The Joker on the cover of Batman: The Man Who Laughs.
Art by Doug Mahnke
|First appearance||Batman #1 (Spring 1940)|
|Created by||Jerry Robinson (concept)
|Team affiliations||Injustice Gang
Club of Villains
|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, with both Kane and Robinson claiming responsibility for the Joker's design, but acknowledging 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 his 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 Caesar 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.
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 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 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 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 (1988), Joker is given a possible origin; he is portrayed as a failed comedian pressured into committing crime as the Red Hood to support his pregnant wife. Interference by Batman sees him 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. The story also features the Joker shooting and paralyzing Barbara Gordon, and torturing her father Commissioner Gordon in an attempt to prove that any man can go insane after "one bad day." The plan fails and Gordon retains his sanity. Batman offers to rehabilitate his old foe and end their rivalry. Joker refuses, but shows his appreciation by sharing a joke with Batman. Later in 1988, the "A Death in the Family" story arc sees the Joker kill the then-current Robin, Jason Todd. Jason's death has haunted Batman ever since, and at the 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.
In "Emperor Joker" (2000), a crossover story throughout Superman related 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. In this world, Joker tortures and kills Batman, only to bring him back to life and do it again every day. Superman's powerful will allows him to fight off the Joker's influence. Superman realizes that the Joker cannot erase Batman from existence, as the Joker defines himself by his opposition to the Dark Knight; and so is unable to destroy the entire universe. This breaks the Joker's control, and Mxyzptlk and the Spectre reconstruct reality. Batman is left broken from the experience and Superman has to erase Batman's memories of these events so that he can go on.
In the 2001 crossover "Joker's Last Laugh", the Joker's doctor convinces him that he is dying, believing the threat of death will rehabilitate him. Instead, the Joker plans a final crime spree, using a Joker venom to turn his fellow inmates into "Jokerized" versions of themselves. The story sees the United States declare war on the Joker, who in turn attempts to assassinate President Lex Luthor, and Harley Quinn helps restore the Jokerized villains to normal out of anger at Joker's attempts to impregnate her. Believing the chaotic events have caused Robin to be eaten by Killer Croc, Dick Grayson beats Joker to death. Batman resuscitates his foe to keep Grayson from becoming a murderer.
In their attempt to destroy Batman, Hush and the Riddler convince Batman that his childhood friend Tommy Elliott is the latest victim of the Joker. This brings Batman to the brink of murdering the Joker; the Commissioner talks Batman down by reminding him that the Joker wins if Batman becomes a killer.
Jason Todd returns to life in "Under the Hood" (2005). Angry at Batman for failing to avenge his death, he attempts to force Batman to kill the Joker. Joker finds the conflict between Batman and Todd more rewarding than Todd's death and shows no concern about his own life. At the conclusion of Infinite Crisis (2005), the Joker kills Alexander Luthor as revenge for being excluded from the Secret Society of Super Villains for being too unpredictable.
In "Batman & Son" (2006), a deranged police officer impersonating Batman shoots the Joker in the face, leaving him physically scarred and disabled. After extensive plastic surgery and physical therapy, Joker reappears in Batman #663 with a permanent Glasgow smile. The Joker develops a new variant of Joker venom, instructing Quinn to use it to kill his former henchmen and signal his spiritual rebirth. He then attempts to murder Quinn (her death being the final "punchline" of his rebirth). These events ultimately lead to the Joker's association with the Black Glove in their attempt to destroy Batman.
The 2008 story arc "Batman R.I.P." sees Joker again a patient in Arkham. 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.
Following Batman's apparent death in Final Crisis (2008), the Joker disguises himself as British journalist/detective Oberon Sexton. Grayson investigates a series of deaths of Black Glove members by the "Domino Killer". He deciphers that the causes of death followed a set routine of jokes, and deduces that Oberon is the Joker. After the Joker is arrested, he is beaten with a crowbar by the current Robin (Damian Wayne); Joker realizes this Robin is Batman's son, noting their physical resemblance. He scratches Robin with a paralyzing toxin painted onto his fingernails, and escapes to execute his attack on the Black Glove, unleashing Joker venom on an audience gathered under Professor Pyg. Guided to a climatic confrontation, Grayson and Robin are aided against Joker and the Black Glove by the return of Batman, and the Joker is captured.
The New 52
After a skirmish with Batman, the Joker is caught and taken to Arkham Asylum. There, the Joker has the villain Dollmaker cut his face off and then escapes. The Joker remained absent from comics for a year, until the 2012 story arc "Death of the Family" where he recovers his preserved face from the GCPD and crudely reattaches it with straps. Joker replicates his earliest encounters with Batman with modifications that prevent Batman from stopping them. When confronted by Batman, the Joker proclaims that he intends to destroy his and Batman's new lives by killing Quinn and Batman's supporting family so that he and Batman can go back to the way they were, and be "the best hero and villain they can be".
Powers and abilities
The Joker commits crimes with weaponized comic props 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. 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. Some writers have shown Joker to be a very skilled fighter, capable of holding his own against Batman. 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.
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, Scarecrow uses his fear gas to see what Joker is afraid of, but it has no effect. 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", and states that he will only stop hurting and killing people when Batman is dead.
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 to his "normal" self.
The character is sometimes portrayed as having a fourth wall awareness. 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!" 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 is nearly suicidal due to boredom. Jack becomes obsessed with Batman after he breaks up one of his crimes. When Jack kills Bruce Wayne's girlfriend, 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 antidepressant chemicals alters his appearance, completing his transformation into the Joker.
The Brave and the Bold issue #31 uses this origin. While assisting in an operation on Joker's brain, the Atom sees the flashes of his life as Jack committing various brutal crimes; savagely beating a bully, burning his parents alive after they find him killing pets, 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 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 had 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 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, thus resulting in a seemingly never-ending battle between him and the Joker.
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 recently 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."
The character appears in several alternate universe titles in which the character's history, circumstances and behavior vary from the mainstream setting.
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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