Comicbook / The Joker

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The Joker by Alex Ross

The Joker is a fictional comic book character, a supervillain who appears in comic books published by DC Comics as a member of Batman's Rogues Gallery. He first appeared in Batman #1 (25 April, 1940). He was created by Bob Kane, Bill Fingers and Jerry Robinson, though credit for the Joker's creation is disputed; Kane and Robinson claimed responsibility for the Joker's design, but acknowledged Finger's writing contribution. Originally he was to die at the end of his first appearance, but the comic's editor wouldn't allow it.

The Joker is portrayed as a criminal mastermind. Originally a fairly rational psychopath with a constant grin and an occasional sadistic sense of humour, he became a goofy prankster in the The Silver Age of Comic Books, before in the 1970s becoming the terrifying mixture of whimsy and bloodthirstiness that he's mostly been ever since. As Batman's arch-nemesis, the Joker has been part of the superhero's defining stories, including the murder of Jason Todd (the second Robin and Batman's ward) and the paralysis of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. The Joker has had various possible origin stories during his decades of appearances. The most common story involves him falling into a tank of chemical waste which bleaches his skin white, turns his hair green, and his lips bright red; the resulting disfigurement drives him insane.

Despite not having any superpowers, The Joker is often regarded as one of the most feared villians in DC Comics due to being incredibly cunning and morally uninhibited. He's intelligent enough to regularly match wits with Batman and depraved enough to commit acts so horrible that even other supervillians find them to be unsavory. Although the Joker sometimes does join forces with other supervillains such as the Penguin and Two-Face, and groups like the Injustice Gang and Injustice League, these relationships often collapse due to the Joker's desire for unbridled chaos. Batman: The Animated Series introduced a romantic interest for the Joker in his former psychiatrist, Harley Quinn, who becomes his villainous sidekick. Although his primary obsession is Batman, the Joker has also fought other heroes including Superman and Wonder Woman.

One of the most iconic characters in popular culture, the Joker has been listed among the greatest comic book villains and fictional characters ever created. His popularity has seen him appear on a variety of merchandise, such as clothing and collectable items, inspire real-world structures (such as theme park attractions), and be referenced in a number of media.

The Joker has served as Batman's classical adversary not just in the comics, but also in live-action, animated and video game incarnations:

Read in his own voice here.


The Joker Provides Examples Of:

  • Abusive Parents: In the animated series, he claims to have been beaten as a child when interviewed by Harley Quinn. It is unknown if this is true. According to Batman, he's simply making it up.
    Harley Quinn: Joker told me things, secret things he never told anyone...
    Batman: What did he tell you, Harley? Was it the line about the abusive father, or the one about the alcoholic mom? Of course, the runaway orphan story is particularly moving, too. He's gained a lot of sympathy with that one. What was it he told that one parole officer? Oh, yes... 'There was only one time I ever saw dad really happy. He took me to the ice show when I was seven...'
    Harley: (crying) Circus... He told me it was the circus.
    Batman: He's got a million of them, Harley.
    • In one issue of New 52, he claims to have been driven insane by an abusive grandmother, who also bleached his skin to its present pallor.
      • In the same continuity, he is one to a baby gorilla he adopts, trains up as a gun-wielding henchman, and ultimately gets killed off for laughs.
  • Appropriated Appellation: In Batman: The Man Who Laughs, it's established that the name "The Joker" was given to him by the media, and he liked it so much that he decided to call himself that.
  • Clear My Name: In The Brave and the Bold has him framed for several murders and must use Batman's help.
  • Cop Killer: Sometimes police officers are among the Joker's victims:
    • During Knightfall he and Scarecrow killed several members of a SWAT team, and one of his last actions in Batman: No Man's Land was to kill Commissioner Gordon's second wife, Lt. Sarah Essen.
    • One of the alternate realities seen in Zero Hour! was one where he killed Commissioner Gordon instead of crippling Barbara.
    • Part of the reason Gordon takes over the post of Commissioner in both The Dark Knight Trilogy and Batman: Arkham Series is due to the Joker killing Gillian Loeb.
    • He's holding a dead cop's corpse in his intro in Injustice: Gods Among Us and using it as a puppet. He also talks to the body of one of the Regime enforcers who captured him once he breaks out and heads to Gotham.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Most stories posit he was chased by Batman through a factory with No OSHA Compliance, which caused him to be exposed to acid, discolouring his skin and hair and driving him insane when he sees his reflection. Often he claims Batman is responsible for turning him into The Joker.
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Happens frequently, though this may be an indication of the competence of the staff at Arkham. One such time was with Dr. Harleen Quinzel, who bought his story hook, line and sinker and declared him sane, then broke him out of Arkham and started dating him (of course, her exact analysis was that he was utilizing Obfuscating Insanity and it's implied that she was actually right, so perhaps she was the only good doctor at Arkham after all...)
  • Depending on the Artist: His depiction varies a lot between eras and between different artists in the same period. Major differences are whether he can form facial expressions other than a grin, and whether he is average-sized or freakishly tall and thin.
  • Depending on the Writer: There are many huge variations, the most common and glaring being where he is on the spectrum between "wacky prankster" and "utterly depraved and sadistic villain who gruesomely murders, or does even worse to, everyone who crosses his path", and whether he is a competent hand-to-hand combatant or someone who ends up on the floor in seconds if he gets in a real fight.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: In A Death in the Family, Ayatollah Khomeini appoints him the UN ambassador to Iran, giving him diplomatic immunity. This was later retconned to the fictional Qurac due to reasons of taste.
  • Enemy Mine: The Brave and the Bold #111 and #191 have him team up with Batman to clear his name after being framed for several murders.
  • Foil: To Batman in several ways: while Batman is a rather serious character who also refuses to kill anyone, The Joker is a rather comical character who revels in death; his gadgets tend to be rather goofier but much more lethal, such as the Joker Venom that he often uses to kill his victims; while Batman gets along well with his sidekicks Robin and Batgirl, Joker frequently abuses his sidekick Harley Quinn and has tried to kill her before; and, if the origin offered in Killing Joke is to be believed, both Batman and Joker had one bad day that put them on very different paths.
  • For the Evulz / It Amused Me: The usual motives of the Joker.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The key thing about his Multiple-Choice Past is that no-one really knows who he was before he put on the Red Hood and fell into a vat of acid. As such, The Joker was literally a nobody... who turned into the DC Universe's scariest villain, and who at times can outclass the likes of Darkseid.
  • Frozen Face: Most depictions have his face as such, with his massive rictus grin being something he can't really stop doing.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: While he seems to be a chemist first and foremost, the Joker has no trouble coming up with a range of tools and weapons of his own design and is easily as smart as Batman in this area. Other stories show that he has a solid enough understanding of such varied fields as engineering, computers and even robotics that he can at least hijack the sophisticated inventions of others and use them for his own ends with no difficulty whatsoever, and he is generally implied (though rarely outright stated) to have had a scientific background prior to becoming the Clown Prince of Crime.
  • Glasgow Grin: Heath Ledger's portrayal features very noticeable scarring from such wounds and tells two conflicting stories of how he got them. Sometimes, Depending on the Artist, the Joker has one in the comics, usually in out-of-continuity stories.
  • Joker Immunity: The trope namer. He was originally conceived as a one-off villain but proved too good a villain, and a last-minute edit had him survive instead. Too bad it doesn't apply in Tim Burton's Batman, The Dark Knight Returns and the Arkham video game series.
  • Master of Disguise: A talent he possesses even in his earliest stories. Joker is an expert with make-up, costumes and impersonations and has posed as everything from police officers to doctors to even Batman himself. He can go to extremely elaborate lengths to pull off his deceptions too, fabricating entire backstories and staying in-character for months at a time to see his plans through.
  • Monster Clown: One of the classic examples.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Practically the poster child and possible trope namer. Even he isn't sure of his own history. The most accepted version introduced in Detective Comic #168 (1951) has him as a thug named the Red Hood who jumps into a vat of chemicals to escape Batman, disfiguring him and inspiring him to adopt the name Joker. Why he went by the name the Red Hood has changed over the years: The Killing Joke claims he was a failed comedian pressured into becoming a criminal to support his pregnant wife. The trauma of his disfigurement from jumping in the acid and his wife's earlier accidental death drove him insane. However, even this backstory is questionable, as the Joker himself calls it "multiple choice".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Some of the Joker's victims fall into this.
  • Not a Mask: Sometimes he pretends to wear makeup, but it ain't makeup. Jack Nicholson's version wore flesh-tone makeup over his pale skin several times after his transformation. Though, this is Depending on the Writer, as Heath Ledger's depiction does wear makeup. It's unclear if this is the case for Caesar Romero's depiction, as Romero's mustache is visible at times (he refused to shave for the part).
  • Not Me This Time: Though he certainly wouldn't mind committing them, he's been framed for murders he didn't commit several times, such as by James Gordon Jr.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Zig Zagged Trope / Depending on the Writer. Some stories claims The Joker is actually sane, but pretends to be otherwise to avoid the death penalty. Others says he is genuinely crazy. It must be noted that Joker, like other Batman villains, was only identified as insane from the 70s onwards by various writers.note 
  • Outside-Context Problem: A recurring theme of Joker "first appearance" stories in various adaptions, is that nobody in Gotham is prepared for a guy who's only in it For the Evulz. Also, the Joker himself likes to find these, and exploit them.
  • Pre-Insanity Reveal: The Joker, depending on the version, may have been an ordinary comedian before he went crazy and became a super-villain.
  • The Reveal: When Batman sat in Metron's chair in Darkseid War, one of the questions he asked was who the Joker was and the answer freaked him out. In DC Rebirth, it's revealed why: The Joker is a Legacy Character: the Joker responsible for Death of the Family and Batman: Endgame is not the same man who crippled Barbara Gordon—and neither of them are the original Joker.
  • Self-Made Orphan: In The Brave and the Bold #31, Atom reads his mind and sees The Joker burning his parents alive after they catch him killing animals.
  • Slasher Smile: He wears one almost by default. Reportedly, it was inspired by this photo of Conrad Veidt in character as Gwynplaine (a man with a disfigured face, causing him to have a perpetual grin) in The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo.
  • Start of Darkness: Detective Comics #168 posits he was a laboratory worker who becomes the Red Hood in order to steal a million dollars from his employers and retire. In The Killing Joke he quits his job to become a comedian, but fails and is coerced by mobsters to commit a robbery, becoming the Red Hood. His disfigurement and (in The Killing Joke) his wife's death earlier in the story destroy what little was left of his sanity and he becomes The Joker.
  • To Create a Playground for Evil: His motivation in stories like Emperor Joker.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Even he isn't sure of his own history, so anything he claims is suspect at best.
  • Villainous Friendship: No matter how bad things turned out last time, Lex Luthor and Joker will always work together again.
  • Villainous Harlequin: He was this during the Silver Age.He is also this in Batman and Batman: The Brave and the Bold.


Appearances in Media

Comic Books

Film

Live-Action Television

Theatre

Video Games

Web Originals

Western Animation


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