|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). As the archenemy of the superhero Batman, the Joker has subsequently appeared in television programs, films, games, and on a variety of merchandise. 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.
Throughout his comic book appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a highly intelligent, master criminal. Originally introduced as a psychopath with a warped, 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 returning 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. Throughout the Joker's long history, there have been several different origin tales, but the most common has falling into a tank of chemical waste, which bleaches his skin white and turns his hair green and his lips bright red. He has been repeatedly analyzed by critics as the perfect adversary for Batman; their long, dynamic relationship often parallels the concept of yin and yang.
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. TV Guide included Cesar Romero's interpretation of the character in a 2013 list of the "60 nastiest villains of all time".
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 See also
- 6 References
- 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 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. 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 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.
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. 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. However, by issue #13, the first signs of a 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 person cheque, 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. The rise of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s saw excessive comic violence banned, and resulted in the Joker's transformation into a goofy, thieving trickster, with none of the homicidal menace featured in his earlier incarnation. 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. The use of the character lessened somewhat by the mid-sixties, when Julius Schwartz took over editorship of the Batman comics in 1964, and the character remained largely absent throughout the decade. This version of the character was adapted into the 1966 television series Batman. The campy show's popularity saw Schwartz instructed to keep the comics of a similar tone, but once the series had ended in 1968, Schwartz was free to begin reversing the trend. The Silver Age introduced defining character traits like the use of acid-squirting flowers, trick guns, and the committing of goofy, elaborate crimes.
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 retcons, DC continuity cites Batman #85 as the earliest documented meeting of the Earth-One character. 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 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.
In 1975, the Joker became the star of his own comic series The Joker which followed the villain as he faced off with other supervillains and superheroes, with the first issue being written by O'Neil. 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 the series lasted only 9 issues.
Writer Steve Englehart and penciler Marshall Rogers, in an acclaimed eight-issue 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 their 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. 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 dwindled until the release of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, which helped usher in an era of darker storytelling by reimagining Batman as an older, retired hero, and the Joker as a bulkier, muscular villain who is catatonic without his foe. The late 1980s saw the Joker have a large impact on Batman and his supporting cast. The 1988-89 story arc "A Death in the Family" had the Joker murder Batman's sidekick Jason Todd, an action decided by readers who voted via phone for Todd's fate. 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. 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. These stories helped redefine the Joker for DC's Modern Age after the company wide reboot following Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In 1999, the Joker was given a romantic interest 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. 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.
In Batman #1 (1940), 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. 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. 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.
The 1980s saw the Joker target Batman's family, including shooting and paralysing then-Batgirl Barbara Gordon, torturing her father Commissioner Gordon, and beating then-Robin Jason Todd to death. Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) explores a possible origin for the Joker, 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 his skin 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". Batman offers to rehabilitate his old foe and end their rivalry. Joker refuses, but shows his appreciation by sharing a joke with Batman. Todd's death is detailed in the 1988 story "A Death in the Family". Todd's death haunted Batman, and for the first time made him consider killing the Joker.
During the 1999 "No Man's Land" storyline, the Joker murders Commissioner Gordon's second wife, Sarah as she shields a group of infants. The Joker is shown frowning in the aftermath of the murder. He taunts 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 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, Mxyzptlk and the Spectre to defeat him. Batman is left broken by his experience and Superman erases Batman's memories so that he can go on. "Joker's Last Laugh" (2001) sees the Joker convinced of his own impending death in an attempt to shock rehabilitate him. Instead the Joker, flanked by an army of "Jokerized" supervillains, launches his final crime spree. Believing that Robin has been killed in the chaos, Dick Grayson beats Joker to death. Batman resuscitates his foe to keep Grayson from becoming a murderer.
"Under the Hood" (2005) resurrects Todd who attempts to force Batman to avenge his death by killing the Joker. 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 considered Joker too unpredictable. The Joker is left physically scarred and disabled in "Batman & Son" (2006) when he is shot by a deranged police officer impersonating Batman. Joker returns recovered in Batman #663 and attempts to kill his henchmen and Quinn to signify his spiritual rebirth. The 2008 story arc "Batman R.I.P." sees Joker recruited into the Black Glove's plans to destroy Batman. He plays along conscious that Batman will survive their attempt. Following Batman's apparent death in "Final Crisis" (2008), Grayson investigates a series of murders which lead him to a disguised Joker. After the Joker is arrested, then-Robin Damian Wayne beats him with a crowbar; Joker realizes this Robin is Batman's son, noting their physical resemblance. Joker escapes and launches an attack on the Black Glove. Guided to a climatic confrontation, Grayson and Damian are aided against Joker and the Black Glove by the return of Batman: and the Joker is captured.
In the 2010s, DC's The New 52, a 2011 relaunch of their titles, saw the Joker has 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". The conclusion of the storyline sees the Joker fall off a cliff into a dark abyss.
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 are able to depict the final battle between an aged Batman and Joker, while others portray the aftermath of the Joker's death at the hands of superheroes, 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.
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 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.
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. The Joker is renowned as Batman's greatest enemy. 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."
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.
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 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. 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.
Knightfall (1993) sees the supervillain Scarecrow use his fear gas to expose Joker's fears but it has no effect on him. In Morrison's JLA, the Martian Manhunter uses his telepathic powers to reorganize the Joker's mind and create momentary sanity. 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 with mood stabilizers and antipsychotics in a prison hospital, after being critically wounded by Onomatopoeia. During a relatively civil conversation with Batman, he expresses regret for the loss that motivated Batman to fight against preventable death, but informs the Dark Knight "I don't hate you 'cause I'm crazy. I'm crazy 'cause I hate you". He then states that he will only stop hurting and killing people when Batman is dead. In Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #145, the Joker becomes sane when Batman put him in one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits after being shot, a reversal of the insanity which comes after experiencing such rejuvenation. However, the sanity is only temporary, and soon the Joker is reverted to his "normal" self.
Skills and equipment
The Joker has no inherent superhuman abilities. Instead, he commits crimes with a variety of weaponized comic props such as a deck of bladed playing cards, a flower in his lapel that alternately sprays corrosive acid, poisonous gas, or simply water, cyanide-stuffed pies, exploding cigars filled with nitroglycerin, harpoon guns which shoots a flag saying "BANG!", but then, with another pull of the trigger, the flag fires and impales its target, and a lethally electric joy buzzer. His most prominent weapon is his Joker venom, a poison that infects his victims with a ghoulish rictus grin and uncontrollable laughing fits that lead to paralysis, coma, or death. Joker venom 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. The Joker has been shown kidnapping a computer genius, and admitting that he does not know much about computers, although later writers have portrayed him as very computer literate.
Joker's skills in unarmed combat vary considerably depending on the writer. In his initial appearances he is portrayed as an equal to Batman, nearly besting him. 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, portray Joker as physically frail to the point that he can be defeated with a single punch. He is, however, consistently described as agile.
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!" The first origin account, Detective Comics #168 (February 1951), shows the Joker had once been the criminal Red Hood. In the story, he is a chemical engineer looking to steal from the company that employs him. After committing the theft he is thwarted by Batman and 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. To support his pregnant wife, he agrees to help two criminals in a crime that goes wrong and sees him leap into a chemical vat when confronted by Batman. When he surfaces in a nearby reservoir and removes the hood, the chemicals are shown to have given him bleached chalk-white skin, ruby-red lips, and bright green hair. Coupled with the earlier accidental death of his wife and unborn child, the engineer goes insane and becomes the Joker. This version of events is cited in Batman: The Man Who Laughs when Batman performs chemical tests on the Red Hood's mask recovered from 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.
In the story "Pushback" (Batman: Gotham Knights #50-55), Riddler 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. "Payback" 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 different origin, suggesting that 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 has his fateful first meeting with Batman, resulting in his disfigurement. It is implied that Joker remains sane, and pretends to be insane in order to evade the death penalty. Unfortunately, the written report found explaining this theory is discovered to have been written by Dr. Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, 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 named Jack, who has grown bored with his work. Jack becomes obsessed with Batman after the Dark Knight breaks up one of his crimes, and embarks upon a brutal crime wave to get his attention. When Jack wounds Bruce Wayne's girlfriend during a robbery, an enraged Batman scars his face with a batarang, resulting in a permanent grin. Jack escapes and Batman gives Jack's information 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 into the Joker.
In The Brave and the Bold issue #31, the Atom assists in an operation on the Joker's brain, and sees the flashes of the villain committing various brutal crimes before his disfigurement: savagely beating a bully, burning his parents alive after they find him killing pets, and joining a gang and needlessly murdering a shopkeeper.
Although many Joker origins conform to the notion of his physical transformation being the result of chemical bleaching, some portrayals suggest that his red lips are purely the result of wearing lipstick. Others have inconsistently depicted the Joker's trademark smile as resulting from some form of additional disfigurement. Most comic portrayals, however, default to depicting the Joker as unscarred and fully capable of not smiling, should the mood take him.
The Joker is considered one of the most iconic and recognizable fictional characters in pop culture, arguably of similarly renown to his nemesis Batman. 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 2013, Complex and WhatCulture both named Joker the greatest comic book villain of all time.
TV Guide included Caesar Romero's interpretation of the character in a 2013 list of the "60 nastiest villains of all time". The character has inspired theme park attractions like The Joker's Jinx rollercoaster in Maryland, and appeared as a character in story-based rides like Batman Adventure – The Ride and The Dark Knight Coaster.
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, and video games. 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 and show retained the darker tone of 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 go on to voice Joker in spin off movies like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), video games, and related series like Superman: The Animated Series (1996) and Justice League (2001). 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 would return 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. The 2009 animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold's Joker was voiced by Jeff Bennett.
Hamill reprised his role as the Joker in the critically acclaimed 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum and its equally acclaimed 2011 sequel Batman: Arkham City. 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. The Joker returned to animation in a variety of 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 adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.
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