joker as a lipstick-wearing celebrity who is catatonic without his foe. The late 1980s saw the Joker have a large impact on Batman and his supporting cast. In the 1988-89 story arc "A Death in the Family", the Joker murdered Batman's sidekick, the second Robin (Jason Todd). Fans had never accepted Todd, and rather than modify his character, DC opted to let them vote on his fate at the Joker's hands; a 28 vote margin saw the Joker beat Todd to death with a crowbar. The story altered the Batman universe, Joker was no longer a killer of anonymous bystanders, he was responsible for the death of a character core to the Batman fiction, which had a lasting effect on future stories. Written at the height of tensions between the United States and Iran, the conclusion of the story featured real-life Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini making the Joker the nation's ambassador to the United Nations allowing him to temporarily escape justice.
The 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland expanded on the Joker's origins, defining the character as a failed comedian who donned the Red Hood identity to help support his pregnant wife. Unlike The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke took place within mainstream continuity. The story is cited as one of the greatest Joker stories ever written, and had a significant influence on later comic stories, including the forced retirement of then-Batgirl Barbara Gordon following her paralysis at Joker's hands, and films like Batman (1989) and The Dark Knight (2008). Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989) explores the psychoses of the Joker, Batman and his other rogues while trapped in the eponymous facility.
The 1992 animated series introduced a female sidekick for the Joker in the form of Harley Quinn, a psychologist who falls for—and ends up in an abusive relationship with—the Joker, becoming his supervillain accomplice. The character proved so popular that in 1999, she was adapted into the comics as the Joker's romantic interest. Following the 2011 reboot of DC Comics' story continuity, the Joker appeared in his first major storyline "Death of the Family" (2012) by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, which explores the dependent relationship between Joker and Batman, and causes a separation between Batman and his adopted family.
Fictional character biography
The character of Joker has undergone many revisions over his seven decades in publication. The generally accepted and consistent aspect of the character is that while disguised as the criminal Red Hood, he fell into a vat of chemicals while being pursued by Batman, and that these chemicals bleached his skin white, dyed his hair green and his lips ruby red, driving him insane. The context for wearing the Red Hood costume and who he was before his chemical bath have changed over time.
The Joker is introduced in Batman #1 (1940), in which he publicly announces that he will kill three of Gotham's prominent citizens, including the mayor, Henry Claridge. The police provide protection for Claridge but the Joker had poisoned him before making his announcement, and Claridge dies stricken with a perpetual grin on his face. The Joker attempts to poison Robin with the same deadly Joker Venom, but Batman defeats Joker and sends him to prison. From his debut, the Joker has committed crimes both whimsical and brutal, all with a logic and reasoning that, in Batman's words, "make sense to him alone." Detective Comics #168 (1951) introduced the Joker's earliest origin story, casting him as the Red Hood, a criminal who, during his final heist, vanished after leaping into a vat of chemicals to escape Batman. The resulting disfigurement led him to take the name Joker from the playing card he now resembled. The Joker's Silver Age transformation into a figure of fun was established in 1952's "The Joker's Millions", in which the Joker is obsessed with maintaining the illusion of wealth and celebrity status as a criminal folk hero, afraid to let Gotham's citizens know that he is penniless and was tricked out of his fortune. The 1970s redefined the character as a murderous psychopath. "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" follows the Joker taking violent revenge on the former gang members who betrayed him, and "The Laughing Fish" sees Joker chemically add his visage to Gotham's fish in hopes of profiting from the copyright, and killing bureaucrats who deny his copyright request.
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) built upon the character's 1951 origin story, portraying him as a failed comedian pressured into committing crime as the Red Hood to support his pregnant wife. Batman's interference causes him to leap into a chemical vat that disfigures him and, combined with the trauma of his wife's earlier accidental death, the man goes insane, creating the Joker. He remarks that this story may not be true, preferring his past to be "multiple choice". In this graphic novel, the Joker shoots and paralyses Barbara Gordon and tortures her father, Commissioner Gordon, to prove that it only takes one bad day to turn any sane man into a psychopath. After Batman rescues Gordon and subdues the Joker, he offers to rehabilitate his old foe and end their rivalry. Joker refuses, but shows his appreciation by sharing a joke with Batman. The Joker's maiming of Barbara arguably turned her into a more important character in the DC Universe as Oracle, a data gatherer and superhero informant; she eventually takes her revenge in Birds of Prey by shattering Joker's teeth, destroying his smile. In the 1988 story "A Death in the Family", the Joker beats Jason Todd with a crowbar and leaves him to die in an explosion. Todd's death haunts Batman, and for the first time he seriously considers killing the Joker. The Joker temporarily escapes justice when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini makes him the UN ambassador to Iran, granting him diplomatic immunity. When he attempts to poison the members of the United Nations, he is finally brought down by Batman and Superman.
During the 1999 "No Man's Land" storyline, the Joker murders Commissioner Gordon's second wife, Sarah as she shields a group of infants. He proceeds 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 realizes that the Commissioner has avenged Barbara's paralysis. The story also introduced the Joker's girlfriend Harley Quinn.
The 2000s launched with the crossover story "Emperor Joker", in which the Joker steals Mister Mxyzptlk's reality-altering power and remaking the universe in his own image. Joker tortures and kills Batman daily before resurrecting him. The Joker attempts to destroy the universe but is unwilling to erase Batman from existence, causing him to lose control and allow Superman to defeat him. Batman is left broken by his experience and Superman erases Batman's memories so that he can go on. In "Joker's Last Laugh" (2001), doctors at Arkham Asylum convince the Joker that he is dying in an attempt to rehabilitate him. Instead the Joker, flanked by an army of "Jokerized" supervillains, launches his final crime spree. Although Batman revives his foe to keep Grayson from being a murderer, the Joker's actions succeeded in making a member of the Bat-family break their rule against killing.
"Under the Hood" (2005) resurrects Todd, who attempts to force Batman to avenge his death by killing the Joker. For his part, the Joker finds the conflict between the pair more rewarding than Todd's death. The Joker kills Alexander Luthor in Infinite Crisis (2005) for excluding him from the Secret Society of Super Villains, who consider him too unpredictable. In Morrison's "Batman & Son" (2006), a deranged police officer impersonating Batman shoots the Joker in the face, leaving him scarred and disabled. Joker returns in "The Clown at Midnight" (2007) as a cruel and unknowable force who awakens from his post-injury catatonia and tries to kill Harley Quinn to prove to Batman that he had become more than human. In the 2008 story arc "Batman R.I.P.", the Joker is recruited into the Black Glove group's plans to destroy Batman; he ultimately betrays the group, killing its members one by one. Following Batman's apparent death in "Final Crisis" (2008), Grayson investigates a series of murders which lead him to a disguised Joker. The Joker is arrested, and then-Robin Damian Wayne beats him with a crowbar, paralleling Todd's murder. After Joker escapes, he launches an attack on the Black Glove, defeating and burying its leader Simon Hurt alive, after the Joker deems him a failure as a new opponent. The Joker is then himself defeated by the recently returned Batman.
In the 2010s, DC's The New 52, a 2011 relaunch of their titles, sees the Joker have his own face cut off. He disappears for a year, returning to launch an attack on Batman's entire extended family in "Death of the Family" so that he and Batman can be "the best hero and villain they can be". At the conclusion of the storyline, the Joker falls off a cliff into a dark abyss.
Though many have been related, a definitive back-story has never been established for the Joker. Portrayed as an unreliable narrator, the character is unsure of who he was before, and how he became the Joker, stating 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!" The earliest origin appeared in Detective Comics #168 (February 1951), nearly a decade after the character's debut. In that story, the Joker is depicted as a lab worker who becomes the masked criminal the Red Hood to steal $1 million from his employers and then retire. He falls into a vat of chemical waste after his heist is thwarted by Batman, emerging with bleached white skin, red lips, green hair and a persistent grin.
This origin served as the basis for the most widely cited origin tale, Moore's The Killing Joke. In the story, the Joker has a pregnant wife, and quits his job to become a stand-up comedian, only to fail miserably. He agrees to help mobsters commit a robbery for money, and is forced to wear the Red Hood for his part. The heist goes wrong and the comedian leaps into a chemical vat to escape Batman, later resurfacing with the familiar disfigurement. This misfortune, coupled with the earlier accidental death of his wife and unborn child, drives the comedian insane, and he becomes the Joker. This version of events has been referenced in many stories since, including: Batman: The Man Who Laughs when Batman deduces that Red Hood survived his fall and became the Joker; Batman #450 when Joker dons the Red Hood costume to aid his recovery after the events of A Death in the Family only to find the experience too traumatic; and "Death of the Family". Other stories have expanded on this origin: "Pushback" reveals that the Joker's wife was murdered by a corrupt cop working for the mobsters, and "Payback" identifies Joker's real name as "Jack".
The story, however, is far from definitive and the Joker's unreliable memory has allowed writers to develop many alternate origins for the character. The Paul Dini-Alex Ross story "Case Study" portrays the Joker as a sadistic gangster who creates the Red Hood identity for himself in order to continue experiencing the thrill of performing small-time crimes. Eventually, he has his fateful first meeting with Batman, resulting in his disfigurement. This story implies that Joker is sane, and feigns insanity to avoid the death penalty. In Batman Confidential (#7-12), the character is a gifted criminal named Jack who has grown bored with his work. He encounters and becomes obsessed with Batman during a heist, and embarks on a crime spree to draw Batman's attention. A vengeful Batman scars Jack's face, giving him a permanent grin, after Jack wounds Batman's girlfriend. Batman then betrays Jack to mobsters, who torture Jack in a chemical plant. Jack escapes, but falls into an empty vat as wild gunfire punctures the chemical tanks above him, and the resultant flood of chemicals used in anti-psychotic medication alters his appearance, completing his transformation. In The Brave and the Bold #31, the superhero Atom sees the villain's memories of burning his own parents alive after they find him killing pets, and Snyder's "Zero Year" (2013) shows the pre-disfigurement Joker as a criminal mastermind.
The Joker himself has claimed all manner of origins, including being the child of an abusive father who broke his nose, and the long-lived jester of an Egyptian pharaoh. As Batman says: "Like any other comedian, he uses whatever material will work".
A multitude of alternate universes exist in DC Comics' publications that have allowed writers to introduce variations on the Joker where the character's origins, behavior, and morality differ from the mainstream setting. Titles like The Dark Knight Returns depict the final battle between an aged Batman and Joker, while others portray the aftermath of the Joker's death at the hands of various characters, including Superman. Others still portray distant futures where the latest incarnation of the Joker is a hero attempting to take down that era's tyrannical Batman, or where the Joker exists as a computer virus. In some stories the Joker is someone else entirely, such as "Flashpoint" in which Batman's mother Martha Wayne becomes the Joker in response to her son's murder, or Superman: Speeding Bullets in which Lex Luthor becomes the Joker in a world where Superman becomes Batman.
Renowned as Batman's greatest enemy, the Joker is known by many monikers, including the Clown Prince of Crime, the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves, and the Jester of Genocide. 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 an extreme psychopath possessing genius intelligence and 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. The Joker is typically depicted in a purple suit with a long-tailed, padded-shoulder jacket, string tie, a pair of gloves, striped pants, and spats covering pointed-toe shoes. This outfit is sometimes accompanied by a wide-brimmed hat. This look is such a fundamental aspect of the character that, when the 2004 animated series The Batman costumed the Joker in a straitjacket, it quickly redesigned him to feature his familiar suit.
The Joker is obsessed with Batman, the two representing a yin-yang of opposing dark and light force, although it is the Joker who represents humor and colour and Batman who dwells in the dark. Murder, theft, and terrorism, no crime is beyond the Joker, and for him his exploits are a theatrical performance that are funny to the Joker alone. While the Joker claims to not care about anything, he secretly craves Batman's attention and validation. The Joker is described as having killed over 2,000 individuals in The Joker: Devil's Advocate (1996). Despite having murdered enough people to get the death penalty thousands of times over, he is always found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to Arkham Asylum. Many of the Joker's acts aim to cause his, or any death at Batman's hands, in an attempt to prove that if the most orderly and self-controlled of humans can commit murder, then all people are capable of becoming monsters like the Joker. The Joker displays no sense of self-preservation, and is willing to die to prove his point.
The Joker's main characteristic is his apparent insanity, although he is not described as fitting any particular psychological disorder. He displays a lack of conscience and empathy, and no concern over right and wrong demonstrating extreme psychopathy. In A Serious House on Serious Earth, Joker is described as only being capable of processing sensory information from the outside world by simply adapting to it, causing him to create a new personality every day depending on what would benefit him most, explaining why he is sometimes a mischievous clown and at others a psychopathic killer. The Killing Joke, in which Joker serves as an unreliable narrator, depicts the root of his insanity as having "one bad day", in this case losing his wife and unborn child, and being disfigured by chemicals, although he is unsure if this is what really happened. He tries and fails to prove that anyone can become like him after one bad day, by psychologically and physically torturing Commissioner Gordon. Batman offers to rehabilitate his foe, but the Joker apologizes that he cannot accept the offer, believing it is too late for him to be saved. Other interpretations show him as fully aware of how his actions affect others and his insanity is merely an act. Comics scholar Peter Coogan describes the Joker as trying to reshape reality to fit himself by imposing his visage on his victims, and even fish, in an attempt to make the world comprehensible by creating a twisted parody of himself. Englehart's "The Laughing Fish" shows the characters illogical nature, attempting to copyright fish that bear his face, and not understanding why threatening the copyright clerk cannot produce the desired result.
The Joker is alternatively depicted as a sexual and asexual being. In The Dark Knight Returns and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Joker openly flirts with Batman, leaving open to interpretation whether their relationship contains homoerotic undertones, or if Joker is simply attempting to manipulate his nemesis. Frank Miller interpreted the character as fixated on death and not interested in a sexual relationship, while Robinson believes that Joker is capable of having a girlfriend. His abusive romantic relationship with Harley Quinn is the subject of debate. Although Joker keeps her at his side, he frequently causes her physical harm, even throwing her out of a window without checking to see if she survived afterwards. While Harley is in love with (and presumably sexually attracted to) him, the Joker does not return her feelings, chiding her for distracting him from other plans.
Snyder's "Death of the Family" presents the Joker as being in love with Batman, though not in a traditional romantic way. The Joker believes he makes Batman better, and that Batman loves him for it, justifying why Batman has not killed him. The Joker and Batman represent complete opposites: the extroverted Joker wearing colorful garb and embraces chaos, while the introverted Batman wears monochrome colors and represents order and discipline. The Joker is often represented as defining his existence by his conflict with Batman. In "Going Sane" (1994), Joker attempts to lead a normal life following Batman's apparent death, only to instantly become the Joker again when Batman reappears, and in "Emperor Joker", an omnipotent Joker attempts to erase Batman from existence, but is unable to do so without undoing himself. Much like the Joker wears no mask and simply is the Joker, he believes Batman is Batman with or without the costume, and repeatedly ignores attempts to learn his true identity as he has no interest in what lies behind Batman's mask. Similarly, when given the opportunity to kill Batman, Joker opts not to, believing that without their game, winning is pointless. The Joker has no desire for typical criminal goals like money or power, and his acts are designed only to continue his game with Batman.
Knightfall (1993) sees the supervillain Scarecrow use his fear gas to expose Joker's fears but it has no effect on him. The Joker has sometimes been temporarily rendered sane through different means, such as telepathic manipulation, or through the use of a life-restoring Lazarus Pit—an experience that typically induces insanity in the subject. In these moments the Joker is depicted as expressing remorse for his acts. However, during a medically-induced period of sanity in Batman: Cacophony, the Joker tells Batman: "I don't hate you 'cause I'm crazy. I'm crazy 'cause I hate you", before confirming that he will only stop killing people when Batman is dead.
Skills and equipment
The Joker has no inherent superhuman abilities. Instead, he commits crimes with a variety of weaponized thematic props such as a deck of razor-tipped playing cards, rolling marbles, Jacks-in-the-box that contain unpleasant surprises, and exploding cigars capable of detonating with enough force to level a building. The flower in his lapel sprays potent acid, and his hand often contains a lethal joy buzzer that emits a million volts of electricity. It is his chemical genius however that provides his most notable weapon, Joker Venom, a toxin delivered in liquid or gaseous forms that sends its targets into fits of uncontrollable laughter, while more potent doses can lead to paralysis, coma, or death, and leaves the victim with a ghoulish and pained rictus grin. The Joker has employed venom since his debut, and only he knows the formula. He is shown to be gifted enough with chemistry to produce the toxin from typical household chemicals. Another version of the venom used in "Joker's Last Laugh", transforms the victims' appearance to resemble the Joker, and makes them susceptible to his orders. The Joker is immune to most poisons as well as venom; in Batman #663 (2007), 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's arsenal is inspired by his nemesis' own thematic weaponry like batarangs. In "The Joker's Utility Belt" (1952), he replicated Batman's utility belt, stocked with particularly non-lethal items like Mexican jumping beans and sneezing powder. Furthering his imitation of Batman's gear, in 1942's "The Joker Follows Suit", the Joker built the antitheses of Batman's Batplane and Batmobile: the Jokergyro and Jokermobile, the latter decorated with an oversized Joker face on its hood. He also created a Joker signal that criminals could use to summon him for their heists. The Jokermobile lasted for several decades, going through variations alongside the Batmobile. His technical genius is not limited by practicality, allowing him to hijack Gotham's television airwaves to issue threats, transform buildings into deathtraps, launch a gas attack on the city, or rain down poisoned glass shards on its citizens from an airship.
Joker is portrayed as physically skilled in melee combat. From his initial appearances where he equals Batman, defeating him in a swordfight and nearly killing him, and others where he completely overwhelms Batman but chooses not to kill him. He is also talented with firearms, although even his guns are theatrical-his long-barreled revolver often releases a flag bearing the onomatopoeiac message "Bang", with a second pull of the trigger launching the flag like a harpoon, skewering the target. Although he is a formidable fighter, Joker's best asset is his mind.
His unpredictable, homicidal nature makes him one of the most feared supervillains in the DC Universe; in the 2005 mini-series Underworld Unleashed, the Trickster remarks, "When super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories." All of Gotham's villains feel threatened by the Joker, and depending on the circumstances he is as likely to fight with his rivals for control of the city, as he is to team up with them for more entertaining outcomes. The Joker often interacts with the many supervillains that oppose the Batman, whether he is on the city streets or an inmate of Arkham Asylum. He has teamed up with criminals like the Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face—partnerships that rarely end well due to incompatibilities with Joker's desire for unbridled chaos—or used his stature to lead others like Killer Croc and the Scarecrow. The Joker's greatest rival however is the smartest man in the world, Lex Luthor. The pair first enjoyed a friendly partnership in 1950's World's Finest Comics #88, although later unions emphasised their mutual hostility, each often clashing over their egos.
Despite this—and his tendency to kill his subordinates on a whim—the Joker has no difficulty employing henchmen with his seemingly infinite cash supply, and they are too afraid of their employer to refuse his requests for them to wear red clown noses or to laugh at the Joker's jokes. Even with his unpredictability and lack of superhuman powers, the 2007 limited series Salvation Run sees hundreds of villains fall under the character's command because they are more afraid of him than the alternative; Luthor. Batman #186 (1966) introduced the Joker's first sidekick, a one-shot character named Gaggy Gagsworth who was short and dressed like a clown, that was later resurrected as an enemy to his replacement, Harley Quinn. First introduced in the 1992 animated series, Quinn is the Joker's former Arkham psychiatrist who develops an obsessive infatuation with him, and dons a red-and-black Harlequin costume to join his criminal life in the 1999 graphic novel Batman: Harley Quinn. While Quinn is hopelessly in love with the Joker, the Joker is only obsessed with Batman, and uses Quinn to further his goals at her expense. Even at the hands of violent abuse, Quinn returns to the Joker's side. The Joker is sometimes shown to keep hyenas as pets; this trait was introduced in the 1977 animated series The New Adventures of Batman.
Although his primary obsession is the Batman, the Joker has occasionally ventured outside of Gotham City to fight some of Batman's superhero allies. In "To Laugh and Die in Metropolis" (1987), the Joker kidnaps Lois Lane while distracting Superman with a nuclear weapon. The story was notable for the way in which Joker upped his game to combat a relative god, and the equally relative ease in which Superman defeated him—it took only 17 pages. When asked why he came to Metropolis, the Joker merely responds "Oh Superman, why not?" In 1995 completed his tour of the three major DC heroes with Wonder Woman, who drew on the Greek god of trickery to best the Joker's humor and shatter his confidence.
The Joker is considered one of the most iconic and recognizable fictional characters in pop culture, arguably of similar renown to his nemesis Batman, and is considered not only one of the best comic villains, but as one of the greatest villains ever. The character has been the focus of ethical analysis questioning whether or not it is morally wrong for Batman, who adheres to an unbreakable rule forbidding killing, to save countless lives by murdering the Joker, a relentless dealer of death. Such debates focus on the positives of stopping the Joker's often homicidal plans permanently, versus the effects such an act would have on Batman's character, and the potential for him to begin simply killing all criminals.
In 2006, the Joker was listed at number 1 on Wizard magazine's 100 Greatest Villains of All Time. In 2008, Wizard's list of the 200 Greatest Comic Book Characters of All Time placed Joker at number 5, and at number 8 on Empire's list of the 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters (the highest ranked villain on both lists). In 2009, Joker ranked at number 2 on IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains. In 2011, Wired named him Comics' Greatest Supervillain. In 2013, Complex, CollegeHumor, and WhatCulture named Joker the greatest comic book villain of all time, and IGN listed him as the top DC Comics villain. Others named him the decade's top villain, and the greatest Batman villain.
The Joker's popularity and his role as Batman's enemy has resulted in the character being involved in most Batman related media from television to video games. The character has gained a positive reception as a figure of film and television, and much like the comics, the character's personality and appearance shift, presenting him as campy, ferocious or unstable depending on the author and intended audience. TV Guide included Caesar Romero's interpretation of the character in a 2013 list of the "60 nastiest villains of all time", he was listed at number 45 on the villains list as part of the American Film Institute's 100 Heroes & Villains. His portrayal in The Dark Knight positioned him at number 3 on Empire magazine's list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters. In 2013, Digital Spy placed the Joker at number 1 on its list of the 25 Greatest Movie Villains, and Complex ranked him number 2 on its list of the 50 Best Villains in Movie History. In 2014, Total Film's named the character as the greatest movie villain ever on its The 100 Greatest Movie Villains list, outranking cinematic icons like Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter. Additionally, Entertainment Weekly named the character the fifth-greatest of the last 20 years, Time named him as one of the 10 Best Movie Supervillains, and Xfinity listed Joker as the greatest movie villain of all time. The Joker's video game incarnations have also received acknowledgment, with the Batman: Arkham series' version being named the twenty-second best video game villain by GamesRadar in 2014.
The character has inspired theme park attractions like The Joker's Jinx and The Joker rollercoasters in, respectively, Maryland and Mexico City, and appeared as a character in story-based rides like Batman Adventure – The Ride and The Dark Knight Coaster. The Jokermobile was a popular toy; a Corgi die-cast metal replica saw success in the 1950s while in the 1970s, a Joker-styled, Flower power-era Volkswagen microbus was released by Mego.
In other media
The Joker has appeared in various media aside from comic books, including television series and several films in both animated and live-action forms. The earliest adaptation of the character was in the 1966 television series Batman where he is portrayed as a cackling prankster by Cesar Romero, reflecting the character's contemporary comic counterpart. In the following years, the character made a variety of appearances in animated form including 1968's The Adventures of Batman (voiced by Larry Storch), 1977's The New Adventures of Batman (voiced by Lennie Weinrib), and 1985's The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (voiced by Frank Welker). The darker version of the Joker made his big screen debut in 1989's Batman portrayed by Jack Nicholson. The film went on to earn over $400 million at the worldwide box office. The role was considered to overshadow Batman's own, and would become a defining performance in Nicholson's filmography. The film's success lead to 1992's television series Batman: The Animated Series. Voiced by actor Mark Hamill, the Joker retained the darker tone of his portrayal in the comics with stories acceptable for young children. Hamill's Joker is considered one of the defining portrayals of the character and in the following years he would voice the character in spin off movies like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), video games such as Batman: Vengeance (2001), and related series like Superman: The Animated Series (1996), Static Shock (2000), and Justice League (2001), as well as action figures, toys, and amusement park voice overs. A heavily redesigned Joker (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) appeared in 2004's The Batman. Richardson was the first African-American to portray the character.
Following the successful 2005 Batman film reboot Batman Begins directed by Christopher Nolan, that ended with a teaser for the Joker's involvement in a sequel, the character returned to the big screen in 2008's The Dark Knight, where he is portrayed by Heath Ledger as an avatar of anarchy and chaos. While Batman Begins took a worldwide total of $370 million, The Dark Knight went on to earn over $1 billion, becoming the highest grossing film of that year, and setting several records at the time including highest grossing midnight opening, opening day, and opening weekend. Ledger posthumously won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, the first time any superhero film had won an Academy Award for acting. From the late 2010s, the Joker featured in a variety of animated projects such as 2009's Batman: The Brave and the Bold (voiced by Jeff Bennett), 2011's Young Justice (voiced by Brent Spiner), and comic book story adaptations including Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) where he is voiced by John DiMaggio. In 2012, actor Michael Emerson provided the character's voice in the two-part animated adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.
The Joker has also been featured in several video games. Hamill returned to voice the character in the critically acclaimed 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, its equally acclaimed 2011 sequel Batman: Arkham City and the multiplayer game DC Universe Online. After two decades portraying the character, Hamill retired from the role following Arkham City, and was replaced by voice actor Troy Baker in the 2013 sequel Batman: Arkham Origins. Richard Epcar voiced the Joker in the fighting game Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (2008), and would reprise the role in the 2013 follow-up Injustice: Gods Among Us. The character has also appeared in Lego Batman: The Videogame (2008), and Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (2012) and its animated adaptation (voiced in both by Christopher Corey Smith).
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