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The Joker is a fictional character, a DC Comics supervillain widely considered to be Batman's archenemy. He was first introduced into the DC Comics universe in Batman #1 (1940) and has remained consistently popular ever since.
The Joker is a master criminal with a clown-like appearance. Initially portrayed as a violent sociopath who murders people 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, sociopathic killer. The Joker has been responsible for numerous tragedies in Batman's life, including the paralysis of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and the murders of Jason Todd (the second Robin) and Sarah Essen, Jim Gordon's second wife.
Interpretations of the Joker in other media include Cesar Romero's in the 1960s Batman television series, Jack Nicholson's in Tim Burton's 1989 feature film, and Mark Hamill's in Batman: The Animated Series and other DC Animated Universe shows. The character ranks first in the comics-hobbyist magazine Wizard's list of the top 100 villains. As played by Nicholson, The Joker ranks #45 in the American Film Institute's list of the top 50 film villains of all time.
 Publication history
Originally conceived as an evil "court-jester" type, the character was initially rejected by studio writer Bill Finger as being "too clownish," but he later relayed the idea to Bob Kane. Kane, who started out as a gag artist, loved the concept and encouraged its production. Finger found a photograph of actor Conrad Veidt wearing make-up for the silent film The Man Who Laughs, and it was from this photograph that the Joker was modeled. This influence was later admitted by Kane in 1970 and 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 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".||”|
In his initial dozen or so appearances, starting with Batman #1 (1940), the Joker was a straightforward spree killer/mass murderer, with a bizarre appearance modeled after the symbol of the Joker known from playing cards. It is of note that in his second appearance he was actually slated to be killed off, with the final page detailing the villain accidentally stabbing himself, lying dead as Batman and Robin run off into the night. DC editor Whitney Ellsworth thought the Joker was too good a character to kill off, suggesting that he be spared. A hastily drawn panel, calculated to imply that the Joker was still alive, was subsequently added to the comic.
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, impressive for a villain who didn't use giant robots, mutant monsters, or space lasers, as was the status quo between 1940 until around 1942. Ironically, the turning point came in "Joker Walks the Last Mile" (Detective Comics #64), when the Joker was actually executed in the electric chair only to be chemically revived by henchmen.
While the Joker was back, he was decidedly less deadly than previous engagements. At this point, the editors decided that only one-shot villains should commit murder, so as to not make Batman look impotent in his inability to punish such recurring foes as the Joker or the Penguin. As the Batman comics softened their tone, the Joker shifted towards a harmless, cackling nuisance. He quickly became the most popular villain and was used frequently during the Golden Age of Comic Books. The use of the character lessened somewhat by the late 1950s, and disappeared almost entirely when Julius Schwartz took over editorship of the Batman comics in 1964.
In 1973, the character was revived and profoundly revised in the Batman comic stories by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams. Beginning in Batman #251, with the story "The Joker's Five Way Revenge", the Joker becomes a homicidal maniac who casually murders people on a whim, while enjoying battles of wits with Batman. This take on the character has taken prominence since. Steve Englehart, in his short but well-received run on the book, added elements deepening the severity of the Joker's insanity.
Joker even had his own nine-issue series during the 1970s in which he faces off against a variety of foes, 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 relationship often resembles that of 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.
 Fictional character biography
Detective Comics #168 (February 1951) revealed that he had been a criminal known as the Red Hood. In the story, the Red Hood falls into a vat of chemicals while escaping from Batman. He emerges with white skin, green hair, and a bizarre grin.
Though many have been related, a definitive history of the Joker has never been established in the comics, and his true name has never been confirmed. The most widely cited backstory can be seen in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. It depicts him as originally being an engineer at a chemical plant who quit his job to pursue his dream of being 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 leader appear to be the inside man, allowing the two ring-leaders 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 fatal shoot-out ensues, in which the two criminals are killed. As he 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 Joker was called Jack.
No recounting of the Joker's origin has been definitive, however, as 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!"
 Criminal career
From the Joker's first appearance in Batman #1, he has been willing (and eager) to wreak as much havoc as possible upon innocent people in order to claim the mantle of Gotham City's greatest criminal mastermind. Throughout his decades-long war with Batman, 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 The Killing Joke, the Joker appears at Commissioner Jim Gordon's home one night and shoots Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) in the stomach at close range, paralyzing her. He then kidnaps the Commissioner. The Joker strips Barbara naked and takes photographs of her injured body, which he later shows Gordon in an attempt to drive him insane; Joker seeks to prove that any man can have "one really bad day" and become just like him. Batman rescues Gordon before pursuing the Joker, eventually cornering him on the rooftop. Batman tries one final time to reach his old foe, offering to rehabilitate him. The Joker refuses, but shows his appreciation by sharing a joke with Batman. The two begin to laugh before Joker allows himself to be taken back to Arkham.
One of the Joker's biggest impacts on Batman's life was the murder of Jason Todd, the second Robin, in the story "A Death in the Family". In his search for his long lost mother, Jason eventually finds her as the Joker's captive. Joker beats Jason to within an inch of his life with a crowbar before blowing up the warehouse they are in. Joker escapes, but Jason is killed. Batman finds the boy's lifeless body. Jason's death has haunted him since and intensified his obsession with his archenemy.
In "The Devil's Advocate", Joker is convicted of a spree of murders where all the victims were left with the Joker's trademark grin. Though normally his plea of insanity would allow him to escape the death penalty, The Joker instead pleads innocent of the "amateurish" crimes, and is sentenced to death. However, Batman refuses to believe that the Joker committed the crimes because they are uncharacteristic of his arch-nemesis. Batman succeeds in identifying the real killer, who was attempting to frame the Joker.
A psychiatrist eventually begins to ponder that perhaps the Joker is in fact perfectly sane, and faking insanity so as to avoid the death penalty. This psychiatrist is Harleen Quinzel, the future Harley Quinn. As she tried to treat the Joker, he recounts a tale of an abusive father and runaway mother to gain her sympathy. It works all too well; she falls hopelessly in love with him and allows him to escape Arkham several times before she is eventually caught. Driven over the edge with obsession, she becomes a criminal and the Joker's on-and-off girlfriend.
In a company-wide crossover, "The 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 before escaping. He sets the super-powered inmates loose on the world to cause mass chaos in their 'jokerized' forms. Meanwhile, he tries to ensure his "legacy" by defacing statues in his image and attempting to impregnate Harley Quinn. 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. The heroes of the world try to fight off the rampaging villains, while Black Canary discovers that Joker's doctor modified his CAT scan to make it appear that he had a fatal tumour in an attempt to subdue him with the threat of death. Meanwhile, Harley Quinn, angry at Joker's attempt to get her pregnant, helps the heroes who rescued her to create a cure to the Joker poison, return the super villains to their normal state, and eventually came up with an antidote.
Believing Robin was dead, Nightwing eventually catches up with the Joker and prepares to take the madman down once and for all. The Joker, happy to end his life by killing the first Robin, faces Nightwing in a physical one on one, a match that Nightwing easily dominates. Nightwing finally kills the Joker, just as Batman and his allies arrive. Refusing to allow the Joker to escape justice, Batman revives him and sends him back to jail. The super criminals are all cured of the Joker's venom.
During the events of the No Man's Land storyline, the Joker murders Sarah Essen Gordon, Commissioner Gordon's second wife, by shooting her through the head as she tried to protect infants that he had kidnapped. Even the Joker finds no humor in his actions until Gordon retaliated by shooting him in the leg. The Joker begins to laugh, seeing the irony in losing the use of his leg after he paralyzed Barbara Gordon years earlier.
During the return of new villain Hush to Gotham City, The Riddler hires the Joker to save him, offering the Joker the name of the crooked cop who killed his wife all those years ago. However, the Joker's attempted revenge is cut short when Hush attacks with Prometheus, forcing the Joker to retreat. After Jason Todd returns to life and takes over his killer's old Red Hood identity during the lead-up to Infinite Crisis, Jason asserts that the Joker was not quite as crazy as he leads people to believe. Jason attempts to force Batman to shoot the Joker, angered at Batman's refusal to kill the Joker despite what he'd done. Batman refused, however, driving Jason away with a well-aimed batarang instead. 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 Detective Comics #826, during the holiday season, Joker captures Robin and drives him through the city in a minivan. While driving, Joker aimlessly runs over innocent bystanders, kills a fast food manager in cold blood, and subjects Robin to physical and psychological torture. Eventually, Robin tricks the Joker by starting a conversation about the Marx Brothers, which distracts Joker long enough for Robin to attempt an escape. Eventually, he escapes, wrecking the minivan in the process. The Joker's body is never found.
Batman #655 opens with Joker having poisoned Commissioner Gordon and apparently having beaten Batman to death while disabled children he had taken hostage were forced to watch. He had also shattered the Bat-signal. However, the Batman he had beaten is a fake, an ex-cop in a Batman suit. Moreover, he is not dead, and pulls a gun. Batman arrives in time to save the Joker, but not before the bullet grazes his forehead.
Batman #663 features the return of the Joker, who has had to undergo skin grafting procedures due to injuries sustained during his last encounter with Batman, which left him immobile and unable to speak correctly. While in intensive care at Arkham, he sends Harley Quinn to kill all of his old henchman with a new death gas in order to signal his forthcoming "rebirth". Harley lures Batman to Arkham to confront The Joker (who at this point has undergone a mental transformation, subsequently reinventing himself, as first explained in Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth), thinking Joker will kill Batman at midnight. This reinvention is referred to as 'The Thin White Duke of Death'. Instead, Joker attempts first to kill, then mutilate Harley Quinn in front of Batman. After a fight between Joker and Batman, Harley shoots the Joker, wounding him. Batman then brings the Joker back into custody. This issue, written in text form by Grant Morrison and illustrated by John Van Fleet, deeply explores the Joker's psyche and expands upon concepts introduced in The Killing Joke and A Serious House on Serious Earth. Also, unlike most comics, this issue is written in prose format, with the art accentuating highlighted moments within the story.
 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 till the present. The Joker is immune to his venom. The Joker is also very skilled in the fields of chemistry, genetics, and computer technology. He can and will use any weaponry available to him, from joke pistols to nuclear missiles.
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.
The Joker has cheated death numerous times, even in seemingly inescapable and lethal situations. Though he has been seen to "die" through explosions, has been repeatedly shot, dropped from heights and through various other means, the Joker always manages to return fully alive and unscathed to wreak havoc again.
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. This suggests that due to his insanity, the Joker literally has no fear, or at least has no hidden demons. 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 old self soon afterward.
It is often implied that the Joker was transformed both physically and mentally by the accident in the chemical plant. In various DC Comics Who's Who publications, it has been stated that due to his level of insanity, at times the Joker manifests a degree of superhuman strength. In an alternate depiction of the Joker called Elseworlds: Distant Fires, Joker is rendered sane by a nuclear war which 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.
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.
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 Batman universe, interpretations and incarnations of the Joker have taken two forms. The original and currently dominant image is of a sadistic, fiendishly intelligent sociopath with a warped sense of humor, deriving pleasure from inflicting twisted, morbid death and terror upon innocent people. In this, he is a textbook example of antisocial personality disorder; in a sense, he is Charles Manson cursed with a clown's grinning face and a grotesque sense of showmanship. 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 is notable for blending these two aspects to great acclaim, although most interpretations tend to embrace one characterization or the other.
The Joker's perennial standing among Batman's enemies likely derives from the fact that he represents the antithesis of Batman's personality and methods. Batman is generally depicted, even in the campy 1960s television show, as a serious, stoic man who pursues his campaign against crime with utter earnestness and a disciplined, focused mind. In the darker portrayals of the comics, in addition to more recent films and television, the Dark Knight is further depicted as a brooding and humorless avenger who pursues justice as an enigmatic shadow striking from the dead of night. The Joker, by contrast, is symbolized as a killer clown, driven by a disordered mind to pursue destruction and chaos with as much panache as possible. His appearance and actions suggest the bright and garish pomp and circumstance of the circus. Nightwing has stated that he believes the Joker and Batman exist because of each other; that Batman represents order and Joker the chaos that challenges it. Like Superman and Lex Luthor, it has been suggested that Batman and the Joker need each other.
The Joker's victims have included men, women, children, and even his own henchmen. An issue of Hitman in 1996 stated that the Joker had once gassed an entire kindergarten class. In the graphic novel The Joker: Devil's Advocate, the Joker is stated as having 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.
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 had many chances to kill Batman but always forgoes them feeling that he needs Batman as a challenge.
The Joker's obsession with Batman, and vice versa, is unique compared to other superheroes and villains:
- 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 another issue, the Joker threatens to kill crime boss Rupert Thorne if he uncovers Batman's secret identity. Thorne has Hugo Strange discover Batman's identity, but, when Strange refuses to tell him who Batman is, has him killed. The Joker, who is 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 the movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Terry McGinnis, the successor to the mantle of Dark Knight, says to the Joker that the only real reason he keeps coming back is because he never got a laugh out of the original Batman. The Joker has also said that without Batman, his life is nothing.
- In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, a catatonic Joker becomes animated only after seeing a police report that Batman has returned to action, setting in motion a final confrontation.
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 dart saying "BANG!", but then, with another pull of the trigger, the dart fires (in the censored version of the movie, the gun shot out laughing gas instead of the dart). His most recurring gadget is his high-voltage hand-buzzer where he literally electrocutes 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. This capricious nature, coupled with his maniacal bloodlust, makes Joker the one villain that the DC Universe's other super-villains fear; in the Villains United 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 (pgs 42 & 43) in which various comic book writers and artists were asked to give their favorite moments with The Joker. Kurt Busiek (writer of Superman) discussed a couple 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.||”|
 Alternate versions
This article contains alternate versions of the Joker, appearances in other media, and theme park attractions.
 See also
 External links
- Joker's Realm (Web.Archive.org)
- The Joker's Circus
- DC Comics Secret Files: The Joker
- DCDP: The Joker
- Information about the Joker by Comics 101
|Creators:||Bob Kane • Bill Finger • Other writers and artists|
|Supporting Characters:||Robin (Tim Drake) • Nightwing (Dick Grayson) • Batgirl • Batwoman • Alfred Pennyworth • Lucius Fox • Barbara Gordon • Commissioner Gordon • Harvey Bullock|
|Villains:||Bane • Catwoman • Clayface • Harley Quinn • Joker • Killer Croc • Mr. Freeze • Penguin • Poison Ivy • Ra's al Ghul • Red Hood (Jason Todd) • Riddler • Scarecrow • Two-Face • Other villains|
|Locations:||Arkham Asylum • Batcave • Gotham City • Wayne Enterprises • Wayne Manor|
|Miscellanea:||Batarang • Batmobile • Batsuit • Popular media • Publications • Storylines • Alternate versions of Batman|