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See DC Comics * List of DC Comics characters *Batman Supporting Characters *List of Batman Villains *Batman Store *Batman Gallery

Jack Nicholson as the Joker
Jack Nicholson as the Joker

The Joker is a supervillain that appears in comic books published by DC Comics. Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, with contributions by artist Jerry Robinson, the Joker first appeared in Batman #1 (Spring 1940). In 2006, Wizard magazine rated him the greatest villain of all time.

The Joker is the archenemy of the superhero Batman. The Joker is a master criminal with a clown-like appearance, including bleached white skin, red lips, and green hair. Initially portrayed as a violent sociopath who murders people and commits crimes for his own amusement, the Joker, later in the 1940s, began to be written as a goofy trickster-thief. That characterization continued through the late 1950s and 1960s before the character became again depicted as a vicious killer. He has been responsible for numerous tragedies in Batman's life, including the paralysis of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle) and the murders of Jason Todd (the second Robin) and James Gordon's second wife Sarah Essen.

The Joker was portrayed by various actors in other media. He was portrayed by Cesar Romero in the 1960s Batman television series; Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film Batman; and voice actors Mark Hamill and Kevin Michael Richardson in TV's Batman: The Animated Series and the subsequent The Batman respectively. Nicholson's version of the Joker ranks #45 in the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains|list of the top 50 film villains. Heath Ledger portrayed the role of Joker for director Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins sequel, The Dark Knight.

Contents

Publication history

The Joker's first appearance: Batman #1 (Spring 1940)
The Joker's first appearance: Batman #1 (Spring 1940)

Bill Finger, the ghost writer co-creator of Batman, brought credited Batman creator Bob Kane a photograph of actor Conrad Veidt wearing make-up for the silent film The Man Who Laughs (1928), and from this photograph the Joker was modeled. This influence was referenced in the graphic novel Batman: The Man Who Laughs, a retelling of the first Joker story from 1940.

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". Entertainment Weekly writer Frank Lovece official site: Web Exclusives — Bob Kane interview

Robinson, whose original Joker playing card was on public display in the exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum in New York City, New York, from Sept. 16, 2006 to Jan. 28, 2007, and the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Georgia from Oct. 24, 2004 to Aug. 28, 2005, has countered that:

"Bill Finger knew of Conrad Veidt because Bill had been to a lot of the foreign films. Veidt ... had this clown makeup with the frozen smile on his face. When Bill saw the first drawing of the Joker, he said, 'That reminds me of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs.' He said he would bring in some shots of that movie to show me. That's how that came about. I think in Bill's mind, he fleshed out the concept of the character. Newsarama (Oct. 18. 2006): "The Joker, the Jewish Museum and Jerry: Talking to Jerry Robinson" (interview)

In his initial dozen or so appearances, starting with Batman #1 (1940), the Joker was a straightforward murderer, with a bizarre appearance modeled after the symbol of the Joker known from playing cards. He was slated to be killed in his second appearance, Steranko, 1970, 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- Batman From the 30s to the 70s,Bonanza books, 1970

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. In these first dozen adventures, the Joker killed close to three dozen people.

In the 1950s and 1960s, following the imposition of the Comics Code Authority censorship board, the Joker shifted toward becoming a harmless, cackling nuisance. He disappeared from Batman stories almost entirely when Julius Schwartz took over editorship of the Batman comics in 1964.

Batman #251 (Sept. 1973). Art by Neal Adams.
Batman #251 (Sept. 1973). Art by Neal Adams.

In 1973, 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 casually 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."Pearson, Roberta E.; Uricchio, William. "Notes from the Batcave: An Interview with Dennis O'Neil." The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media. Routledge: London, 1991. pg. 18 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, SciFi Wire (March 28, 2007): "Batman Artist Rogers is Dead": "Even though their Batman run was only six issues, the three laid the foundation for later Batman comics. Their stories include the classic 'Laughing Fish' (in which the Joker's face appeared on fish); they were adapted for Batman: The Animated Series in the 1990s. Earlier drafts of the 1989 Batman movie with Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight were based heavily on their work". added elements deepening the severity of the Joker's insanity. In the story "The Laughing Fish", the Joker is brazen enough to disfigure fish with a rictus grin, then expect to be granted a federal trademark on them, only to start threatening and murdering bureaucrats who try to explain that obtaining such a claim on a natural resource is a legal impossibility.

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 in which he was the antagonist; of the nine issues, he commits murder in seven. The development of the Joker as a sociopath continues with the issues "A Death in the Family" (in which readers voted for the character to kill off Jason Todd) and The Killing Joke in 1988, redefining the character for DC's Modern Age after the company wide reboot following Crisis on Infinite Earths.

A major addition to the character was the introduction of Harley Quinn. Originally introduced in Batman: The Animated Series, Quinn is a clinical psychiatrist who falls hopelessly in love with the Joker in Arkham Asylum and now serves as his loyal, if daffy, sidekick, costumed in a skintight harlequin suit. Their partnership often resembles an abusive domestic relationship, with the Joker insulting, hurting, or even attempting to kill Quinn, who remains undaunted in her devotion. She was popular enough to be integrated into the comics in 1999 and a modified version of the character (less goofy, but still criminally insane and utterly committed to the Joker) was also featured on the short-lived live-action TV series Birds of Prey.

Character biography

Origin

Though many have been related, a definitive history of the Joker before the chemical bath has never been established in the comics, and his real name has never been confirmed. He has been portrayed as lying so often about his former life that 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!" In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth written by Grant Morrison, it is said that the Joker may not be insane, but have some sort of super-sanity, where he creates himself each day to cope with the chaotic flow of modern urban life.

The first origin account, Detective Comics #168 (February 1951), revealed that the Joker had once been a criminal known as the Red Hood. In the story, a scientist looking to steal from the company that employs him adopts the persona of Red Hood. After committing the theft, Red Hood is dropped into a vat of chemical waste by Batman. He emerges with bleached white skin, red lips, green hair, and a bizarre permanent grin.

The most widely cited backstory can be seen 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. Desperate to support his pregnant wife, the man agrees to help two criminals break into the plant where he was formerly employed. In this version of the story, the Red Hood persona is given to the inside man of every job (thus it is never the same man twice); this makes the man appear to be the ringleader, allowing the two criminals to escape. During the planning, police contact him and inform him that his wife has died in a household accident.

Stricken with grief, he attempts to back out of the plan, but the criminals strong-arm him into keeping his promise. As soon as they enter the plant, however, they are immediately caught by security and a shoot-out ensues, in which the two criminals are killed. As the engineer tries to escape, he is confronted by Batman, who is investigating the disturbance. Terrified, the engineer leaps over a rail and plummets into a vat of chemicals. When he surfaces in the nearby reservoir, he removes the hood and sees his reflection: bleached chalk-white skin, ruby-red lips, and green hair. These events, coupled with his other misfortunes that day, drive the engineer completely insane, resulting in the birth of the Joker.

The story "Pushback" (Batman: Gotham Knights # 50-55), supports part of this version of the Joker's origin story. In it, a witness (who coincidentally turns out to be Edward Nigma, a.k.a. the Riddler) recounts that the Joker's wife was kidnapped and murdered by the criminals in order to force the engineer into performing the crime. In this version, the pre-accident Joker is called Jack.

The Paul Dini-Alex Ross story "Case Study" makes a far different case. This story suggests that the Joker was a sadistic criminal who worked his way up the mobster chain until he was the leader. Still seeking the thrills that dirty work allowed, he created the Red Hood identity for himself so that he could commit small-time crimes. But eventually an accident involving Batman caused him to fall into a vat of chemicals, giving him his Joker appearance. However, the story suggests that the Joker never became insane. He is simply a sadistic, calculating human seeking revenge on Batman, hiding beneath the veneer of a psychopath.

In the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, the Joker's origin is only hinted at in the spin-off Batman: Mask of the Phantasm movie. In a flashback, the Joker is seen before whatever turned him into the Joker (i.e. with normal skin and hair) as a driver/enforcer for Sal Valestra, one of Gotham City's crime lords. However, in the episode "Dreams In Darkness", an Arkham Asylum doctor says that the Joker's name is Jack Napier, the same name used in the Tim Burton movie.

Criminal career

From the Joker's first appearance in Batman #1, he has committed crimes both whimsical and inhumanly brutal, all with a logic and reasoning that, in Batman's words, "make sense to him alone."

In Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (then known as Batgirl and in later comics as Oracle), paralyzing her. He then kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and taunts him with enlarged photographs of his wounded daughter being undressed, in an attempt to prove that any emotionally and morally stable man can become insane after having "one really bad day." The Joker ridicules him as an example of "the average man", a naïve weakling doomed to insanity; but fails in his attempts to drive Gordon insane as Batman saves the commissioner and even though distressed, Gordon keeps a sound mind. After this Batman tries one final time to reach the Joker, offering to rehabilitate him. The Joker refuses, but shows his appreciation by sharing a joke with Batman and allowing himself to be taken back to Arkham.

The Joker murders Jason Todd, the second Robin, in the story "A Death in the Family". Jason Todd discovers that a woman who may be his birth mother is being blackmailed by the Joker. She betrays her son to keep from having her medical supply thefts exposed, leading to Jason's brutal beating by the Joker with a crowbar. The Joker locks Jason and his mother in the warehouse where the assault took place and blows it up just as Batman arrives. Readers could vote on whether they wanted Jason Todd to survive the blast. They voted for him to die, hence Batman finds Jason's lifeless body. Jason's death has haunted Batman ever since and has intensified his obsession with his archenemy.

In the one-shot comic Mad Love, Arkham psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel ponders whether the Joker may in fact be faking insanity so as to avoid the death penalty. As she tries to treat the Joker, he recounts a tale of an abusive father and runaway mother to gain her sympathy. She falls hopelessly in love with him and allows him to escape Arkham several times before she is eventually exposed. Driven over the edge with obsession, she becomes Harley Quinn, Joker's accomplice and on-and-off girlfriend.

The Joker and Harley Quinn.Art by Alex Ross.
The Joker and Harley Quinn.
Art by Alex Ross.

In a company-wide crossover, "Last Laugh", the Joker believes himself to be dying and plans one last historic crime spree, infecting the inmates of 'The Slab,' a prison for super criminals, with Joker venom to escape. With plans to infect the entire world, he sets the super-powered inmates loose to cause mass chaos in their 'jokerized' forms. Meanwhile, he tries to ensure his "legacy" by defacing statues in his image. The entire United States declares war on the Joker under the orders of President Lex Luthor; in response, Joker sends his minions to kill the President. Black Canary discovers that Joker's doctor modified his CAT scan to make it appear that he had a fatal tumor in an attempt to subdue him with the threat of death. Harley Quinn, angry at the Joker's attempt to get her pregnant without marrying her, helps the heroes create an antidote to the Joker poison and return the super villains to their normal state. Believing Robin had been eaten by Killer Croc in the ensuing madness, Nightwing eventually catches up with the Joker and beats him to death. To keep Nightwing from having blood on his hands, Batman resuscitates the Joker.

During the events of the No Man's Land storyline, the Joker murders Sarah Essen Gordon, Commissioner Gordon's second wife, by shooting her in the head as she tries to protect the infants that he has kidnapped. He surrenders to Batman, but continues to taunt Gordon, provoking the Commissioner to shoot him in the kneecap. The Joker laments that he may be paralyzed, and then collapses with laughter as he "gets the joke" that Gordon has just avenged his daughter's paralysis.

In Emperor Joker, a multipart story throughout the Superman 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, repeating the same patterns over and over. The conflict focuses on the fate of Batman in this world, with the Joker torturing and killing his adversary every day, only to bring him back to life and do it over and over again. Superman's powerful will allows him to fight off the Joker's influence enough to make contact with the weakened Mxyzptlk, who along with a less-powerful Spectre, encourages Superman to work out the Joker's weakness before reality is destroyed by the Joker's misuse of Mxyzptlk's power. As time runs out, Superman realizes that the Joker still cannot erase Batman from existence, as the Joker totally defines himself by his opposition to the Dark Knight; if the Joker can't even erase one man, how can he destroy the universe? The Joker's control shattered, Mxyzptlk and the Spectre manage to reconstruct reality from the moment the Joker disrupted everything, but Batman is left broken from experiencing multiple deaths. Superman has to steal Batman's memories so that he can go on, transferring them to the Joker and leaving him catatonic.

In the Under The Hood arc (Batman #635-650), Jason Todd returns to life. Angry at Batman for failing to avenge his death by killing the Joker, he takes over his killer's old Red Hood identity, abducts the Joker and attempts to force Batman to shoot him.

At the conclusion of Infinite Crisis the Joker kills Alexander Luthor, hero of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths and villain of Infinite Crisis.

In current continuity as of January 2008, the Joker is involved in the Salvation Run miniseries, leading one of two factions of supervillains who have been exiled from Earth to a distant prison planet.

Powers and abilities

The Joker commits crimes with countless "comedic" weapons (such as razor-sharp playing cards, acid-spewing flowers, cyanide pies, and lethally electric joy buzzers) and Joker venom, a deadly poison that infects his victims with a ghoulish rictus grin as they die while laughing uncontrollably. This 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 his venom. The Joker is highly intelligent and very skilled in the fields of chemistry, genetics, and engineering. In a miniseries featuring Tim Drake, the third Robin, he kidnaps a computer genius, admitting that he doesn't know much about computers. In future issues, he is shown as very computer literate. In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, he explains to a disarmed Terry McGinnis that beneath his "puckish exterior", lay the mind of a genius, years ahead of his time. This intellect allowed him to exploit stolen Project Cadmus genetics technology to imprint his DNA, memories, and personality onto a microchip, and set it into Tim Drake's brain.

Joker's skills in hand-to-hand combat vary considerably depending on the writer. Some writers have shown Joker to be quite the skilled fighter, capable even of holding his own against Batman in a fight. Other writers prefer portraying Joker as being 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. Though he has been seen caught in explosions, been shot repeatedly, dropped from lethal heights, electrocuted, and so on, the Joker always returns to once again wreak havoc.

Over several decades there have been a variety of depictions and possibilities regarding the Joker's apparent insanity, of which the following are a sampling:

Grant Morrison's graphic novel Arkham Asylum 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, after Scarecrow and the Joker team up and kidnap the mayor of Gotham City, Scarecrow turns on the Joker and uses his fear gas to see what Joker is afraid of. To Scarecrow's surprise, the gas has no effect on Joker, who in turn beats him with a chair. In Morrison's JLA title, the Martian Manhunter rewires his own brain in order to think like the Joker, and later briefly rewires the Joker's brain to create momentary sanity. In those few moments, the Joker realizes that he had to reevaluate his life and seemed to regret his various murders. He is returned to his usual self soon afterward.

Various DC Comics Who's Who publications state that his level of insanity is itself a superpower. In an alternate depiction of the Joker called Elseworlds: Distant Fires, the Joker is rendered sane by a nuclear war that deprives all super beings of their powers. 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, like the more commonplace insanity, was only temporary, and soon the Joker was back to his "normal" self.

The character is sometimes portrayed as having a heightened sense of self-awareness that other characters do not, such as being aware of being in a comic book. This fourth wall awareness also seems to carry over to Batman: The Animated Series. The Joker is the only character to talk directly into the "camera", and can be heard whistling his own theme music in the episode adaptation of the comic Mad Love. In the Marvel vs DC 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.

Joker's blood itself is poisonous, as is stated in Batman #663 when Morrison writes that "being an avid consumer of his products, Joker's immunity to poisons has been built up over years of dedicated abuse" and then when the mosquito sucks Joker's blood it "writhes and whines, choking on tainted blood".

Character

The Joker has been referred to as the Clown Prince of Crime, the Harlequin of Hate, 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 fiendishly intelligent lunatic 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. The 1990s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series blended these two aspects to great acclaim, 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. A 1996 issue of Hitman stated that the Joker once gassed an entire kindergarten class. 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's just a resting ground in between his "performances". Indeed, during the "Justice" Miniseries by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross, Joker says to The Riddler he can break out at any time, he only stays in Arkham for as long as he thinks it's funny. A couple issues later, he is then seen roaming free. In the last issue, however, he is back in Arkham, apparently by his own will though.

There have been times when Batman has been tempted to put the Joker down once and for all, but has relented at the last minute. After capturing the Joker in one story, he threatens to kill his old foe, but then says, "But that would give you the final victory, making me into a killer like yourself!" Conversely, the Joker has given up many chances to kill Batman. Their mutual obsession is unique compared to other superheroes and villains:

The Joker #1 (May 1975). Cover art by Dick Giordano.
The Joker #1 (May 1975). Cover art by Dick Giordano.
  • In "The Clown at Midnight" (featured in Batman #663), the Joker states to Batman, "You can't kill me without becoming like me. I can't kill you without losing the only human being who can keep up with me. Isn't it ironic?!" The Joker says later, "I could never kill you. Where would the act be without my straight man?"
  • In "Going Sane" (featured in Legends of the Dark Knight # 65-68), the Joker lures Batman into a trap that he believes kills his arch nemesis. Batman's apparent death snaps the Joker back to sanity and prompts him to undergo plastic surgery in order to look like a normal human being. The Joker attempts to lead a normal, honest life, donning the name Joseph Kerr (a pun on his criminal moniker) and engaging in a small romance with a neighbor. Normality does not last for the Joker, however, as he later discovers Batman to be alive, which drives him to insanity. The Joker then mutilates himself in order to restore his trademark white skin, green hair, and crimson lips, and resumes his quest to destroy Batman.
  • In "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" (collected in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told), The Joker gets the drop on an already wounded Batman and knocks him unconscious. Looking at his fallen enemy, he thinks, "His life is mine...I can crush the breath out of him...effortlessly! I can, at last, triumph! But such a hollow victory! It was mere luck that caused my attack on him to succeed! I'd always envisioned my winning as a result of cunning...at the end of a bitter struggle between The Batman and myself - him using his detective skills and me employing the divine gift men call madness! NO! Without the game that the Batman and I have played for so many years, winning is nothing! He shall live...until I can destroy him properly!" He then leaves the room, leaving his nemesis be for the time being.
  • In another issue, the Joker threatens to kill crime boss Rupert Thorne if he uncovered Batman's secret identity. Thorne had Hugo Strange discover Batman's identity. But when Strange refuses to tell who Batman is, Thorne has him killed. The Joker, who was also bidding for Batman's identity alongside the Penguin, tells Thorne he was lucky Strange took whatever secrets he held with him to the grave; he explains that he is destined to defeat Batman in a manner worthy of his criminal reputation, and that no one else has the right.
  • In Emperor Joker, although the Joker uses his new god-like powers to torture Batman to death night after night, he still cannot erase his foe from existence. Superman states that this is because the Joker totally defines himself by his opposition to the Dark Knight, and how the Joker lives in Batman's world rather than Batman living in the Joker's.
  • In the movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Terry McGinnis, the successor to the mantle of Dark Knight, tells the Joker that the real reason he keeps coming back is because he never got a laugh out of the original Batman.
  • In an Episode of "Batman: The Animated Series" titled "The Man Who Killed Batman", a small time thug named Sid is believed by the entire city to have killed Batman. The Joker captures this man and shows contempt towards him. In fact, when he meets him, he has tremendous difficulty admitting it was Sid who killed him. Joker initially doesn't believe he's dead and robs a jewelry store in an attempt to draw Batman out of hiding. However, when Batman doesn't show after an hour, Joker realizes he must be truly dead and orders Harley and his goons to put everything away as "there's no point in crime anymore." He then takes Sid to a chemical plant and nails him in a coffin and drops it into a vat of chemicals, all the while eulogizing Batman, stating it was sad for him to have died at the hands of some pathetic, small-time loser. It is assumed the chemical plant is the same one in which Batman knocked Joker into the vat of chemicals which created him.
  • In the one-shot graphic novel and later The New Batman Adventures episode "Mad Love", Harley Quinn suggests just shooting Batman instead of making some complex plan like always, to which Joker goes into a fit of rage, saying his defeat of Batman has to be magnificent. Once Harley captures and nearly kills Batman on her own, Joker stops and beats her, saying he's the only one who can kill Batman. Ironically, however, when he gets the chance to kill Batman in this venture, he pulls out his gun and aims it at Batman, who kicks the gun from the Joker's hand and then makes fun of how Harley came closer to killing him in one try than Joker has in dozens of tries, which sends the Joker into another rage.

The Joker is renowned as Batman's most unpredictable foe. 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) acid, poisonous laughing gas, or nothing at all. In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and much earlier in "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker!" (Batman #321), 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. His most recurring gadget is a high-voltage hand-buzzer, which he uses to electrocute his victims with a handshake. Sometimes he commits crimes just for the fun of it, while on other occasions, it is part of a grand scheme; Batman has been noted to say that the Joker's plans make sense to him alone. His capricious nature, coupled with his violent streak, makes him the one villain that the DC Universe's other super-villains fear; 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 one-shot Underworld Unleashed, the Trickster remarks, "When super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories".

The March 2007 issue of Wizard magazine had a two-page article in which various comic book writers and artists were asked to give their favorite moments with The Joker. Comics writer Kurt Busiek discussed two moments that helped to demonstrate the Joker's insanity:

"Hands down, the best Joker bit ever, to my mind, is when he tries to copyright fish, in Detective Comics #474-475. It's such a demented thing to do, but he pursues it so intently, so matter-of-factly – pausing only to wonder if it might not work because people might stop eating fish, but reasoning that vegetarians won’t go for it – that it really makes him feel like a madman, rather than like a criminal with daffy overtones. And there’s a bit in Swamp Thing [#30], where the world is overcome with horror, and the way we’re told how bad it is, is that someone notices the Joker's stopped laughing. Not a Joker moment, per se, but it works so well simply because the Joker's so solidly established as the high-water mark for insanity in the DCU.

Other versions

DC Universe

  • In pre-Crisis continuity, there was a considerably older version of the Joker living on Earth-Two. His silver age appearances involved his alliance with King Kull of Earth-S while battling the golden age Batman and Robin, and his later battle versus Batman's daughter the Huntress.
  • A female version of the Joker, modeled on Duela Dent, appeared as part of DC's Tangent Comics line in her own one-shot (Tangent Comics: The Joker) in 1997. A superhero, she also appeared as a member of Tangent's Secret Six. The character was popular enough to merit a second one-shot, The Joker's Wild, in the second wave of Tangent Comics one year later. Recently, in Infinite Crisis, the Tangent Comics universe was revealed to have previously been Earth-97, making her the Joker of Earth-97. In the new multiverse, the Tangent Universe's new numerical designation is, as revealed in Countdown: Arena #2, Earth-9.
  • In Countdown, The Joker's Earth-3 counterpart is a hero who began his career by making jokes about Owlman. When Owlman murdered Harleen Quinzel and mutilated the comedian's face, he became the Jokester. He fought Owlman and his sidekick, Talon, many a time until one night he was saved from death at Owlman's hands by The Riddler, Three-Face, and their daughter, Duela Dent. The four formed an alliance that was cut short by Ultraman, Superwoman, and Owlman. He escaped and hid until the right moment to strike back at the Crime Syndicate. That chance came when the Society engaged the Challengers from Beyond (Kyle Rayner, Donna Troy and Jason Todd), The Jokester followed them to Earth-15 and then to Earth-8, where he was killed by its Monitor.
  • In All Star Batman and Robin he is shown to have planned the murder of Dick Grayson's parents and is a mob boss. He is also shown to be planning something with Catwoman.

Elseworlds

  • In Batman: Nosferatu, the Joker is the "Laughing Man", a white-faced, murderous creature, a prototype cyborg built by Luthor from one of Dr. Arkham's patients.
  • In Batman: Bloodstorm, the sequel to Batman's fight with Dracula that resulted in him being transformed into a vampire, the Joker takes charge of the remaining vampires, convincing them that he is a better leader to them alive and thinking long-term than transformed into a vampire and more concerned with his next meal. Under the Joker's leadership, the vampires kill all of Gotham's major crime families, but this makes them easy prey for Batman's daylight allies. The Joker's few remaining vampire allies are killed in a last stand, but the Joker manages to kill Catwoman in the process. Driven mad with grief, Batman breaks the Joker's neck and drains his blood, committing his first murder as a vampire. Horrified by what he has done, Batman flees after staking the Joker, but knows that, in his last breath, the Joker has won by turning Batman into a murderer.
  • In JLA: The Nail, the Joker is given access to Kryptonian weaponry by the altered Jimmy Olsen, using it to kill Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson right in front of Batman. However, Joker loses his concentration when Catwoman intervenes, allowing Batman to escape. Batman, driven to the brink of madness with grief and rage, kills the Joker on the roof of Arkham Asylum. In the sequel, JLA: Another Nail, they have a rematch in Hell.
  • In Batman: Leatherwing, the Joker is a sadistic 18th century pirate known as "The Laughing man", although he is called Joker several times in the dialogue.
  • In Batman: In Darkest Knight, where Bruce Wayne is chosen as Green Lantern instead of Hal Jordan, he easily averts the accident that initially transformed the criminal who was once the Red Hood into the Joker. Later, Sinestro uses his power ring to absorb Joe Chill's mind, the strain apparently causing him to become somewhat deranged, effectively filling the role of the Joker in the story.
  • In the future setting of Kingdom Come, the now middle-aged Joker, having killed several staff members at the Daily Planet (Perry White, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen among them), is arrested by the police. Before he can be prosecuted, he is killed by Magog, an act which eventually leads to the main storyline of Kingdom Come. The series also includes a character called Joker's Daughter II. The graphic novel version lists each of the characters that appear in each chapter, and states that she is "one of many to follow the Joker's chaotic style".
  • Another female Joker appeared in Batgirl and Robin: Thrillkiller, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin and Dan Brereton and published in 1997-98. Set in 1962-64, it has Batgirl, her lovers Robin, and Batman, taking on corrupt establishment figures rather than all-out criminals. Their main enemy is the Joker-like Bianca Steeplechase who is assisted by a team of corrupt cops led by the Two-Face-like Detective Duell. As part of her bid to rule the Gotham criminal underworld, she also beds the local mayors. Harley Quinn appears in this Elseworld adventure as a late adolescent schoolgirl. Arkham is implied to be a drug rehabilitation center.
  • In the Elseworlds novel Batman: Two Faces, the Joker takes the role of both Jack the Ripper and Mister Hyde, becoming the exact opposite of Batman.
  • In Gotham by Gaslight, Joker makes a cameo appearance. He is a thief who attempted suicide with strychnine when he was about to be apprehended by the police. His failed attempt left him disfigured and insane.
  • In Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, set after the death of the original Joker, a second Joker arises and kills several superheroes before fighting an elderly Batman and his new sidekick Catgirl. The second Joker is revealed to be Dick Grayson, the original Robin, driven mad from extensive and radical gene therapy given by Lex Luthor's regime.
  • In the graphic novel Batman: Detective No. 27, two alternate versions of the Joker appear: Professor Josiah Carr, an insane member of the Confederacy responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, who plots the destruction of America; and Jack Napier, one of the two thugs responsible for the death of Wayne's parents, and pawn of the late Carr's scheme. Both speak the line "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?", taking inspiration from the earlier film interpretation of the character.
  • In JSA: The Liberty Files The Joker is "Jack the Grin", an albino arms dealer who is on the run after intercepting a Nazi radio message regarding Hitler's secret weapon. Jack, knowing he's a marked man, tries to dye his hair brown but it turns green. He goes into hiding, only to be caught by allied forces. While being transported back to the states by plane, the aircraft is shot down over Egypt. Suffering from slight amnesia, Jack shambles his way to a safe house. The US government sends Batman, Hourman and Doctor Mid-Nite to apprehend him before he falls into Nazi hands.
  • In Planetary/Batman: Night On Earth, the Joker of the Wildstorm universe is actually a sane - if slightly giggly - Planetary operative called Jasper, who works with that universe's Dick Grayson.
  • In Batman: I, Joker, the Gotham City of the future is ruled by a cult who worships Batman and his descendant, the Bruce. Once every year, there are challengers who try to usurp the rule of Batman, but even worse, this Bruce has people taken off the street and has them turned into Batman's old enemies complete with their memories. The newest Joker, Joe Collins, was able to maintain his original memories, and dons a Batman outfit alongside a new Robin to try and destroy the cult.
  • In Superman: Speeding Bullets, in which baby Kal-El of Krypton is adopted as Bruce Wayne and grows up to be a super-powered Batman, Lex Luthor suffers an industrial accident and becomes The Joker.
  • In All-Star Batman and Robin, the Joker is a melancholy serial killer, responsible for the murder of Dick Grayson's parents. This version sport a large tattoo of a dragon on his back,similair to the Yakuza, has a neo-nazi hechwoman named "Bruno", and is shown to be scheming with Catwoman. He has has commited sex crimes with several women.

Other media

The Joker has appeared in almost every medium in which Batman has appeared, including live-action and animated productions, and video games.

Live-action

The Joker played by Cesar Romero
The Joker played by Cesar Romero

Cesar Romero portrayed the character in 18 episodes of the 1960s Batman television series. The Joker of this series is characterized by a cackling laugh and comedy-themed crimes that were silly in nature, such as turning the city's water supply into jelly, beating Batman in a surfing competition, and bank robberies based on stand-up routines. Romero refused to shave his mustache for the role, and it was partially visible beneath his white face makeup. Romero reprised his role in the 1966 film Batman.

The Joker was the antagonist of 1989 film Batman, directed by Tim Burton, where he was portrayed by Jack Nicholson. In the film, the character was a gangster named Jack Napier who is disfigured when he falls into a vat of chemicals during a confrontation with Batman. When Wayne learns about the Joker, he recalls that his parents were murdered by two thugs, one of whom was a young Jack Napier, realizing that the Joker is indirectly responsible for the origin of Batman. In the flashback scene showing Napier's murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Napier was played by Hugo E Blick. Newsweek's review of the film stated that the best scenes in the movie are due to the surreal black comedy portrayed in this character. Nicholson's Joker ranks #45 in the American Film Institute's list of the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains|top 50 film villains of all time.

The Joker, as portrayed by Jack Nicholson (left) and Heath Ledger (right).
The Joker, as portrayed by Jack Nicholson (left) and Heath Ledger (right).

During the OnStar "Batman" ad campaign, the Joker appeared in one commercial, played by Curtis Armstrong. Roger Stoneburner made a cameo appearance as the character in an episode of Birds of Prey. Mark Hamill, who voiced the Joker in various animated shows throughout the 1990s, provided the Joker's voice in the scene, and he was the only one of the two actors to be credited.

At the end of the franchise reboot film Batman Begins (2005), a joker card is mentioned as a Calling card (crime)|calling card by a criminal who was not explicitly named. Screenwriter David S Goyer explained in Premiere (magazine)|Premiere magazine that he planned to use the Joker as the main villain for the sequel. In The Dark Knight (2008) the character was portrayed by Heath Ledger. In a New York Times article, Ledger stated that his Joker is a "psychopathy|psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenia|schizophrenic clown with zero empathy." Costume designer Lindy Hemming described the Joker's look as being based around his personality, in which "he doesn't care about himself at all." She avoided his design being Vagrancy (people)|vagrant, but nonetheless it is "scruffier, grungier and therefore when you see him move, he's slightly twitchier or edgy." Unlike other incarnations, where his appearance is a result of chemical bleaching, the Joker's facial scarring is more in the style of a Glasgow smile and accentuates it through white, black, green, and red make-up. The Joker tells conflicting stories about how he acquired the scars; in one he claims to have been assaulted by his mentally-disturbed father, while in another he claims to have mutilated himself. His true name is also never revealed, adding on to the mysterious aura around his background.

Animation

The Joker appeared as a recurring adversary in the 1968-1969 Filmation series The Adventures of Batman. Two episodes of the 1972 series The New Scooby-Doo Movies featured a meeting with Batman; the Joker was one of the villains, voiced by Larry Storch. The Joker was featured in five episodes of Filmation's 1977 series The New Adventures of Batman, where he was voiced by Lennie Weinrib. His only Super Friends appearance was in the show's final incarnation, The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, where he appeared in both the intro and the episode "The Wild Cards", which featured a version of the Royal Flush Gang. The leader of the group, Ace, turned out to be a disguised Joker (voiced by Frank Welker).

The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series
The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series

In Batman: The Animated Series, which debuted in 1992, the Joker was voiced by Mark Hamill. As detailed in the episode "Beware the Creeper" and in the spin-off movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), the Joker was previously a former anonymous hit man for a Mafia gang known as the Valestra mob with ties to the Beaumont family. His boss is crime lord Sal Valestra, who is owed ransom money by Beaumont. Batman: The Animated Series was revamped as The New Batman Adventures in 1997. The Joker was redesigned; his red lips are gone, his eyes are black with white irises, and his hair jet black instead of green. The character was again redesigned for appearances in in the Static Shock episode "The Big Leagues" and the Justice League series. The character also appeared in the direct-to-video film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2001), a spinoff of the series Batman Beyond, where the Joker returns after having been missing for decades to plague Gotham in the future. In all these appearance the character was voiced by Mark Hamill. A different version of the character appeared in a segment of the episode "Legends of the Dark Knight" from The New Batman Adventures inspired by the Dick Sprang comics of the 1950s. Unlike the rest of the series, the Joker was voiced in this segment by Michael McKean.

A very different interpretation of the Joker appears in the animated series The Batman, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. In his first few episodes, he sports a purple and yellow straitjacket, fingerless gloves, bare feet, wild green hair, red eyes, and martial arts skill that mark him as different from his predecessors. Later in the series, he adopts the more traditional garb of a purple suit and spats, but still has wild hair and wears no shoes, save one episode. The Joker also moves and fights with a monkey kung fu|monkey-like style, using his feet as dexterously as his hands, and often hangs from the walls and ceilings (as the series progresses, these abilities do not appear as much). He employs the signature Joker venom in the form of a laughing gas. This version of the character also appears in the direct-to-video film The Batman vs Dracula, where he is temporarily turned into a vampire.

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