Follow TV Tropes

Following

Comic Book / The Joker

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/joker_alex_ross.jpg
The Joker by Alex Ross

The Clown Prince of Crime. The Jester of Genocide. The Harlequin of Hate. The Ace of Knaves.

The Monster Clown.

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 Finger 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 second appearance, but the comic's editor wouldn't allow it. No doubt this annoyed artist Kane and writer Finger.

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 villains 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 supervillains 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.
  • Arch-Enemy: A classic example to the Batman, and not just in the comics.
  • Ax-Crazy: One of his main characteristics is his willingness to psycho on anyone, including his own henchmen.
  • Bad Boss: Willing to casually kill his own henchmen for any reason, be it part of a plan, for amusement, or simply on a whim.
    • Just to demonstrate how much disregard he has for his henchmen, a reoccurring motivation for offing his own lackeys is failing to laugh at one of his jokes. Or laughing too late. Or laughing for too long. Or laughing at the wrong joke. He's... unpredictable.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Defied by The Joker in at least one story (Emperor Joker). Evil Jimmy Olson kills Superman, who has been turned into a dog, by crushing him underneath a fire hydrant. The Joker is simply annoyed, because he doesn't know how to make something as pointless as beating a dumb animal funny. Jimmy Olson is then beaten to death by two giant robots who appear out of nowhere.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: In a "Detective Comics" story written by Paul Dini, the Joker (while impersonating a stage magician he had previously murdered) shot Zatanna in the throat so she couldn't recite a spell to save herself, then locked her in a tank of water while strapping Batman in an electric chair. He didn't shoot her in the head because he wanted Batman to watch helplessly as she died. This didn't go so well because first, he's BATMAN! and second, Zatanna was able to write a healing incantation on the lid of the tank using her own blood, which made the spell even more powerful.
  • Clear My Name: In The Brave and the Bold has him framed for several murders and must use Batman's help.
  • Combat Pragmatist : While his fighting prowess varies from remarkably proficient to extremely weak Depending on the Writer, the Joker is a consistently dirty fighter, striking enemies when and where they are most vulnerable. Besides his myriad of gag gadgets, he often carries concealed weapons, gases and acids on his person, and won't hesitate to brandish a wrench or smash a chair over your head in a pinch. He is usually adept with knives and, unlike Batman, rarely has any reservations about firearms. He has no qualms kicking an opponent when they're down, and will employ deception, feigning surrender or defeat to get Batman to lower his guard.
  • Confusion Fu: This is often his last line of defense when Batman corners him, especially in the animated television shows. Effectiveness varies.
  • 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.
  • Creepy High-Pitched Voice: In voiced roles, he usually has a high-pitched voice to contrast Batman's Badass Baritone.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Insanity aside, sometimes the Joker's plans and methods are so out there they just seem stupid. Despite appearances, he's usually very cunning, and always very dangerous.
  • 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 sociopath and murderer".
    • Whether he is a senseless, performarive terrorist wreaking havoc for kicks or a deceptively cunning and competent criminal mastermind. Or both. Usually both.
    • He's no Batman, but sometimes he is a proficient hand-to-hand combatant, Knife Nut or marksman, and other times a flimsy wimp who goes down in one punch. In some of the grittier settings, his raw strength, numbness to pain and viciousness are enough to level the playing field with Batman.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Not above invoking this deliberately to get under Batman's skin. Whether he means all his flirting and feel-copping varies slightly Depending on the Writer and heavily depending on one's own interpretation.
    • At least one such incident implied he would be interested in Batman... but only after he was dead. Again this may only have been a tactic to get under Batmans skin or truthful admission. The readers will never know for certain.
  • 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 Syraq due to reasons of taste.
  • The Dreaded: Easily one of the most feared villains in the entire DC universe. Other villains are afraid of him; it's been said that when criminals want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories.
  • Driven to Madness: Doing this to others has become part of his MO.
    • His plot in The Killing Joke is to put Jim Gordon through the wringer hard in the hopes of driving him mad. He'll also try to drive Batman over the edge (particularly, drive him to break his "no killing" rule), sometimes by cutting off all of Batsy's human connections.
    • The Dark Knight reworks it into Driving Gotham To Senseless Violence with wanton acts of destruction or terrorism, just to prove everyone's as bad as him deep down.
    • Ironically, a 1952 story has the Joker get himself falsely committed to an insane asylum, to question a patient who knew the location of a cache of money. The end of the story has him Laughing Mad due to a prank Batman used to disguise his identity.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Just take a gander at his earliest appearances:
    • He didn't have his signature laugh. This seems to have been a way to "goofy up" the character to make him less terrifying in the days of the Comics Code Authority. Later on, he'd learn to giggle while remaining terrifying.
    • He actually committed crimes for money note , and wasn't really interested in causing chaos or terror for a joke's sake.
    • Building off of that, his plans weren't really "insane" until the Silver Age (at which point it's not even fair to say this was exclusive to him), nor was there any question of the character's mental stability.
    • His obsession with Batman wasn't there, much less the idea that he would pass up chances to kill the Bat or learn his identity. This aspect was probably introduced to explain the Bond Villain Stupidity he (and every Batman villain) had become infamous for in the Silver Age.
    • His clown-like complexion was actually makeup in his early appearances. He even removed his makeup to disguise himself as a cop, which was referenced in The Dark Knight. It's later revealed that the look is permanent after falling in a vat of chemicals.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Oddly enough, this trope does occasionally apply to him.
    • He abruptly ends a partnership with Red Skull when his Nazi affiliation comes out. Red Skull simply wonders why he is so surprised when he thinks that the Joker would make a great Nazi. The Joker is NOT happy about this, proclaiming "I may be a criminal lunatic, but I'm an American criminal lunatic!" Yes, folks, even an equal-opportunity murderer like the Joker despises the Nazis!note 
    • The exception is mentioned again in the Last Laugh arc where the Joker immediately refused to join the American Neo-Nazi Aryan Alliance group in the Slab after he was offered membership.
      Joker: I'm evil and all that, but you guys are just plain mean.
    • Will not harm dumb animals. There's no humor to be had.
    • Sees nothing funny about someone parking in a handicap spot when they're not handicapped. However, he does think it's hilarious to hurt them in ways that will make certain they'll always be able to park there.
    • A girl named Janey Bennett, whose class was studying criminal behavior, became pen pals with the Joker while he was in Arkham. When Janey revealed that her father, the mayor of Motor City, was abusing her (exactly how isn't specified, though it was implied to have been really bad) the Joker broke out and, convinced that the authorities would be of no help, tried to force the mayor into admitting to his crimes and giving him Janey (so that he could find a better home for her) by threatening to contaminate the city's blood supply, going through with it (because the ends justify the means) when the mayor refused to give in to his demands.
      Joker: I mean, stealing a city blind is something I can admire... but being mean to one's own daughter... that just makes my blood boil.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Joker snapped because he "got the joke." That is, he came to believe that life is a meaningless, terrible joke, and the only proper response is to laugh (i.e., go insane). What boggles him is that he knows that Batman also once reached that point, but didn't snap the way he did. Batman got the joke too, but he's not laughing... and the Joker doesn't understand why.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Sometimes will mess with Batman's mind by calling him by pet names or using innuendo. Or outright groping him. According to later writers, Joker regards their hero/villain dynamic as a very special relationship, and resents anyone or thing that gets in the way of it (like all those family members Bruce enjoys hanging out with), which is disturbingly like a jealous lover.
  • 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: The usual motives of the Joker. Also the reason why he nuked Metropolis at the beginning of Injustice: Gods Among Us: tired of constantly losing to Batman, so he decided to go after an easier target like Superman and see if they'll have "one bad day" and become just as evil as he is. And instead of what would have been expected, Supes goes through with it and kills the Monster Clown, all while the Joker mocks him for his failures and adherence to Thou Shalt Not Kill.
  • 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 Brainiac or 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.
  • Human Head on the Wall: There's a rather famous piece of comicbook artwork drawn by Brian Bolland featuring The Joker lounging in a chair in front of a trophy wall mounted with the decapitated heads of various DC heroes and villains, all of them painted white and their faces distorted into a smile like the Joker himself. It's even been parodied a bunch of times with other comic supervillains sitting in Joker's place.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: There have been a few times when the Joker engaged in cannibalism, such as an issue of JLA after Day Of Vengeance, where upon the reveal that the Martian Manhunter took the League and the now Hal Jordan hosted-Spectre into the Joker's head, the Joker lamented eating a man's tongue raw. Additionally, an infamous bit in Emperor Joker has the Joker eat all of China while he had Mr. Mxyzptlk's powers.
  • Insane No More: Is cured by Batman forcing unknown pills down his throat in the non-canon Batman: White Knight, causing him go back to his real name, Jack Napier, make a Heel–Face Turn and accuse Batman of being part of the problem (he's also considerably better than the usual Joker, being closer to the earlier trickster personality).
  • It Amused Me: His raison d'etre. Why kill people in horrific ways, ruin their lives, and generally make the entire universe a worse place than he left it? Because it's funny.
  • 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, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and the Arkham video game series.
  • Knife Nut: In many appearances, knives are his Weapon of Choice, either to disfigure his victims or kill his foes. Often both.
    The Joker: Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too... quick. You can't savor all the little emotions. You see, in their last moments, people show you who you really are.
  • Legacy Character: As revealed in Darkseid War and DC Rebirth, the Joker has been used by three people, meaning the Joker Batman first fought isn't the same man who'd torment the Gordon—and that Joker himself isn't the one who'd cause the events of Death of the Family and Batman: Endgame.
  • Lethal Joke Character: In-Universe. Those unfamiliar with him tend to write him off as just some fool dressed as a clown, only to realize very quickly why they should keep their guard up around him. He's still one of the most dangerous characters in the DC Universe, despite existing in a world filled with super-humans and gods.
  • 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".
  • The Nicknamer: He's prone to giving nicknames to allies and enemies alike. Sometimes affectionate, sometimes snarky, but always undesired. Calling Batman "Batsy" or "Bats" and Robin "boy blunder" are probably his most iconic.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Some of the Joker's victims fall into this.
  • No Name Given: The Joker is the only Batman villain who doesnt have an official real identity. However, the Jack Nicholson version used the name "Jack Napier", which was briefly mentioned in the Animated Series episode "Dreams In Darkness" since the series was partially based on the movie. While he still has no official name to this day, it's general fan consensus that it's either Jack Napier or just Jack.
  • 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 
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: A general rule of thumb: If the Joker isn't smiling, something very bad is about to happen.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Pretty much sums up his feelings towards Batman. He often flies into a rage whenever someone else attempts to kill Batman when in his company, and whenever Batman (seemingly) dies he has a tendency to completely snap and turn sane. This actually goes the other direction as well: the Joker feels that Batman is the only one allowed to defeat him, and it's shown he's terrified of someone else doing him in in some continuities.
  • 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.
  • The Sociopath: A skilled and gleeful manipulator, a vicious butcher who brutally tortures and murders others simply because he thinks it’s funny, extraordinarily impulsive given that he’s prone to turning his murderous urges on his own men on a whim or because one upset him in some way, shape or form, and has not even the vaguest notion of empathy, neither for his men or his victims.
  • 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. Maybe.
  • Stealing the Handicapped Spot: He doesn't do this. Rather, he hates it when other people do it and finds it hilarious to horrifically cripple them so they can legitimately park in handicapped spots.
  • Straw Nihilist: Provides the trope image and is the poster child for this. He claims that everything is just "one big joke," death is the ultimate punchline, all ironies in life are equally funny, the things people fight and strive for are just "monstrous, demented gags," the only sensible way to live is either Sanity Slippage or Anarchy Is Chaos, and also believing that "a bad day" is more than enough for anyone to turn out like him. This is shown notably in Injustice: Gods Among Us, The Killing Joke, Batman: Under the Red Hood, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and The Dark Knight.
  • 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.
  • Villain Song: There's no other villain who has belted out as many memorable music moments, not even the Music Meister. Three of them incidentally were sung by Mark Hamill behind the mic:
  • 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.
  • Villainous Rescue: In Dark Nights The Joker pulls this off by teaming up with Batman to defeat the Batman Who Laughs, Batman knowing that a jokerized Batman would have the upper hand teams up with the Joker. It is so unexpected that the Batman Who Laughs who is still a crazy prepared Batman, is unable to counter it let alone even consider it a possibility.


Appearances in Media

Comic Books

Film

Live-Action Television

Theatre

Video Games

Web Originals

Western Animation


Top