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Comic Book / The Joker

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The Joker by Alex Ross

"If the police expect to play against the Joker, they had best be prepared to be dealt from the bottom of the deck."
Batman #1, his first appearance, written by Bill Finger.

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

The Monster Clown.

The Joker is a comic book supervillain owned by DC Comics, who primarily appears 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. Credit for the Joker's creation is disputed; Kane and Robinson claimed responsibility for the Joker's design, but acknowledged Finger's writing contribution. Comics scholars lean to Robinson and Finger as Joker's true creators owing to Kane's well documented history of swiping and hiring ghost-artists for his work. Originally he was to die at the end of his second appearance, but the comic's editor wouldn't allow it feeling it was a waste of a perfectly good villain.


Originally portrayed as a cunning criminal with a constant grin and an occasional sadistic streak, he became a goofy prankster in the The Silver Age of Comic Books, before in the 1970s becoming the terrifying mixture of whimsy and malice that he's known as today. As Batman's arch-nemesis, the Joker has been part of many 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 most famous origin stories for the Joker are The Man Behind the Red Hood by Bill Finger and The Killing Joke by Alan Moore. In the former, the Joker was an infamous thief known as "the Red Hood" who, while robbing a chemical plant, was accidentally knocked into a vat of toxins by Batman, giving him white skin, green hair, and a permanent smile. The origin put forth in The Killing Joke is fairly similar, with the main change being that the Joker was actually a harmless nobody and failed stand-up comedian, who was blackmailed into committing the robbery shortly after his pregnant wife died; the trauma of this "one bad day" drove him completely mad.


Despite the popularity of these origins, DC's official stance is that no version of the Joker's origin is true. He is the Trope Namer for Multiple-Choice Past, after all, and the Joker has openly and brazenly lied about his origins to others many times. But as far as most are concerned he doesn't need an origin, because his gimmick (a Monster Clown who is exceptionally dangerous and unpredictable) and his dynamic with Batman (Order Versus Chaos) are perfectly understandable without needing to know the Joker's backstory or motivations. Where Batman has a patrician ancestry of Waynes dating back multiple generationsnote , Joker isn't tied to any ethnicity or history. If anything, the fact that he doesn't have an established origin is an integral part of the character — the Joker just is.

All that is definitively agreed upon by most writers and fans is that, in some way, Batman played a prominent role in the Joker's creation, which is a major reason the Joker is obsessed with him — he may enjoy spreading death and chaos wherever he can, but the Joker has a particular interest in tormenting Batman. Why can vary Depending on the Writer — for revenge for the chemical incident, for philosophical and moral reasons, because Batman is his perfect Straight Man, because the Joker is infatuated with him, or just because he gets more joy troubling Batman than he does others. Whatever the case, the Joker is considered Batman's Arch-Enemy, and virtually every major Batman adaptation depicts him as the Dark Knight's most persistent foe.

Despite not having any superpowers aside from poison immunity, The Joker is often regarded as one of the most feared villains in DC Comics due to being incredibly cunning and morally uninhibited, and above all else, dangerously unpredictable. 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. He is also a genius in chemistry, creating a variety of poisons, including the Joker Venom and a number of other concoctions, and a cunning manipulator of people and groups, able to convince and inveigle people to be under his thumb even those who should and do better. In the Bronze Age, the Joker also Depending on the Writer could go from relatively harmless and bloodless pranks to sickeningly tasteless acts of master murder which horrify and stun people. This was later explained by claiming he may suffer from a unique mental illness that compels him to regularly invent a new personality for himself, making him even more unpredictable. The other distinct and unique quality Joker has, he is without question one of the most charismatic figures in comics history, pop-culture entertainment and even literary history, comparable to the likes of Darth Vader and Iago. Even at his most depraved and murderous, the Joker is genuinely a compelling and entertaining figure who, despite much overexposure, has never worn out his welcome and whose popularity has only increased over time.

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 and most influential 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. He also has the distinction of being one of only two characters (the other being Vito Corleone from The Godfather series) who won his actor an Academy Award twice, with Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight and Joaquin Phoenix for Joker.

The Joker has served as Batman's classical adversary not just in the comics, but also in multiple media incarnations:


Voice Acting:

Read in his own voice here.

The Joker Provides Examples Of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Apart from Harley (and even then, only when their on-off relationship is "on"), no one likes or supports the Joker. In any way, whatsoever. Damn near every other member of Batman's Rogues Gallery hates his guts, mostly because not only is he completely sociopathic, but also they are all scared shitless by him. The only reason why he's even allowed in teams such as the Legion of Doom is because of that fear: if they exclude him from the lineup, then chances are that dead bodies will be lining the streets in their name. Trickster spells it out in "Underworld Unleashed."
    Trickster: Great going, Neron, bring in the one guy no one wants to be in the same room with. When super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories.
    • Nether Realm Studios especially seems to love making Joker out to be evil incarnate. In Injustice: Gods Among Us and its sequel, he loses all his cred (and life) once he nukes Metropolis; Harley ditches him entirely, Batman just completely gives up on indulging him any more, even Guest Fighters like Hellboy consider him worthless, and non-Batvillains such as Grodd and Brainiac and even Darkseid loathe him for either Metropolis, or just in general principle. Mortal Kombat 11 shows that even the MK cast see him as a scourge upon the realms, and also express distaste toward him for either his nuking or a previous outing.
    • About the only person who can tolerate him for long is Lex Luthor, and then only because they both have the same level of hatred for their respective enemies. Even then, Luthor prefers to keep his distance from the Joker, if only because a bored Joker screws with everything For the Evulz.
  • 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.
      • In the comic book adaptation of Injustice, it's implied Harley fears Joker would be one, and gives their daughter to her sister, lest he kill the child. It's left ambiguous whether the Joker's even aware of the ruse.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: In many continuities, he's immune to his trademark Joker Venom/Smilex. In a crossover comic with Captain America, he also proves to be immune to Red Skull's "Dust of Death", as their trademark poisons are too similar to each other.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: He's undeniably insane and Ax-Crazy, but has no official diagnosis. If anything, he can just be diagnosed with "Being the Joker". However, it’s possible he’s perfectly sane and just The Sociopath, and is using his manipulation abilities to continue his reign of terror.
    • Averted in one story, wherein one of Arkham's doctors realizes Joker's faking insanity just to piss off Batman as revenge for his disfigurement. Another doctor finds the report and excitedly reveals it to the current head doctor, only to learn that the Joker left it for everyone to read, since the paper's written by Harley Quinn, and therefore worthless as evidence.
  • 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 - they are pretty much the iconic gold standard when it comes to this trope. The two of them are the page image for a reason.
  • Attention Whore: A big part of his motivation in various continuities. He even admits as such at one point, while denying he's not behind one particular crime.
    Joker: Do you really think I would stir up so much trouble and not make sure you knew it was me?
  • 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.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: He sometimes believes his Multiple-Choice Past, Depending on the Writer of course. One issue of the Robin Series had the Joker actually in tears as he told the psychiatrist of his abusive childhood, only for the psychiatrist to coldly point out that it's the seventh story he's told now.
  • Berserk Button: The Joker loves it when people laugh with him, whether genuine or not, but if someone laughs at him, they're most likely already dead.
  • 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.
  • Boring Insult: While the Joker has used it a few times on others, he mostly does it to hear the sound of his own voice as the people he usually slings this insult at don't really care whether or not they're boring. On the other hand, using this type of insult on the Joker is one of the few ways to get to him and is a major Berserk Button for him.
  • 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.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting:
  • 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. Addtionally, the first game in the latter series, Asylum, sees several of Arkham's guards killed by him and his men.
    • 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, discoloring 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. In fact, part and parcel of what makes the Joker's plans devastating is that he knows how to hide the punchline for lack of a better word. The plans are so innocuous, so disheveled and so utterly random that they usually have no sane MO, which makes it hard to see the bigger picture of the plan unless Batman pieces it together quickly.
  • 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...)
  • Deadly Prank: He generally considers murdering someone for a joke to be morally no different than putting a whoopie cushion on their chair.
  • 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:
    • Whether he was driven insane or was already insane and became completely bonkers.
    • Where he is on the spectrum between "wacky prankster" and "utterly depraved and sadistic sociopath and murderer".
    • Whether he is a senseless, performative 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.
    • He can either be Faux Affably Evil, Laughably Evil, just a Monster Clown, or some combination of the three.
  • 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 Batman's 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.
  • Domestic Abuse: This characterizes his relationship with his "henchwench" Harley Quinn to a T. Joker frequently yells at her, puts her down, humiliates her, and exposes her to all manner of violence ranging from "merely" slapping or punching her to outright trying to murder her. Such is her Mad Love that she ignored his abuse for most of her existence in comic history, with the two only separating in the late 2010s.
  • 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.
  • Electric Joybuzzer: One of his signature weapons, a lethal variation, most memorably used in Batman (1989). He ended up Hoist by His Own Petard when trying to use it on Static.
    Static: That was fun. Let me try! (BZZZZT!)
    (Batman approves.)
  • Enemy Mine:
  • 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!" It even provides the trope's image. And 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 and doesn't condone it. There's no humor to be had in that. Higher primates apparently do not qualify but a lot more effort went into that one.
    • While in Arkham with villain Warren White, AKA the Great White Shark, Joker calls him a horrible person. He states that while he may kill people, even he doesn't steal their kids' college funds.
    • 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.
    • For a rather literal form of "standard", the Joker's team-up with Carnage in Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds fell apart in part because the Joker, known for his love of theatrics, found Kasady's desire to get straight to killing boring. Conversely, Kasady didn't like the Joker's flair for theatrics.
    • The Joker absolutely loathes The Batman Who Laughs, to the point where he drops his usual joking demeanor and is deathly serious whenever directly referring to him, even willing to work together with Batman to face him when it comes down to it. When Lex Luthor goes behind his back to make a deal with The Batman Who Laughs (going against the only condition Joker has for joining his plan), Joker responds by Joker-gassing the Legion of Doom, putting Lex into a series of deathtraps, trashing Lex's Power Armor, and quitting the Legion. In the process, he tells Luthor how he had planned on ruining the Legion utterly on the verge of victory, and as nightmarish as his plan sounded, he claims it is nothing compared to what the Batman Who Laughs is going to do.
    • While he still gloated about it, the actual act of killing Sarah Essen in the penultimate issue of Batman: No Man's Land is one of the few times the Joker wasn't happy with something he himself did, considering he's seen walking away while scowling afterward.
    • The Joker finds fellow Arkham in-mate the Great White Shark to be the worst person he ever met. It's implied that the Joker feels that robbing people of trust funds is beneath him.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Joker is Nihilism Incarnate: he believes that life is pointless and insane, and the only thing anyone can do is give into the madness. Life is a joke, and once he got the joke he never stopped laughing at it. One of the reasons he's obsessed with Batman is because Batman is The Anti-Nihilist: Batman also thinks, to some degree at least, that life is meaningless. But rather than embrace the madness, Batman fights against it, trying to bring order to chaos through his heroic actions. So Batman got the joke too, but he's not laughing, and the Joker doesn't understand why.
  • Evil Is Petty: Joker truly sees no difference between throwing cream pies, robbing a museum, and brutal, torturous mass-murder. To him, it's all just part of the joke.
  • Evil Genius: Though rarely the focus of his character, Joker is usually an extremely gifted chemist, constantly creating new and better versions of his signature laughing gas. He's also (unsurprisingly) a skilled planner on par with Batman himself, in addition to being extremely charismatic and manipulative when he wants to be.
  • Facial Horror: His iconic "perma-clown" appearance (the green hair, chalk-white skin, and most of the time, red lips) is the result of being submerged in a tank of chemicals. However, there was times this has gotten worse.
    • While The Dark Knight is one of the few times the Joker's clown-like appearance is the result of make-up, but he does sport a Glasgow Grin.
    • While Joker still has the permanent clown look, it's combined with the Glasgow Grin.
    • While Batman: Endgame would see the skin of his face restored with a chemical called Dionesiumnote , at the start of The New 52, the Joker had the Dollmaker skin his face and then, after he recovered it, spent Death of the Family wearing it like a Leatherface-esque mask. And even in Endgame, his restored face ends up badly burned as the result of the finale battle between him and Batman, though it still ends up restored again.
    • Gotham sees neither Valeska escape this. After his death in season 2, Jerome (the proto-Joker) ends up resurrected in season 3, but because Dwight thinks his attempt to revive him failed, Dwight ends up cutting off Jerome's face ala Death of the Family and Jerome ends up stapling it on when he catches up with Dwight and while he later has it properly reattached, there's still scars from what happened. Jeremiah, Jerome's twin and the show's true Joker, ends up with the "perma-clown" appearance due to Jerome having the Scarecrow brew something up to spray in Jeremiah's face, but season 5 sees his fateful fall at Ace Chemicals badly scar his face and sear off most of his hair with only stringy patches left.
  • Fame Through Infamy: He's practically built a career on crimes designed more to spread his infamy than anything else. Perhaps his true illness is that he is an Attention Whore through and through...
  • Faux Affably Evil: Often addresses others in a polite and friendly way before he unleashes merry hell on them.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Best displayed in The Killing Joke; Joker's "one bad day" is just an excuse, as he neither knows nor cares if it actually happened that way, and Batman confronts him on how his attempt to similarly break Commissioner Gordon failed.
    Batman: Despite all your sick, vicious little games, he's as sane as he ever was! So maybe ordinary people don't always crack. Maybe there isn't any need to crawl under a rock with all the other slimey things when trouble hits. Maybe it was just you, all the time!
  • 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.
  • Hate Sink: Posthumously, his Injustice-verse incarnation is the primary target for audience scorn and gets saddled with this role by all of the heroes and villains in the game, its sequel, and the tie-in comics — the version from the Injustice-verse itself, at least. This is because he tricked Superman into killing his own wife Lois Lane and nuking Metropolis, then pulling a Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred on the poor guy who that set him on the path to becoming a tyrant, and for what reason? All because he thought it was funny, and because he was tired of losing to Batman, so he decided to go after an easier target. His role as The Corrupter to Harley is explained to make her Heel–Face Turn feel more plausible, as even she has come to despise him for what he did to Superman. In particular, while Superman does terrible things, he is portrayed as a Tragic Villain due to the losses he suffered before becoming a bad guy, and as such, his killing of the Joker is always played for maximum pathos. Even villains as despicable as Brainiac, Darkseid and Gorilla Grodd openly voice their contempt for him.
  • Human Head on the Wall: There's a rather famous piece of comic book 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.
  • Iconic Outfit:
    • The purple suit and matching pants with either an orange and/or green shirt with a bowtie or tie, remains the definitive Joker look one that many artists and costume designers have given spin on. He is sometimes known for wearing a cool hat but other times goes hatless. Heath Ledger's custom-designed purple long-coat, trousers, blue shirt and green Waistcoat of Style with a tie has likewise become iconic and famous for its contemporary and downright stylish update on the classic look.
    • The original Red Hood outfit which is a black suit, white shirt, bowtie with an opera cap and a bizarre red dome is also quite famous.
    • The Hawaiian tourist outfit he wore in the notorious scene in The Killing Joke.
    • The white suit he wears in Miller's The Dark Knight Returns as well as the white nurse maid outfit with red wig in The Dark Knight is also quite notable.
    • The Future Joker look from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker which went with a mime look (black body suit, slicked-back hair) is also quite distinct and unique.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: There have been a few times when the Joker engaged in cannibalism, such as an issue of Grant Morrison's JLAnote  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).
  • I've Come Too Far: At the end of The Killing Joke, Batman tries to reason with the Joker, insisting that they've got to stop before one of them kills the other and offering to help rehabilitate him. Joker briefly considers the offer before solemnly turning it down.
    Joker: No. I'm sorry, but... no. It's too late for that. Far too late.
  • 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 interesting a character to be killed off so quickly, and a last-minute edit had him survive instead. He's so famous for this that most works that kill him off, the audience doesn't buy it, and it serves as an effective twist the rare times when he is Killed Off for Real. But even those rare occasions may continue to feature him in flashbacks or hallucinations as a Posthumous Character.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Holy shit, yes. He has an enormous sense of showsmanship and is seen cracking Black Comedy jokes every minute, and it's a nigh-guarantee that whoever is portraying him will be munching the scenery to the very structure. Most especially the case if it happens to be Mark Hamill.
  • 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 Gordons—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.
  • Moment of Lucidity: There've been a few times when outside forces have sent him into a fit of temporary sanity over the years.
    • In the Justice League storyline "Rock of Ages", Martian Manhunter has to put in incredible effort to reorganize Joker's mind long enough for him to give up the cataclysmic Philosopher's Stone. The briefly sane Joker immediately says My God, What Have I Done? verbatim as he hands it back, before quickly losing his mind and going back to the laughing madman.
    • The famous example from the end of The Killing Joke, where Batman tries to convince him to allow Batman to rehabilitate him before their vendetta kills them. Joker considers it for a long, somber moment before quietly reflecting that they're both too far gone.
    • Batman: Cacophony ends with Joker being pumped full of an inhuman amount of antipsychotic drugs to keep him under control while in recovery from a near-fatal stabbing. Batman takes the opportunity to have a relatively-sane conversation with him, though it's somewhat subverted by Joker still being a homicidal sociopath even while heavily sedated.
  • 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".
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Whenever he is made temporarily sane, most notably by a Lazarus pit after Ra's Al Ghul killed him after a Villain Team-Up and in JLA #15 during the Rock of Ages storyline, Joker usually expresses deep remorse for his crimes. Unfortunately it never lasts.
  • 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 doesn't 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, albeit the doctors list it as one of his aliases. 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.
    • If you want to know how truly terrifying The Batman Who Laughs is, look no further than the way Joker acts whenever discussing him. He doesn't laugh, he doesn't smile. He becomes calm and serious and simply tells whomever he's talking to that the TBWL is "a wrong thing that shouldn't exist". Someone HAS to be scary if the very thought of him makes Joker act like a calm rational sane person.
  • 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's "first appearance" stories in various adaptations 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.
    • On the rare occasion Joker gets bored and leaves Gotham, expect everyone to think of him as just a silly clown, until the bodies start piling up.
  • Pimp Duds: He sometimes accessorizes his purple suit with a very wide-brimmed hat, which makes the ensemble look like a stereotypical pimp costume. Jared Leto's turn in Suicide Squad (2016) runs with this in his dynamic with Harley Quinn.
  • Pre-Insanity Reveal: The Joker, depending on the version, may have been an ordinary comedian before he went crazy and became a super-villain.
  • Purple Is Powerful: Purple is one of Joker's three colors (along with white and green) and he is powerful.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: For starters, when Batman is telling Joker to stay away from the Gordons after he apparently hurt Gordon's wife (it was actually his son, Gordon Jr. who did the deed), Joker commented that he didn't do anything to "the old bitch", and starts commenting to Batman that he misses the old Batman, and commented that he "doesn't want to go to bed yet" and that he "wants to play."
  • Redemption Rejection: In The Killing Joke, Batman defeats the Joker once again and then desparately pleads with him to accept help recovering from his madness before they eventually kill each other. In one of his rare, completely serious moments, the Joker sincerely apologizes and tells Batman that it's far too late for that.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Funny: One of his primary themes (alongside insanity), as explained in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?:
    "Kid. I'm the Joker. I don't just randomly kill people. I kill people when it's funny. What would conceivably be funny about killing you?"
  • Secret Identity Apathy: In most continuities, he simply doesn't care about Batman's Secret Identity, understanding that Batman is the true face and not the man behind the mask.
  • 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.
  • Signature Weapon: The acid-spitting flower, Smilex/Joker Venom... and simple crowbars, established by how he killed Jason Todd.
  • 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.
    • It's come to be his primary disfigurement over the original skin bleaching.
  • 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.
  • Strong as They Need to Be: His fighting skills fluctuate wildly. Sometimes, Joker is an excellent fighter who can actually defeat Batman in a straight-up fight, whereas most writers prefer to present him as so weak that he can be knocked out cold with one punch.
  • To Create a Playground for Evil: His motivation in stories like Emperor Joker.
  • Tombstone Teeth: He is often drawn with too many too-long teeth as part of his trademark rictus grin, highlighting his nature as a psychotic and sadistic killer.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Even he isn't sure of his own history, so anything he claims is suspect at best.
  • Villain Has a Point: Given his devotion to Rule of Funny, he's quite knowledgeable on what makes successful comedy, as seen with the featured image on Don't Explain the Joke.
  • 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 Aromantic Asexual: He is shown to be more interested in his schemes and mayhem rather than sex. He has had sex with Harley, but it is implied that it's more for her rather than his own enjoyment. He has actively ignored her when he simply wants to work on his schemes, even when she's in the translucent red night dress.
  • Villainous Friendship: No matter how bad things turned out last time, Lex Luthor and Joker will always work together again. Played With, as it isn’t just because of friendship. As Luthor himself notes in the ending of Infinite Crisis, you always "let the Joker play," lest he come after you for revenge later on for leaving him out.
  • Villainous Harlequin: He was this during the Silver Age. He is also this in Batman (1966) and Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  • Villainous Rescue: In Dark Nights: Metal, 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 prepared for anything Batman would conceivably think of, is unable to counter it let alone even consider it a possibility.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: He has neon green hair caused by the chemicals he fell into.

Appearances in Media

Comic Books


Live-Action Television


Video Games

Web Originals

Western Animation


Video Example(s):


The Dark Knight - Joker

The Joker taking off his mask at the beginning of the movie and saying one of his more famous quotes from the movie "Whatever doesn't kill you, simply makes you.....stranger".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / DramaticUnmask

Media sources:

Main / DramaticUnmask