With a history almost as long as that of his arch enemy and a similar cultural reach to the Caped Crusader himself, it seems odd that so little is known about the Joker.
Having first appeared in 1940’s Batman #1, he has gone on to appear in thousands of comics, on television in both live action shows and animated shows, in blockbuster movies, video games and pretty much everything else you can possibly think of e.g. toys, merchandise, posters, mugs, fridge magnets, etc.
Everybody knows certain things about him – the psychotic clown get up, the weird love/hate relationship with the Dark Knight – but that’s about it.
The character’s past has been purposefully kept vague, with the multiple different origin stories he gives in “The Dark Knight” film characteristic as the various different explanations for his madness and scarred appearance that have cropped up in the funnybooks. His motivations are similarly vague, with the occasional reference to his belief in chaos or anarchy. Of course, the most memorable modern day interpretations of the Joker includes the late Heath Ledger’s in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy.
And we can assume, as well as the upcoming “Suicide Squad” one, to be played by Jared Leto:
It’s safe to say that Jared Leto certainly has big clown shoes (pun totally intended) to fill for his role in “Suicide Squad”, because Heath Ledger.
That aside, the known facts of the character are immediately iconic: he’s insane, he grins, he has green hair, wears a purple suit and make-up and revels in ruining Batman’s day, but there are equally a number of supposed known truths about the Clown Prince Of Crime that even the most ardent of Batman fans regularly get confused by.
Here are 7 things you didn’t know about the Joker:
1. More than one person was credited for the creation of the Joker
Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, and Bob Kane are credited with creating the Joker, but each man had their own version of the character’s conception and their role in it. Elements of the character’s roots include a photo of actor Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine (a man with a disfigured face, giving him a perpetual grin) in the 1928 film, “The Man Who Laughs”, which was seen by Finger, and a joker playing card provided by Robinson. Finger said that he was also inspired by an image in Steeplechase Park at Coney Island, and Robinson cited his 1940 sketch as the source of the Joker’s design. Although Kane adamantly refused to share credit for many of his characters (and refused to credit Robinson until Kane’s death), many comic historians credit Robinson with the Joker’s creation and Finger with the character’s development.
2. He was going to die in Batman #1 (25th April 1940)
The Joker debuted in Batman #1 (1940) as Batman’s first villain, shortly after the latter’s debut in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). Now arguably the best super villain of all time, the Joker first appeared as a remorseless serial killer, modeled after a joker playing card with a mirthless grin, who killed his victims with “Joker venom”: a toxin which left their faces smiling grotesquely. Eew. But Batman creator Bob Kane was ready to kill off the evil jester in his very first appearance. Bill Finger, too, wanted the Joker to die because of his concern that recurring villains would make Batman appear inept. So, as with many of Batman’s early villains, the plan was to have the Joker die through some fatal accident – in this case, stabbed in the heart. Luckily, Batman editor Whitney Ellsworth saw his potential and forced Kane to include a panel showing the Joker coming back to life.
3. They told the Joker’s life (origin) story, but only in 1988
The Joker has had various possible origin stories during his over 7 decades in publication. The most common story is in “Batman: The Killing Joke” (1988), which was built on the Joker’s 1951 origin story, portraying him as a failed comedian pressured into committing crime as the Red Hood to support his pregnant wife, Jeannie. You see, the man who will eventually become the Joker was an engineer who quit his job at a chemical company to become a stand-up comedian, only to fail miserably. Desperate to support Jeannie, he agreed to guide 2 criminals through the chemical plant he previously worked at so that they can rob the card company next door. During the planning, the police informed him that his wife has died in a household accident. Then, at the plant, Batman’s interference caused him to leap into a chemical vat, which disfigured him. This, combined with the trauma of his wife’s death, made him to go insane and become the supervillain. However, the Joker himself said that this story may not be true and prefers his past to be “multiple choice”. In Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989), the name Jack Napier was used as the character’s real name.
4. His girlfriend, Harley Quinn, was originally a cartoon character
Contrary to popular belief, Harley Quinn did not Dr Harleen Quinzel first made her debut as the Joker’s therapist-turned-girlfriend in “Batman: The Animated Series, with her ensuing popularity leading to an introduction in the comic book universe during the No Man’s Land crossover, which involved Gotham being rocked by earthquakes, getting cut off from the rest of the country, and the Joker running an entire corner of the city. Since then, she has become almost as recognisable and beloved a member of Batman’s rogues gallery as her beau, probably thanks to her appearances in the Arkham series of video games. She has also been spun off into her own series, is constantly rumoured to be appearing in the various live action films that have been made over the years, and has been paired up with Poison Ivy as much as she does the Joker. More about her here.
5. He wasn’t always so murderous, just goofy
Believe it or not, the character back then was a very different from the modern depictions. In fact, the very first appearances by the Joker saw him being just as trigger happy as the early Dark Knight was, being a straightforward spree killer that Batman was probably right to take lethal action against. With the softening of the character in general, the Joker got a lot less murderous, partly thanks to the newly-introduced Comics Code which dictated what you could get away with in mainstream books sold on newsstands. So no sex, no bad language, and a heck of a lot less violence than before. Instead, Clown Prince Of Crime spent the better part of 20 years doing goofy burglaries that involved silly circus-based gimmicks, like taking a clown car full of made-up henchman into banks and generally just made a nuisance of himself.
6. The Joker disappeared off the grid for a good decade
Truth be told, there’s nothing really intimidating about a clown running around doing pranks, especially if it didn’t make the Joker particularly interesting as a foil to the Dark Knight when he wasn’t doing anything all that law-breaking. So, throughout the 1950s, he was used less and less, in favour of other rogues gallery members like The Penguin and the like, and by 1964 he was removed from the roster entirely by editor Julius Schwartz. And it would stay that way for almost 10 years because he wasn’t appearing in print between 1964 and 1973. This was of course until Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams proposed a radical reinvention of the character for the story “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” (Batman #251), where he reverted to being a homicidal maniac who casually murders people on a whim.
7. He wasn’t in “The Dark Knight Rises” & it wasn’t really because of Heath Ledger’s death
The tragic death of Heath Ledger pretty much precluded his appearance in the 3rd Christopher Nolan Batman film, which from the sounds of it threw a wrench in the director’s plans for the final entry in the trilogy. Heath Ledger’s insane, genuinely frightening depiction of the Joker was supposed to be the central antagonist of “The Dark Knight Rises” as well, but for obvious reasons he ended up being replaced with the much different Bane (played by Tom Hardy). His disappearance was never addressed in the film but the official novelisation of “The Dark Knight Rises” gave a brief, fleeting mention of the Clown Prince Of Crime: apparently, after the Dent Act, all supervillains were moved from Arkham Asylum to Blackgate. Except the Joker, who remained there and never got broken out by Bane. So, yeah, the Joker was pretty much in jail.
The voice of the Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992 – 1995) was voiced by Mark Hamill, more popularly known as Luke Skywalker from the “Star Wars” franchise. His success as the character led him to portray a wide variety of characters (mostly villainous) in TV, film, anime, and video games. Hamill also went on to voice the Joker in 3 episodes of “Superman: The Animated Series”, 5 episodes of “The New Batman Adventures”, 5 episodes of “Justice League”, as well as in the theatrical film, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” (1993), and the direct-to-video film, “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” (2000).
Watch him pull off a short dialogue as both Luke Skywalker and the voice of the Joker: