Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Complete History of Joker


The Joker first appeared in 1940 in the first issue of Batman, illustrated by Bob Kane and written by Bill Finger. The two of them were the creative forces behind Batman’s stories and characters, not just Bob Kane who is always receiving the sole credit. Kane was usually responsible for the look and the feel, while Finger was taking care of the stories and origins. 

Bob Kane: “I always felt rather badly that I never gave [Bill Finger] a byline. He was the unsung hero” (Batman: The Complete History)

Kane and Finger continued to develop Batman's universe until the 1960's with the help of other writers and artists, notably Jerry Robinson, who for years claimed that he was the one who invented Joker based on a Joker card and presented the idea to Kane and Finger.

Bob Kane: 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 - May 17, 1994, Entertainment Weekly Interview

Jerry Robinson: I wanted somebody visually exciting. I wanted somebody that would make an indelible impression, would be bizarre, would be memorable like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or any other villains that had unique physical characters. (...) Cards were always around the house. That’s one influence why I immediately thought of the Joker playing card. What preceded that was that I wanted a villain that had some attribute that was some contradiction in terms, which I feel all great characters have. To make my villain different, to have a sense of humor would be different. That’s how I came upon the name. Names, of course, are very important. It’s one of the first things we try to associate with a character. At least I did. So once I thought of the villain with a sense of humor, I began to think of a name and the name “the Joker” immediately came to mind. There was the association with the Joker in the deck of cards, and I probably yelled literally, “Eureka!” because I knew I had the name and the image at the same time. I remember searching frantically that night for a deck of cards in my little room in the Bronx where I was holed up and did my work. Luckily I had it and it had somewhat the same image as the classic one, and that was the marriage. That’s how the Joker came into being. (Papa Llama int., July 2009)

The Joker, Mr. Robinson said, was a hit with Kane and the writer Bill Finger.“They both went bananas and made the Joker the first story in Batman No. 1,” he said. (NY Times, October 2010)

Bob Kane: “Jerry drew this card AFTER Bill Finger and I had already created the Joker... If Jerry had come to me first with the Joker playing card, than I would have drawn the Joker in the image of that card, instead of like Conrad Viedt in the movie [The Man Who Laughs].”

At the time of his birth, Batman was the only costumed superhero who was human and who didn't have any inhuman powers, however the villains were always completely surreal and unreal, and even more outlandish than the alien superheroes from other comic books like Superman. Even before he got his own comic book, Batman faced a vampire and a faceless man in his Detective Comics stories, and in one of his first Batman stories he fought with giants. Dick Tracy faced a spectacular array of bizarre villains, and to some extent Batman followed his lead. (...) [Batman's 1940's world] was a hermetically sealed fantasy world, one where references to Alice In Wonderland were not too far off the mark (Batman: The Complete History)

Joker was a money hungry, homicidal crook, and while his homicidal tendencies were soon dropped for 3 decades, his lust for gold, jewelry and money remained intact until the 70's.

His chamber was surrounded with art pieces that he stole. Not only was he a thief, but an art connoisseur as well

In Batman #1, he announces on the radio that if a certain millionaire will not give him his diamond, he will die at midnight. Cops are all over the place guarding the man, yet when the clock strikes midnight, the rich man falls on the floor and dies. The same incident is repeated with another millionaire soon after. It is soon revealed that Joker was there a day earlier and planted a poison that kills atfter 24 hours, leaving a grotesque smile on his victim's dead faces. The story was way ahead of its time and very suspenseful

Originally, Joker was intended to be killed in the very same issue but the idea was dropped. The new editor, Whitney Ellsworth, knew that he’s too good of a villain to be killed off.
Joker's appearance remained relatively unchanged since his creation. Permanent white skin , emerald green hair, red lips, pointy eyebrows, purple eyeshadow and purple gangster suit with stripes and hat. He was a surreal twist on a 1930's gangster.

He also had a permanent smile - the laugh lines are always present even when Joker isn't smiling.
Also, Joker's appearance was based on Veidt's character who was described by Jerry Robinson as having a "frozen smile on his face". Veidt's character was a man who was summoned by gypsies to have a permanent smile on his face -  Bob Kane: It's a story about a kid who had his face left into a ghastly smile by rival gypsies. That's where I got the Joker from (20/20 Doc.)

The idea of a frozen smile on Joker became more apparent in latter issues, especially in the 1950's, when his large smile was constantly present, even when he was furious or unconscious. Also, his smile is still visibly seen through his disguises

Bob Kane: Of all the villains I created, the Joker was my favorite. He's the most maniacal. He's sick but he's fun. His appearance is frightening and humorous at the same time. The inspiration for the Joker was a photograph of a German actor, Conrad Veidt, from the movie The Man Who Laughs. The film is derived from a Victor Hugo story about rival Gypsy gangs in France at the turn of the century. Sometimes the gangs would raid each other's camps and slit the mouths of children from ear to ear, so that when the children grew up, their mouths became frozen in a ghastly grin.(People, 1989)

Some examples of the frozen grin from the 1950's...
and 1970's...

'Of all the possible comic book villains, the Batman villain Joker has the reputation for being the craziest. It is he who always pushes Batman to the breaking point, performing horrific villainous acts, often laughing all the way. It was not always this way. From his introduction in Batman issue 1, The Joker was written as completely sane for several decades. It is only during the 1970s that the Batman writers began to portray him as insane or psychotic, and it is this trend that continues to this day.' (

We (Papa Llama with Jerry Robinson and other panel guests) discussed (at the Comic Con panel) how the character had never been treated as criminally insane until the early 1970s. Once writer Denny O’Neil had the character start killing again in 1973′s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” (Batman #251), the comics began using the term “criminally insane.” (, August 2009)

As one may quickly deduce from the first stories, Joker is very intelligent and skilled in chemistry. He is later referred to as well educated and knowledgable in science. He is also very innovative

Joker was an egomaniac who wanted to be the world’s greatest crook. Very soon he got fixated on the idea of becoming better than Batman, and began to imitate his enemy by driving Jokermobile, Jokerplane etc., which made a debut in Batman #37

At that point he still used conventional weapons more often than not

Even though the editor saved Joker, the character was killed numerous times in the 1940's alone and brought back repeatedly.

You get the idea what happenes next...

It's also important to note that Joker of the Golden Age was a self proclaimed master of disguise, often using flesh makeup to conceal his identity even thought his inhumane grin was still clearly visible

As the decade was getting closer to the end, Joker's ideas for killing Batman were becoming more and more original


In the beginning, no one had any backstory. Not even Batman. They all just were, simply because it was 1930's and comic book stories weren't as complex as they were later on. 'It may be significant that so many villains first arrived on the scene the way Joker had, without origin stories. They were granted the courtesy of being accepted as what they had chosen to become' (Batman: The Complete History).Very soon after, as the villains were starting to reappear, just like Batman they were given origins as well (The first to get one was Two Face).
Joker's turn for origins came in 1951's "The Man Behind The Red Hood" in Detective Comics #168, written by Bill Finger himself, and the artwork is credited to one and only Bob Kane.

In this issue, Batman and Robin are asked to train young detectives/scientists and give them the assignment that even Batman couldn't solve - the identity of an old villain who disappeared after he fell into a pool of chemicals, Red Hood. One of the boys named Paul helped them solve the mystery and revealed that the Red Hood was a lab worker trying to steal $1 Million in a card factory to retire forever. After his dive into chemicals, he became disfigured and his skin and hair were permanently dyed -  introducing The Joker! It's important to note that it was his physical appearance that pushed him into madness

Joker was still using guns despite slight changes in character. He was getting more and more tamed as the years went on, just like the Batman stories. Introducing: The Silver Age

Joker was now was now more of a prankster who couldn't help himself but to keep robbing places left and right and was constantly getting caught by Batman and Robin.
One of the most famous stories from the 50’s was 1952's "Joker's Millions", where Joker is given a fortune and doesn't have to steal anymore. Buying numerous cars and mansions, he spends money like crazy until he realizes that most of his money is fake and steals again so no one will notice. The story also showcases Joker's ego and his desire to look good in front of other criminals

"Joker's Millions" is a perfect example of how innocent Batman stories already were just a decade after his birth. Despite the popular legend about dark roots of Batman, Batman was really dark and gloomy only in the very few Detective Comics issues in which Batman first appeared, even before he got his own comic book. When Batman #1 hit the stores, Robin was already there and Batman was a 'light', blue smiling character


1950's saw Joker expanding on his arsenal, which became just as inseparable part of him as were Batman's toys. Some of Joker's trademark accessories were:

The Utility Belt

The hand buzzer

Spitting Flower/Badge/Pin

Also made into a toy and released in different versions numerous times throughout the history. The most known and popular is the Mego version. Here's a panel of Jokermobile from the previous decade...

...and from the 1950's

His gadgets were varied and very innovative and over the top

In 1955 Joker and all the other villains disappeared from Batman series for years. The reason? A book called "Seduction Of The Innocent" , which had ridiculous claims and accused comic books of promoting violence and homosexuality. Because of it, the comic book sales suffered tremendously and a new tactic had to be taken. Batman was now fighting with outlandish creatures from space, aliens, invisible people, creatures from other dimensions, giant robots, dinosaurs etc, and the action was rarely set in Gotham. This way no one could say that children imitate the action or the villains because the stories and characters were so unreal. And all this continued for almost a decade until the mid 60's


The Joker character was very consistent. You could barely tell the difference between the Joker from this particular decade and the Joker from the previous one. Take this 1964's Detective Comics story for example, called "Joker's Last Laugh". In this story the Joker has returned and is committing robberies in which he tells a bad joke that surprisingly makes everyone burst out in a fit of laughter, then he robs everyone using a gimmick based on the joke which he tells. When Batman and Robin attempt to stop him they too find themselves caught in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
Returning to the Batcave, they find that the Joker sprayed them with a form of "loco weed" that made them hysteric. Considering it was the 60's, one must wonder what the 'loco weed' was

In the mid 60's Joker got his first real sidekick. His name was Gagsworth A. Gagsworthy, better known as Gaggy, and he was a little person who was a circus refugee

The 1960's didn't bring anything new for the Joker in comic books except for his return, although this time different writers and artists took the wheel after the series got its reinvention and went back to the classic Batman adventure storytelling, signaled by the new yellow "bat on the moon" logo
However, the decade proved to be very important for the character in another department - it was the first time Joker graced the silver screen, in live action movie, TV series and cartoon.


Batman TV series debuted in 1966 and was a big and unexpected smash hit right away. Joker was portrayed by Cesar Romero in 18 episodes and in a live action movie from 1966 as well.
Romero refused to shave his mustache so they had to cover it up with makeup, although they were still clearly visible even when concealed by the white paint.
When it comes to the character and personality, TV show’s Joker was spot on and portrayed Joker very accurately to how the comic books presented him at the time, cackling all the time, acting a bit like Daffy Duck and committing silly crimes, like turning the water supplies into jello!
But visually, he wasn’t as accurate, probably due to the low budget. However, all other villains were the exact replicas of the comic book versions. His suit is more cyan instead of purple

Joker's signature inhuman, grotesque grin was faked with a lipstick, and the ever present heavy laugh lines are almost nonexistent. In addition to that, he was seen in a Robin-like mask which he never ever had in comic books.

He did however, had most of Joker's signature gadgets like the utility belt for example

All the other main villains of the show were regular people in costumes, while Joker was something else - something hard to portray with the TV budget


1968 saw the debut of a Batman cartoon, first out of many. This cartoon series, which continued for years and later evolved into "The New Adventures Of Batman and Robin", was basically a comic book onscreen. It was completely faithful and accurate with both visuals and personalities of all the characters.

Same writers and artists later went on to do the "Super Friends" cartoon, in which Joker also starred but only in one episode as a guest villain. It’s somewhat surprising that they haven't chosen Joker to be a part of the Legion Of Doom. It's interesting to note that Joker's voice (belonging to Larry Storch) was similar to Fred Flinstone's.

While 1960's provided Joker with his onscreen debut in cartoons and on film, the 1970's were just as important but for different reasons.

The change wasn't immediate though. For the first 3 years of the 1970's, he was still the same prankster he was since the 1950's.

Joker appeared in one episode of Super Friends in the same form as he did in the previous Batman cartoons, and most notably, he appeared in two episodes of 1972's 'The New Scooby-Doo Movies' cartoon - The Dynamic Scooby Doo Affair and The Caped Crusader Caper. There, he and Penguin are dressed as wood ghosts and trolls trying to scare and freak out people passing the forest. They're also trying to get a special suit that allows one to fly. While he looked slightly different than his previous cartoon incarnation, he was still voiced by Larry Storch

It was already a 4th decade for both Batman and Joker, and while Batman went through two massive changes since his first issue (one in the mid 50s, second one in the mid 60s), the supervillain remained  mostly the same since his change in the Silver Age. But then in 1973 came another change, and this time for both of them. 

For the first time since 1939, Batman was "The dark knight" again. In "The Five Way Revenge", The Joker returned to his dark, murderous roots as a mass-murdering serial killer thanks to writer Denny O'Neil. Rather than squirt liquid at public property or deface Wayne Manor and make a get away in the Jokermobile, he is involved in random killings and delves more into The Joker's past homicidal maniac tendencies. Following the betrayal from his own henchmen of ratting him out to Batman, Joker ruthlessly hunts down members of his former gang of goons leading to his own arrest. However, whilst escaping from a mental institute (Arkham Asylum wasn't established then) The Joker kills his old henchmen individually. The Caped Crusader pursues his greatest foe for this manipulative crime, and finally reaches the villain at an abandoned seaside aquarium. Batman manages to save the last remaining henchman just as The Joker throws him into a tank of water home to a ravenous shark. Batman chases down The Joker on an oil-slicked beach, eventually pummeling him into submission and delivering him to justice. This incarnation inspired Tim Burton's Batman and was crucially developed on in Batman: The Animated Series. This revision also heavily effected the way The Joker was portrayed in later issues to come.

Also marking its return was the classic motif of a 'death smile', the result of Joker's poison (although the Joker venom marked its return in one previous story before Five Way Revenge in World's Finest's conflict with Luthor).

We (Papa Llama with Jerry Robinson and other panel guests) discussed (at the Comic Con panel) how the character had never been treated as criminally insane until the early 1970s. Once writer Denny O’Neil had the character start killing again in 1973′s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” (Batman #251), the comics began using the term “criminally insane.” (, August 2009)

'The new Joker (from Five Ways Revenge) begins with him escaping from a hospital for the criminally insane, rather than a simple jail where he had been confined in the past.' (

In May 1975, Joker got his first comic book. There were some interesting stories there and one of them even co-starred Lex Luthor. The series ended in October 1976, which is relatively short run but still a very good one for a comic book devoted fully to the villain. The writers were instructed to have Joker lose in every single issue since he's a villain.

Most of the issues were written by Dennis O'Neil who created this modern age version of the Joker. This Joker is virtually a mix of the original Kane/Finger Joker and the Silver Age prankster, using the seemingly fun prank gadgets for innovative kills

Joker's giant ego was preserved

Even thought the Joker was a homicidal psychopath again, he was still a coward who was afraid for his own skin

Joker did try and wanted to kill Batman, but once he surprised him and had an opportunity to crush his head, he decided that he will hold for a while because killing Batman this way is too easy after all these years. That is an approach adapted from the original portrayal of Joker - in Batman #12 Joker says that he didn't shoot Batman with a gun because it would be too easy. The way he kills Batman must be more innovative

In 1977 the 60's Batman cartoon returned as "The New Adventures of Batman" and the Joker returned in the same form as he did in it's 60's incarnation, but this time voiced by Lennie Weinrib (who is best known for voicing Scrappy Doo). 



The 80's provided the first ever reboot of the franchise since the character’s inception, but before they did, they revisited Joker's origins in 1980's The Untold Legends of Batman for the first time since they were originally told by Kane and Finger.

The 1980's further explored Joker's psyche and homicidal tendencies and made him a true psycho worthy of David Fincher movie. The 80's were probably the most revolutionary to the Batman comic book. The darkness, maturity and serious tone reached its peak and stories were often filled with very deep and thought provoking stories.

Here's an example of Joker's sick humor mixed with his cruelty

It was in 1988 when Joker's cruelty and evilness was pushed even further: He brutally killed Robin repeatedly hitting him with a crowbar in "Death In The Family" and then blowing the place up

One of the biggest milestones for Joker was "The Killing Joke” - a very depressing and thought provoking, psychological tale that revisits and updates Joker's origins. Just like Bob Kane originally presented it in '51, the new age Joker was a villain named Red Hood who fell into the chemicals that bleached his skin, hair and deformed his face. But this time, the man who fell into the chemicals wasn’t a criminal. Originally he was a good caring comedian, who couldn't make the ends meet and couldn't provide for his pregnant wife. 

Two gangsters get a hold of him and offer him a lot of money if he'll help them rob a card factory, dressed as Red Hood - an identity passed from person to person. Just before he's about to do it he finds out that his wife was in an accident and died. Still, there's no going back, and depressed and frightened he proceeds as planned. Batman intervenes and the young man jumps into a river full of chemicals.
It is also important to note that the flashbacks are presented as a separate, intercutting story, since Joker admittedly doesn't remember anything from his pre-fall days. Just like in the classic origins, Joker gets pushed over the edge once he sees his face

“The Killing Joke” also shows Joker kidnapping Commissioner Gordon and paralyzing his young daughter Barbara. He then takes off her clothes and takes pictures which he then shows Gordon to push him over the edge.
Adam Moore admittedly didn't like contradiction in the comic book continuity and thus wanted to be faithful to the original origins of the Joker

And the Joker's origin? Had he had one before that?
Alan Moore:
He'd got a kind of muddy kind of origin. They'd said that he'd been the leader of a criminal gang called the Red Hood Mob and that while trying to escape from Batman he'd swum across this river of chemicals.
And that was about it?
AM: That was about it and this was from a story from, like, the late '50s or something and so I thought "Okay, I won't contradict that," because I kind of believe in working by the rules of the material as it already exists but I can put a lot of spin on that. (Barry Kavanagh int., 2000)


You made the villain such a pitiful figure. In the comics for years, he was a psychotic maniac who kills indiscriminately, just does terrible, terrible things, and you made him so pitiful and sad.
Alan Moore: I suppose that's what I was saying. Well, psychotic murders -- the key word there is "psychotic," which is, as far as I know, an illness. This is not to say that people shouldn't be entitled to feel rage or the lust for revenge when something happens to them at the hands of somebody like this, but you've got to remember at the end of the day it's not strictly speaking that person's fault. That something has happened to them, they have made some bad decision in their life, and while all of us are responsible for our actions, sometimes people get broken and it is increasingly difficult for them to know their own actions. So I suppose that if there was anything actually being said in "The Killing Joke," it was that everybody has probably got a reason for being where they are, even the most monstrous of us. (, 2009)

Other milestone comic books include The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. Those two gave the Batman series an even darker tone and made sure that people know what this series has become
The Jokermobile and the Jokerplane were dropped  as was the utility belt, although the core accessories like hand buzzer and laughing gas stayed but this time they were murder tools..
Here's a scene from The Killing Joke where Joker is talking to a corpse of a man he just killed. We can see the use of some of Joker's ever present gadgets, his reborn homicidal tendencies and disturbing insanity

'The Killing Joke' was the one and only hint at Joker's faulty memory, however if the flashback story was intended to be Joker's memories, it would prove that Joker indeed remembers what happened to him and who he was before the fall - a story that was intended to be true and infuse pathos to the character by the writer, and which was confirmed to be true in the latter issues. In Batman #450 which followed very soon after the Killing Joke, it's also hinted that Joker retained his memory
Very soon after the Killing Joke issue, Joker experienced something unthinkable - he partially regained his sanity in Batman #450 due to a near death experience in which he was seriously wounded.

However, little is needed to awaken his psychosis again

In the following issue, Batman and Gordon revisit the place of Joker's birth

While Joker was a homicidal lunatic in the comic books again, he was still tamed in the cartoons. In 1985 he appeared a few times in the Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (voiced by Frank Welker, known for the voice of Fred from Scooby's gang)


B A T M A N 

1989's Batman was a huge hit that put both Batman and Joker high on the pedestal once and for all and secured Batman as a major blockbuster series, starting a huge Batmania in the early 90’s. It also pushed the envelope as far as it was possible at the time. At the time, superhero movies were B genre, low budget, spandex clad, PG rated movies (ex. Captain America, Fantastic Four). Back then some fans were outraged that Batman is so dark and that he doesn't wear blue spandex but black armor and black eye makeup instead.
Tim Burton's Joker concept design

Even before the script was written, even before Tim Burton got attached to the project, Jack Nicholson was already the one and only choice for the role. He was and still is today, a very achieved and successful actor, having the most Oscars and most nominations of any actor in history. He graced the covers of both People and Time magazines and he was Bob Kane's choice for the role. As he usually does, Nicholson took the role very seriously and invited Kane for a dinner where they discussed the character, and seemed to do an extensive research on the modern version of the character, not wanting to lighten it up or be campy

Kane had sent the studio a photo of him in The Shining, coloring it with green hair and white skin - Time Magazine June 1989

Jack Nicholson: I had a metaphor in my mind for the character. The shorthand name that I came up with was Velvet Death. (Newsweek, June 1989)
Metaphysically, The Joker was dipped in chemicals and lost his mind - not unlike the rest of society. He has his identity melted into his brain. He flows with the corrosion, so to speak.(Time, June 1989)

Visually, the movie Joker was the most accurate reflection of the iconic comic book character - the same 1930’s gangster outfit, completed with same hat, pointy eyebrows, purple eyeshadow, heavy laugh lines and the permanent, unnatural smile, in the movie caused by a failed plastic surgery which was an attempt to repair a shot wound.

The origins were also rather faithfully recreated, but more faithfully to the original Kane/Finger origins in that the person before the fall was already a criminal.

In this movie Jack Napier was always an evil and emotionally unstable mobster who, by falling into chemical wastes and becoming disfigured, falls over the edge and becomes completely insane.

Also, just like in the comic books, it was seeing his face that pushed him over the edge and released his insanity

The idea and vibe of a classic, 1930's movie gangsters is also present. Even outside of Jack,'s typical AL Capone styleganster look, there were gangsters with pinstripe suits and pre WWII  guns like M1928 Tommy Guns

Jack Napier was insecure about his looks but after the fall he became overly narcisstic, becoming a big egomaniac just like his comic book counterpart, referring to himself as a work of art.

There was also a passion for of death that is. He loved decaying bodies and considered it an art. Alicia's face was all messed up and scarred from who knows what he did to her.

"I'm the world's first fully functioning homicidal artist"

Personality wise, it's another bullseye. The homicidal prankster character is present, as well as his complete insanity, unpredictability, constant jokes and the neverending supply of energy. The insane cackle is ever present too. He killed his most trusted henchmen and a partner he knew since youth just because he felt like it. We even see more of his creepy psychosis when he plays and dances with the photographs…

…or when he talks to the corpses of people he just killed. Some may say that aside from being a sign of complete insanity and a creepy scene, it's also a great nod to The Killing Joke since the comic book came out shortly before the movie and Burton was a big fan of it and also had meetings with it's writer Alan Moore - Moore himself had discussions with both Burton and screenwriter Sam Hamm about the project: “I told [them] to make it dark and serious and exorcise the ghost of Adam West ... Sam Hamm ... said it was largely based on Killing Joke.”’(Tim Burton, by Jim Smith and J Clive Matthews).
Tim Burton: When you see certain images, like a little chemical is released to your brain. One image that comes to mind is the Joker character having a conversation with the corpse, which I quite liked. It's funny, it's a bit scary, it's a know, it's a pleasant conversation but it's with a blackened husk - 20/20 documentary, 1989
Although one should note that the Joker also spoke to his dead victims in the first issue of Batman

Many parts of the movie are shot by shot, panel by panel recreations of some of the classic comic books from 40's and 80's. The very heavy influence of The Killing Joke is certainly also evident. Perhaps contributing to such accurate portrayal was the fact that Bob Kane himself was heavily involved in the project and flew in with the crew to the Pinewood Studios were he remained for the rest of the shoot. He is also officially credited as the movie's creative consultant

The signature gadgets are present too - the fake pistols, acid spitting flowers, killing hand buzzer, the acid squirting orchid, jack'n'te box, flag pistols and even what one could qualify as Joker Cars and the Joker Copter.
Note the Joker logo on the side - another nod to the roots

Just like with the 1970's reboot version of Joker, money weren’t the goal. He didn't have one. He just did what he did because he was crazy, for no particular reason he tried to wipe out the entire city with his poisonous Smilex gas. His actions made sense only to him and him alone

The smile inducing killer gas makes its onscreen debut

One major element was added to Joker's backstory. As it's usually the case with major Hollywood adaptations, subplots are merged together so when multiple subplots are presented, there’s more cohesiveness and they’re connected with each other in one cohesive storyline. While originally, it was a crook for hire Joe Chill who killed Bruce Wayne's parents for mobster Lew Moxon, here it was a young Jack Napier/future Joker who kills Waynes, (very likely for the mob too) aided by young Bob The Goon. Merging the two gives the character more significance and makes his confrontation with Batman more personal

And here's a good moment to mention Bob The Goon - Joker's trusted extra arm. Bob was as loyal as possible to Joker, despite seeing an obvious madness in him and knowing that it’s not the same Jack he knew for years. Sometimes there’s a sign of grief and sorrow on Bob's face while watching Joker talking and laughing. Bob was feeling for Jack, whom he knew since youth.

Nicholson delivered a terrific performance, universally applauded around the world. Joker was IT at the time and media, critics, fans and casual viewers couldn't stop praising his performance. He portrayed the O'Neil  Joker (70's/80's/Modern Age) with great accuracy

Unfortunately, at that time sci-fi and even more so superhero movies were never considered as serious candidates for most awards and were always getting omitted in every department except for FX and art direction. Still, Nicholson managed to get a Golden Globe nomination which was quite a fit at the time.

"The movie isn't a comedy at all. It's going to be heavy melodrama," says [Bob] Kane. The villainous Joker, he says, "is a psychotic murderer, a maniacal killer. It's all very evil." (Toronto Star, December 1988)

Bob Kane: We knew we had a Joker who could blow the screen apart (People, 1989)

Jerry Robinson: I thought he gave a bravura performance for what it was. My biggest objection to that was the script, but Nicholson saved it with his performance. (Papa Llama int., July 2009)

(Nicholson) has a patent on satanic majesty. His performance is  high, soaring, gamy. He is as good and as evil as film allows him to be - Time Magazine, June 1989

Nicholson is a one-man theater of evil--he sings, he dances, he cracks wise, he kills and he enjoys every knife-ripping, bullet-riddling, acid-scarring minute of it. - Newsweek, June 1989

Nicholson, too, seems to be having a blast, and he brings a sense of dangerous hilarity to the character. Dressed in lurid lavender suits with orange silk shirts and aquamarine ties, he plays his green-haired trickster as a prancing, camp maniac. Beneath the Joker's killer jokes, though, the violence is palpable. - The Washington Post, June 1989

[Nicholson's Joker] is more than Batman's rival; he's a sort of dark mirror image, a doppelganger - The Boston Globe, June 1989
Batman's finest moments belong to Nicholson - St. Petersburg Times, June 1989

Many parents and some viewers were shocked and outraged at this portrayal of both Batman and Joker. Children under 16 were not allowed to see the movie in Belgium and Ireland because it was deemed that the Joker's character was too much for young viewers.
The Joker, with his gruesome death dealing, is also the cautionary figure for parents of young children. Take that PG-13 very seriously; this is where bad dreams are born - LA Times, June 1989

Joker is an incarnation of all the indiscriminate psychopaths who kill for the sheer, exhilarating fun of it - The Washington Post, June 1989

Nicholson’s disfigurement abstracted psychosis, being sufficiently hideous without confusing our sympathy (


Joker entered the 1990's without any changes. The image of Joker as an insane killer was now cemented by the late 1980’s comic books, Tim Burton's peculiar Gothic tale and Nicholson's iconic performance. The image of Joker in general public's mind was now that of a murderous prankster, with the old harmless thief completely wiped out of the public consciousness.
Because of the success of Batman, the comic book sales really picked up and many European markets started to publish the series because of the movie’s popularity.

One of the most notable stories of the 90's is Images, written by Dennis O'Neil and illustrated by Bret Blevins, published in Legends of the Dark Knight #50. It was a special anniversary issue re-telling the story of the first meeting between Batman and his arch enemy, picking up where The Killing Joke’s flashback story left off.

It's also the first instance where the name of Jack Napier appeared in the comic books, at least in a way. Joker's cousin Melvin's last name is Reipan which is Napier in reverse, and there's an instance when he begins saying Joker's real name and manages to say "Ja..."before he's cut off by Joker who doesn't want to be referred to with his real name.

The short story "On a Beautiful Summer's Day, He Was" by Robert McCammon published in 1990 identifies the Joker's last name as Napier:
Junior lay in bed at night and listened to the racket of Eddie's red Chevy roaring up and down the street like a tiger looking for a way out of a cage, and that was when the shouting rose up from the Napier house like the wrath of God 

The character was very consistent. He was a maniac and a happy killer, but when push came to shove, he was a coward who was afraid of beating


The 1989's Batman spawned the fantastic Batman: The Animated Series by Bruce Timm. Many fans say that it had the most faithful portrayal of the Joker.

The Animated Series was a spin-off from Burton's movie, using the same music, Gothic theme, art designs and 1930's style, mixed with the current technology. Mark Hammill, who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series, was Joker's voice. Hammill did such a great work with Joker that from then on he was offered many more voice roles in cartoons.

Mark Hammill: "What I liked about doing the Joker was his villainy. I thought, you know, I could use this laugh almost as a vocabulary. Instead of having it be one continuous laugh, I could use it like color on a canvas. There could be sinister laughs, there could be joyful, gleeful, maniacal laughs, there could be malevolent and evil laughs. There are so many different colors that you can give him, so that kids will have more than one laugh to mimic on the playground. I do have to thank the people at Batman, because this work opened up an entire new career for me." (Animation World Magazine, April 1997)

Paul Dini:  With the Joker I felt we struck a nice balance between the clown and the killer (Batman Legacy Continues 2004)

Bruce Timm: This time they brought him back as a serious, psychotic killer. (...) We would have him giving that hideous Joker grin

Joker also appears in the popular animated movie "Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm" where it's revealed that he was once a hitman for a known mobster, Salvatore Valestra...

...and that his real name was - just like in the movie - Jack Napier (The name itself however was revealed in the episodes called "Dreams In Darkness" and “Joker’s Wild”) who wanted to rob Ace Chemicals factory but encountered Batman and jumped into chemicals.

Aside from the name, there were few more elements linking this Joker to the movie version. One was his clothing (the movie Joker differed from the comic version in that he had an orange shirt and green vest underneath the purple suit, while the comic book one had the colors the other way around - he had a green shirt and orange vest) and the other one was the same looking frozen smile.

Mark Hammill: He laughs at really inappropriate times and finds things funny that sane people do not. I wanted to make that a large part of my arsenal in terms of approaching the character. There are so many people that I pay homage to: a little Dwight Schultz [the A-Team's Murdock] here, Dracula's Renfield there.(Escapist Magazine, June 2010)

The series was really serious and rich in story and characterization. In one episode, "Joker's Favor", a poor man promises Joker to do anything if he will let him live. Couple years later, Joker calls him up and says that if he won't comply, his entire family will be dead. We then see a shot of mobsters driving around his house while his son is playing.

Joker's ego and fascination with his looks is also present

Just like in the movie, Joker had a sidekick. But this time it was a young girl, going by the name Harley Quinn. Extremely loyal and completely in love with Joker, Quinn was always at his side doing whatever it took to make her boss happy. The Animated Series was so popular that her character was then incorporated into the comic books, and eventually she got her own. Her characters appeared in the TV series called Birds Of Prey, played by Mia Sara

As the series progressed and morphed into The New Batman Adventures, The Joker changed in appearance

And then again for the Justice League and Static Shock ('The Big League' episode) cartoons

In a special "The New Batman Adventures" episode called "Legends of the Dark Knight", an animated 1960's Joker makes a comeback, voiced by Michael McKean


The success and the vision of the Burton's Bat world almost completely faded away by then, diluted by the neon, kid-friendly, pink portrayal of the Batman universe by Joel Schumacher.

The comic series however, carried on with the serious and dark approach. It seemed like Joker cannot get any more violent or psychotic, but the new millennium proved otherwise. Use of Joker's gadgets was extremely limited now, and the new areas of homicidal madness were explored.

The 2000s was a decade where the insanity of neverending retcons and re imaginings took place. Stories were being rewritten and retconned constantly, and new origins were given to villains and characters numerous times, creating a mess and damning the continuity forever.
Joker had slight re imagination in 2001's Gotham Noir written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips. It was also another instance in which the name Jack Napier was revealed as Joker's name. Its interesting to note that it was the first portrayal of Joker as having a Glasgow smile. Also note the term "squealer". The origins of one future incarnation perhaps?...

Bird of Prey

Joker appeared briefly in the Birds of Prey pilot episode. Actor/stuntman Roger Stoneburner appeared as the Joker on-camera, while Mark Hamill's voice was dubbed over Stoneburner's performance.


In a 2004 comic book (Batman: Gotham Knights #54), it was once again confirmed that the Moore origin was in fact true (and that the Joker's first name was Jack), with details of it being backed up by a witness to the death of the Joker's wife.

The witness was none other than Edward Nigma, who would eventually become the Riddler. Here it is revealed that the comedian's wife was kidnapped and murdered by those same gangsters, in order to force his cooperation in the Red Hood robbery. The name Jack is once again revealed

The story also marks yet another instance which confirms that Joker does indeed remember his past

Joker's origins are currently available and retold on DC's official website.

The story is yet another one that revealed Joker's last name to be Napier.

In 2006's Dark Detective story, Joker kidnaps Bruce's girlfriend and confesses to himself that he doesn't want to kill Batman because the two should always co-exist

Batman Beyond

Joker returned to the cartoons in Bruce Timm' series Batman Beyond, set in the future where Bruce Wayne is already an elderly man and a young High School student Terry McGinnis has taken over the role of Batman. Joker returns decades after he's been declared dead. "Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker" had some violent and bloody scenes to the point it actually got a PG rating. The most violent and brutal portrayal of the Joker was a sign of things to come

The Batman

Batman returned to the screen in an animated form once again, this time in Anime style, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson (the first African American who voiced Joker). The new series heavily borrowed from Bruce Timm's cartoon, but added its own twist to everything. The problem right away was how to outdo Timm's Joker? It was a perfect adaptation with perfect accuracy, so it was impossible to out-joker the Joker. There was only one way to go and it was to go a different route - instead of adapting Joker into the cartoon again, the character was basically redesigned and reimagined from the scratch. It was more like a different character with some influences of Joker. The laughing gas and a prankster attitude was there, as were the colors, but that's pretty much it. This Joker moved like a monkey and also fought like a monkey using his bare feet a lot and actually resembled a monkey in appearance
The series was actually quite popular and run for 4 years. It was also nominated for Emmy Award.

Kevin Michael Richardson: I was actually surprised that I was auditioning for the Joker because I remember Mark Hamill had been doing the Joker (from 'Batman: The Animated Series') for quite some time. So, I didn't know what direction they were going in or what they wanted. But when I saw this picture they shown me...this drawing of him, for some reason, I got him (laugh). I know exactly who he was and what they wanted. (Kevin Gunn int., 2004)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Yet another Batman cartoon series appeared, this time featuring the Joker we all know from the comic books, voiced by Jeff Bennett (who actually voiced the Batcave computer in Bruce Timm's Animated Series; best known for voicing Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Dad in Dexter's Laboratory). The interesting thing is that this cartoon represented the harmless, 1950's/60's Joker. He even resembled the way he was drawn in those decades

Jeff Bennett: Now with the Joker, I sort of came through the back door,” says Bennett. “I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what I was doing. I just came in and decided that I was just going to do my take on it and we’ll see what happens. The thing is I didn’t really feel different.
Now there are always going to be moments where you are going to do the hysterical, manic/depressive thing. It’s usually more manic than depressive.
“So I thought a little bit of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lechter and Christopher Walken. You have that thing that Anthony Hopkins does when he goes into his monotone that’s really creepy. There’s also something really strange with the way Christopher Walken talks. The way he would laugh at any time. He pauses at the strangest times. Hopkins and Walken were my main influences, with a touch of retro polish
(Steve Fritz, 2009)

T H E   D A R K   K N I G H T

The history repeated itself. Once again a movie with Batman and Joker is the most successful superhero movie ever, once again it tore up the box offices and once again the Joker was praised as the best ever. And this time, Heath Ledger was in the spotlight. And also, once again there are people complaining that this portrayal was too brutal.
Christopher Nolan's Batman movies are something we haven't seen yet before with Batman. This time we see Batman universe being our reality and the genre was now a crime action drama. The Gothic overtones and bizarre dark world and characters were gone, but replaced with our own cities and everyday reality.

That alone already calls for changes since Batman from the very beginning was the only fairly realistic thing in his world, and it was the villains who were the most fantastic and otherworldly

Based on the success and praise of the 1989 movie, the anticipation of seeing the two arch enemies again on the big screen was enormous, but it was made clear from the beginning that it's not gonna be the same thing

Christopher Nolan: To be honest, myself and David Goyer, we really just kind of dove in and tried to do our version of the character simply based on our memories of the comics without going back to research. (CBR int, 2008)

As was the case with the 2004 cartoon, there was no place to go. Jack Nicholson has already portrayed comic book Joker with an impressive accuracy, so it was yet again an idea of trying to out-joker the Joker. And as with the recent cartoon, it was obvious that doing the same thing wouldn't work, it would be just a repeat. Same measures had to be taken – a  reimagining of the character and reinventing it to fit the new Batman world and vision

Heath Ledger: You know, I was a big fan of Jack Nicholson - still am - his portrayal of the Joker was perfect for Tim Burton's world and if Tim Burton had come to me and he was doing the sequel and he asked me to play the Joker in his movie, I wouldn't do it. I couldn't. Because you couldn't touch what Jack Nicholson did. It would be a crime. When Chris came to me, I'd already seen Batman Begins and I really liked it. Because I'd already seen it, I already knew the world, which he had created. I instantly knew of an angle. I instantly knew a way into this character. A way to create a character to fit into this world and so it was fairly immediate.

I think if Tim Burton was suddenly making the next Batman movie and he rang me up and ask me to play the Joker and fill Jack Nicholson's shoes I wouldn't have done it. Because what's the point, he did it perfectly for what Tim was creating, but when Chis Nolan called me (...), I knew that there was an opportunity for a fresh portrayal. I put a lot of work into it and I knew where I wanted to end up - (Jeanne Wolf interview)

I love what [Jack] did and that is part of why I want to do that role. I remember seeing it and thinking how much fun it would be to put on that mask and attempt to do something along those lines. But it would obviously be murder if I tried to imitate what he did - Daniel Epstein 2006 interview
I loved what Jack Nicholson did. It took a while, when I was developing the character. I locked myself in a hotel room in London for a month, trying to find a voice that wouldn't sound like Jack. It was really hard to say a line without it sounding like Jack Nicholson! You couldn't help but slip into that mode. Eventually I did. It took a little tweaking. (SFX #164 magazine)

Decision was already made not to just portray the Joker. The joker had to get a makeover that would re-do him in a way that he could actually be a real life character. In that case major changes were required. Lindy Hemming, the costume designer for TDK, pitched the idea of "Joker as Johnny Rotten" to Christopher Nolan (NY Times March 2008)

Christopher Nolan: It’s a very interesting thing to sit around and think with “Batman Begins” as a prism for how you view Batman, how does that effect the way you see the Joker. Who would that guy be in our universe? (CBR interview, 2008)

CN: Ultimately we just got caught up in that process of imagining how you would see a character like The Joker through the prism of what we did in the first film.(...) let me put it this way, our Joker - Heath's interpretation of The Joker has always been the absolute extreme of anarchy and chaos, effectively - he's pure evil through pure anarchy. (Empire Magazine #229)

Christian Bale: [The Joker from TDK] was something very new, it's a very kind of Sid Vicious punk look at it (CBS 2008)

This version is sometimes referred to as the Grunge version of Joker.
As mentioned before, Joker was always an out-of-a-dream-like character with surreal appearance. That couldn't make it into the new movie, as it was done before and the concept was now very different.
The whole classic gangster idea was scrapped. Years and years were taken off Joker, placing him in his late 20’s. The flamboyant gangster suit had to go as well, and was replaced with the regular clothes in a more grungy style with key chains and such. The flashy signature colors were heavily toned down.
The origins had to be scrapped as well. As interesting as they were, they were a perfect fit for the fantasy movies, but not for an action drama in the vein of The Departed and Heat (a cited influence on the movie). There were no definite origins given, and just like in Killing Joke, Joker did not remember his past well, nor his name.

BOF: I felt that the KILLING JOKE stuff was very subtle [in the film] and draws off of him saying - in the comicbook - if he's going to have an origin, he'd rather...
Jonathan Nolan: be "multiple choice." You got that? Alright (smiles).
In a different interview, Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger also confirmed The Killing Joke's influence along with the minor influence of other comic book stories.

Christopher Nolan: Yes. I would certainly point to The Killing Joke
David Goyer: Oh yeah, certainly. A little bit of the dynamic between The Joker and Batman...we definitely pulled from THE KILLING JOKE.  (...) Midway through the process, I went back and looked at the first appearance of The Joker in the books.(BOF 2008)

Christopher Nolan: We didn't look at those first stories until after we'd come up with our story and Jonah started working on the job. It's a weird thing. He called me up halfway through his job and said, "By the way, have you looked at his first and second appearance recently?" And I think maybe years ago I'd seen them. I think David Goyer had told me about them. Went back and looked at them and we wound up at a place that's drawn very directly from that stuff. But we arrived at it in our own way by researching a lot of the more recent Joker stuff, and thinking about what this icon is when viewed through the prism of Batman Begins. When viewed in the world we created, in the tone we created. And what we arrived at is somebody who is quite a serious guy, really, considering his name's the Joker and that turned out to be quite similar to his original conception. (IGN) Were there any specific comics you based your version off of?
Heath Ledger: Well, The Killing Joke is the one that's being passed around and Arkham Asylum kind of. But I really tried to read the comics and put it down. ( 2007)

David Goyer: Obviously there’s some of the Long Halloween in there. There’s some Miller stuff. I think in this one there’s less though than the first one. Some of the Denny O’Neil stuff. But it’s like yeah, we were looking at stuff from the 80s. (MoviesOnline int)

Christopher Nolan:We cast him before the script was even written. Heath spent months and months obsessing about what he would do. I sent him some materials; I had him read A Clockwork Orange – well, I had him go through both the book and the film. I had him look at the works of Frances Bacon, a lot of different tangential things to get into it. Then, once he had the script — which was a very scary moment, when he actually got to read it, because by this time he was so committed and…if he didn’t like it, it would have been extremely difficult — he breathed a sigh of relief, I breathed a sigh of relief. He really felt it hit what we had talked about (verbicide Magazine 2012)

For the first time ever, there was no permanent white face. The white skin was heavily tied to origins and for this version had to go as well. Instead, Joker is known to apply makeup on his face in a very loose and lazy way, not caring for outline or details. The resulting makeup looks more 'splashed', which also gives him a horrific look.
The permanent inhuman laugh gets a horror makeover. He no longer has a true 'smile' in the same sense. His permanent smile is made up of scars on his cheeks, most likely caused by a knife cut. Joker says that it was either his father or himself who gave him those scars.

Christopher Nolan: In visual terms, we really tried to just go our own way and work with Heath in developing what we thought was a good look for the character. (CBR Interview, June 2008)
There were no gadgets at all. There couldn't be. If Joker was to be a real life criminal, he couldn’t have been equipped in Batman type of accessories, and used simple things instead, like guns or knives. And it's guns and, to a bigger extent, knives, that become Joker's accessories in this version

And the personality? It go some makeover, but not as much as the other areas. The one thing that immediately jumps at you when you've read The Killing Joke is that Joker doesn't remember his past and has multiple versions of his past in his head. The way he acts and most importantly, the philosophic aspect are another elements. In The Killing Joke, Joker wanted to prove a point that when pushed over the edge, people will become as crazy and homicidal as him. That's what he tried to do here too. And just like for the 80's rebooted Joker, money had no value for him. He just did things, in this case, to prove a point.

His Joker is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy” he said cheerfully - NY Times 2007

Christopher Nolan: His chief motivation is that of an anarchist. I talked to Heath a lot about it even as we were finishing the script, and we both agreed that the most threatening force society faces is pure anarchy (CBR Interview, 2008)

CN: I talked with him about the anarchic elements that I saw as being the more realistic Joker, the guy who would actually frighten an audience, and he'd already come up with a lot of that on his own. We talked a lot about Alex in A Clockwork Orange, people like that. He'd come up with the same things independently.(Empire Mag #229)

Joker was given sadomasochistic characteristics. He actually enjoyed the pain and pain could do nothing to him. He laughs even more when Batman hits him harder. In this version, joker is a terrorist promoting Anarchy. With fear and terrorist attacks, he successfully terrorizes an entire city causing an evacuation.

Heath Ledger: "There's nothing consistent about him at all, so he's not consistently dark or consistently fun, or funny, just going up and down the whole time." (fhmonline)

In The Dark Knight, Joker experiences a different kind of insanity than the comic book Joker. He isn't a prankster. He doesn't joke or laugh all the time. He doesn't have the sick Daffy Duck side to him. He is completely insane and out of his mind but in a different way - for him everything is a game that has no real purpose other than careless fun. He has absolutely no remorse or limits, and he does get fury attacks at times.

Such different therefore fresh take on Joker perhaps comes from the fact that neither Ledger nor Nolan were comic book readers

DRE: Have you read many Batman comics?

Heath Ledger: No and I think that’s kind of helping me a little bit. I was never really a fan of comic books. I never despised them but I was never one to read them.  (Daniel Epstein int, 2006)

Another aspect that went through the horror treatment was the death smile. The poisonous gas causing a grotesque smile couldn't make it to that version, but Joker still leaves smile on his victims faces in two different ways. By simply drawing the smile with the makeup, or by doing the job with a knife

The story of the Dark Knight heavily borrows from the story of the very first Batman issue. That's what the filmmakers meant by saying that they're going back to the roots -  Joker announcing their victims and killing them off as promised. The goal is different though. He doesn't care about diamonds

JONATHAN NOLAN: We got sort of midway through the process and went back and looked at the first appearance of the Joker in the books and found we had kind of wandered all the way back to it. There are a couple of moments in Batman 1 which are almost shot-for-shot moments that emerged in the film (MoviesOnline int)

And the one last thing to add: the relationship with Joker and Batman. The conversation at the police station is somewhat very similar to the one from The Killing Joke with Joker explaining that in some ways, they're the same and went a different route than other people. This theme was used quite often throughout the 80's when the comic books took on a really serious route

MoviesOnline: Not a lot of Killing Joke in this one.
DAVID GOYER: There’s a little bit of that dynamic between the Joker and Batman.
JONATHAN NOLAN: I think there’s a ton of it if you look at it from a slightly different perspective. What is the Joker trying to do in The Killing Joke? He’s trying to drive one of Batman’s allies crazy.
DAVID GOYER: Yeah, I think we definitely called that relationship from the Killing Joke.
The TDK Joker doesn't reflect any particular version of Joker but takes elements from all incarnations instead and mixed them with Alex DeLarge, Johnny Rotten and some original ideas, and it worked just as good as the faithful portrayals. Heath Ledger received a Golden Globe and an Oscar for this role. Even thought 2008's Joker isn't like any known comic book Joker, he is still a one interesting and intriguing character on his own, and the phenomenon that surrounds this new version speaks for itself.

This Joker is simply one of the most twisted and mesmerizing creeps in movie history (...) The Joker observes no rules, pursues no grand scheme; he's the terrorist as improv artist. Evil is his tenor sax, Armageddon his melody. Why, he might blow up a hospital or turn ordinary people into mass murderers to save their own lives. - Time review, June 2009

What he does with The Joker is, quite frankly, nothing short of transcendent (...) he achieves a level of abject insanity that is terrifying as it is irresistible. - IGN review, June 2008

Ledger's performance is a beauty. His Joker has a slow cadence of speech, as if weighing words for maximum mischief and contempt. He moves languidly as if to savor his dark deeds, his head and body jerking at times from an overload of brain impulses. - Hollywood Reporter review, June 2008

His Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once. - NY Times review June, 2000

It is important to mention that Jerry Robinson was somewhat involved with the movie.  He had meetings with Christopher Nolan although he never visited the set.

Robinson commented on the character's and the movie's success: It was based on a playing card and the character had a lot of mystery to him early on. We had no idea, of course, that we’d still be talking about him all these years later. When I think of the money from that movie — a billion dollars...I get a chill when I hear that. We should have copyrighted what we had done. But of course, we didn’t know. We were young and no one could have seen all of this... it was a new industry and we were pioneering a new mythology. We had no past so we had very few rules. We also didn’t expect any of it to last. (LA Times, 2009)

I thought undoubtedly the Nicholson and the Ledger performances stand out. (Papa Llama int., July 2009)

The attempts to tie the comic books with TDK started in late 2007, in Batman Confidential #9. There, a new Joker origins were told where he starts off as a criminal named Jack.

When he's trying to escape, Batman hurls a batarang that slices across Jack's face, splitting his mouth. Jack still manages to escape however. While Joker was now sporting a Glasgow smile, he was still covered in toxins and transformed into the white an green Joker at the mob hideout.

Then in Batman #655 yet a different explanation for Joker's Glasgow smile is presented., and his personality significantly changes The Joker is shot in the face by a deranged police officer, leaving him disabled for a time.  After going through intense plastic surgery and some physical therapy, the Joker appears in Batman #663 with a completely new appearance.  He now has a permanent Glasgow smile on his face.  While in intensive care he develops an even more lethal form of his Joker Venom, giving it to Harley Quinn, to kill his former partner to signal a spiritual rebirth.  He later goes on a rampage through Gotham, going as far as trying to kill Harley as well, which would be the punchline in his Rebirth. The Batman stops him

In more effort to fit the comic book Joker and tie him in with the TDK version, a brand new origins were given to Joker in Brave and the Bold #31 in January 2010. While the origins always involved Red Hood falling into the chemical vat, they somewhat differed in the depiction of the person before the fall (although that's debatable since the Finger/Kane origins do not contradict The Killing Joke's story, and there were at least two more stories confirming the same origins of a deformed comedian). This time however, the chemical bath is not part of the story, however it's not denied either. One can think that the chemical accident did happen since Joker looks like he always did, but then again it might be just artists' rendition or presenting the story through the comic book prism - the comic book adaptation of 1987's Masters of the Universe movie also ignored the film look and designs and used the cartoon/comic look instead to depict the story. Since this story was a direct tie-in to 'The Dark Knight' movie, it is safe to say that the chemical accident did not take place for this version. It is never shown, mentioned or hinted. 

In this story, The Arkham doctors want to save the dying Joker because they've sworn in oath to save lives, so they call upon the Atom to help with the procedure. The Atom doesn't want to help save the Joker's life because it's the Joker, yet he agrees to once he finds out that in trying to save the criminal, he very well might end up killing him. After the Atom is inevitably overcome by the Joker's firing brain synapses, the narrative weaves in and out of the villain's violent memories, with the Atom forced to experience the disturbing instances first hand. We see the Joker as a twisted child, who kidnaps local pets and kills them, we see him trapping his abusive parents in the house and setting it on fire,

we see the first traces of his philosophy and  the rise of his criminal career.

The final, three-page sequence shows the Joker we all know and reveals/suggests that it is indeed the Joker from The Dark Knight

This origins story has been controversial among the fans for several reasons. One is ruining the continuity with The Killing Joke which still seems viable because Barbara is still on a wheel chair. TKJ depicted the pre-fall Joker as a good person. Amother issue is the inclusion of Atom in the story, and then there's the idea of explaining TDK Joker's origins which many fans did not want to see.

Batman: Under The Red Hood

The homicidal, dangerous animated Joker quickly returned in Bruce Timm's Under The Hood, voiced by John DiMaggio (Most known for Bender from Futurama).

John DiMaggio: I just wanted to honor the real true lunacy of the character. I didn’t want to make him campy, but I wanted to pay a little bit of tribute to the past Jokers – and yet keep it original at the same time. That’s walking a fine line, if there ever was one (...) There was a bit of Cesar Romero in what I did, but it’s Cesar Romero if he was in A Clockwork Orange. I guess my naiveté in my approach kind of kept it clean. I wasn’t trying to do a Jack (Nicholson) or a Heath (Ledger). I respect all the folks that have come before me, and their take on the character.(PR, 2010)

Bruce Timm:  He came in and did something that didn’t sound anything like Mark Hamill or Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger or Cesar Romero, and yet he sounds exactly like the Joker. He’s funny, and he’s scary as hell, and that’s just what you want. (PR 2010) 


  1. Astoundingly Amazing. The Joker is by far my most favorite Comic Book Villian, and you explained and captured his persona so vividly. Great work good sir, Great work!

  2. Wow, this article is nothing short of superb. You really did the research on this one and covered essentially everything imaginable about the Joker, and while a long article you still managed to keep it interesting the entire way.

  3. Fantasic article. The Joker has always been my favorite. Really great job on this- you obviously put a lot of work into it. Kudos.

  4. Fantastic and without a doubt the best and most researched Joker History on the net, but I have one small complaint: there's very little about The Dark Knight Returns

  5. Hail to the greatest comic villian ever!!

    I got the jokers birthday to, the one were he shoots the guy with his spear gun

  6. completely coherent and insightful. Even thought I knew all the info already, it was still an engaging read. Great job

  7. That is the best and most informative Joker article that ever existed

  8. My favorite on-screen portrayal of The Joker is by Jack Nicholson. While, my favorite comic book incarnation is the 1940's and 1970's Joker.

  9. My only complaint was that Joker's so called origin stated by Batman in his past life Cesar Romero's character had been a hypnotist in his youth. I know that there were different origins on him but that one bugs me the most. What did he do put a gold watch to his face and told himself to become the Clown prince of Crime? I find that very far fetch O_o

  10. The ambiguous origins of Joker are BS and its stated in the article. He had one origin set in stone for decades until others just started redoing his and EVERYONE's elses origins. Just because the comic books started retconning everyones origins in recent years doesnt mean those characters are left ambiguous. Burton's movies were mae with Kane and went back to the roots recreating Kane/Finger's versions. Ledger's Joker was a more recent take but it had plenty of changes in personality, not looks only. It says so in the article too that Nolan didnt even go back to research the character and read 2 or 3 comic books after the story was already finished. he based him more on the Clockwork Orange character and Johhny Rotten.

    In comic books Joker was a clown, an entertainer who was like a ringmaster, always energetic and having fun and clownish fun when comitting crime. He was an entertainer, and thats why he was CLOWN prince of crime. There were even some comics in which kids approached Joker because they thought he was a clown. He was dancing, singing, using all the fun gadgets and circuses and amusement parks as his hideouts. He acted like a real clown, changing clothes very often, playing dress up. And from his inception throughout over 4 decades he was a thief stilling $ and diamonds. Nolan's Joker is an idealist and anarchist who, unlike his comic book counterpart, didnt care for his own life at all, didnt care for reputation, that hes gonna look bad in front of other Batman villains (like Hammil's Joker did too), didnt fear anyone and didnt have an oversized ego. This Joker also either didnt feel or enjoyed pain, he was a masochist

  11. best-joker-writeup-EVER!

  12. Bravo! Finally a REAL article on Joker's history with confirmed facts and objectivity

  13. Nicholson looked exactly like the comic book Joker from his face. He maybe wasnt a walking toothpick like the comic book Joker was, but then again none of the actors who ever played Jokers were. Joker danced many times throughout history to music, he even dances to pop music in his own comic. The art and poontang chasin are the only additions but cmon, the guy was a mirror image of the modern age Joker. Same clothes, same face, same hairline, same eyebrows, same behavior and same age. In the comic Joker was much older than Batman. Look at that panel from "Laughing Fish", it looks exactly like Nicholson

  14. Joker's interest in art is nothing new, even the article shows him being interested in art in the Golden Age and in the 70s. Do people read the article before posting?

  15. A multiple Oscar winner, praised by Kubrick as one of the best, who looks so much like the comic Joker its scary and played lunatics, axe wielding smiling psychos and the devil, was a perfect match for the faithful representation of the Joker onscreen. Looked and behaved like Joker to a T. Ledger was a spin on the character but did wonders too. Romero I must say I didnt care for

  16. "I dont know if its art but I like it". Joker didnt have any fixation on art, he wasnt an artist, he was just goofing around like he did in the comics. In the comis he was dressing up as painters too, as jesters, as Arabian prince etc. Theres no indication that he was into art, he just put on a painters hat and said that hes a homicidal artist. Typical Joker. Nicholson was the most physically right because he looked exactly like the comic book Joker. He was Bob Kane's choice, and the comic book Joker was in his 40s. Prince provided music for the movie so naturally they will use his music, whats the difference anyway? He would dance to some pop music anyway whatever it would be, he did so in the comics. And the scene with photographs is great, you forgot hes talking to them and dancing with them, classic Joker. Nothing is dated, he acted exactly like the modern age iconic Joker, the article even shows it in side by side comparison. If hes dated than Joker is dated because he looked like him and acted like him. Ill give you the romantic fixation though(although Im not sure if he didnt have one in the comics, thats a question for the blog author)

  17. "Aptitudes include science, chemistry, and art"

    "I am an artist"

    "We musn't compare ourselves to regular people. We're artists"

    Spelled out for you clear as day in the movie.

    Can you show me one medium outside of Batman 1989 where The Joker played music in anything remotely resembling Prince while committing his crimes? Adam West show, BTAS, none of them depicted him as having a fancy shaking his butt to music when out doing crimes.

    Tim Burton even thinks the Prince stuff dates the movie.

    Where is it specified comic book Joker is in his 40's?

    Bob Kane is a plagiarist. Bill Finger is the real genius behind Batman, the Joker, and lots of other major Batman characters. So Kane's opinions means nothing.

  18. "Aint no business like showbusiness" is what Joker danced to in his own comic, it was an old pop music. I dont think the rest has been named or identified. It a question to the author again

    And even if you think Kane was a plagiarist, he copied artwork. Finger wrote everything, including Joker's origins. I still disagree that Kane was plagiarist, if he was, where Batman then? Why dont we like those characters he supposedly copied? Ill tell you why, because he just took the best of what he had seen and mixed it together. Thats called originality. Ingredients may pre exist but not the resulting product

  19. The art thing was an original addition, I mentioned it in the article - "One original addition was the knowledge and passion for art". This is why I don't participate in those commenting discussions, people comment on the issue without actually reading the article which beats the entire purpose of the site, which is to show hard facts and quotations from people involved
    As for the music, that's really nothing new or different for the Joker, it doesn't really matter what exactly he danced to, it was pop music and not classical music.

  20. I read it, I simply forgot about that part

  21. But its not like hes into Picasso or something, hes into art of death! Now thats badass

  22. Well the Silver Age Joker did have affection for art, but you cant possibly say its the same thing as in the movie. In the movie he sees art in skulls and decaying bodies, he's a HOMICIDAL artist, not a painter. Did people miss the part where we see what an artists he is after Alicia reveals her scarred face? Thats creepy and adds more psyhcosis to the character

  23. I must correct both the parties discussing here and the article. The article is near flawless and almost completely accurate, but for some reason it misses the fact that even in his first appearance Joker is into art in his own twisted way and fiddles with the art pieces as he does in the movie. Only a blind hater wouldnt admit that Nicholson's Joker was the most accurate onscreen Joker ever presented. Just read the Golden Age and 70s and 80s comics, or at least the above posted History

  24. Anyone who doesnt think that Joker was old in the comics and still needs some kind of proof is undeniably blind. He is OBVIOUSLY an older man -

  25. I didnt miss the art thing, I didnt think in the grand scheme of things it would be important to mention. And as it stands, an art of death thing was something new either way

  26. Hair, clothes, special effects and radio music are 4 things that date and will date every movie, picking on it is simply unfair

  27. I think this site needs a forum

  28. Joker by his own admission and by others' testimony had plenty of 'action' in the comic books. Forgot Greta Mitchell who even gave him son?

  29. I would say the TDK Joker uses one gadget (kind of): the blade that pops out of his shoe (inspired by the 007 movie "From Russia with Love").

  30. Joker is one of my most favorite villains because he's smart and he wears nice gangster suits.

  31. The Joker is one of my favorite Batman characters of all time. You seriously put a lot of time into this. This is a very interesting article and now I know more about the Joker than I ever thought I would. Thank you. Signed: J. T. from Champaign County, Ohio

  32. Awesome blog. My favorite villain. GothamStreets, how would you rank your top five favorite Batman villains?

  33. Joker
    C'th ( a very obscure villain who appeared in only one Batman comic book)


      Greetings, dear GothamStreets (owner of the magnificent Gotham Alleys blogspot)! Long-time admirer here. My name is Yan Eden and I really wanted to share this very personal animated project o'mine with you (it encapsulates my love for the DCAU as well) that includes an original script, great vocal performances from such talents as Jay Nelson & Mark Hamill himself (the O.G. Joker from the animated series).

      Took me a long time to accomplish it, but it's so worth it - it's about the essence of the Joker and how he transcends our perception of him at one moment in time or another (there's also some stuff about DCEU's recent news and announcements). It's like a classic radio show mixed with beautiful animation mixed with unhealthy doses of insanity and madness. Thank you for an inspiration! Hope you enjoy it! Have a great day, everyone!

  34. Eh, your wrong on something...

    Lee Bermejo did NOT base his visual depiction of his Joker on his Heath's Joker. He came up with the look before Heath's version was even revealed. Its all coincidence

  35. HA hA hA Ha Ha ha Ha Ha ha
    .....wAiT TiLl ThEy gEt AloAD oF ME!

  36. Joker's such a GREAT villian!
    Good thing Schumacher didn't get his hands on 'em.

  37. You have done a terrific job. Appreciate that you have referenced your write up with some pictures.
    Someone gave your blog's link to me on Quora.
    I'm a huge fan of the Joker and this was a really engaging read. :)

  38. "I'm going to make this pencil... disappear.


    "No! No! I totally saw that pencil go up that guy's eye!"

  39. I greatly appreciate the incredible amount of work (and love) that goes into this and other posts.
    However, many of these posts (including this one) are EXTREMELY difficult to read, due to the writers' relatively poor command of the English language, etc.
    I'm sure that this is due to the fact that they are not native English speakers, which is understandable, but perhaps they could get someone who is a native English speaker to edit the posts for them, and correct their mistakes.
    Other than that, though, keep up the good work!

  40. First of all, I really enjoyed your post... but i wanted to school you on the color wheel for a second. Above, while speaking about the inaccurate clothing of Cesar Romero's Joker, you wrote that "His suit is more cyan instead of purple"... Ill keep it short. Cyan is Blue. I think the color you mean to say is Magenta or maybe Fuchsia.

  41. much ado about silliness and nonsense! High Noon, 007,... it's the same old plot over and over again - just changed the costumes and emphasized technological advancements. best wishes for new year!

  42. What about The 4part story arc IT'S JOKER TIME? That to me had a great origin story in it.

  43. Awesome guide! As a huge Joker fan I should point out that you need to add in the current Batman arc where he cuts his face off....that'd be nice :3

  44. The Joker is my favourite fictional character of all time and this is awesome.


  46. The mama’s jokes are really funny and I found this blog really informative stuffed, keep it up.
    how to get revenge

  47. At the time of his birth, Batman was the only costumed superhero who was human and who didn't have any inhuman powers

    In comic strips, the Phantom had debuted in 1936, while the Crimson Avenger had debuted in Detective Comics#20. Did you have a reason for excluding them?

  48. This was way cool! One great story line and a lot of research. I think politics should have you as competition for how much research they do before they starting hurting people with their power over others

  49. i love the joker

  50. also anonymous January 25 sickens me

  51. The TV version of the joker played by Ceasar Romero was mild compared to the comic book and movie version

  52. Mark Hamill was made and perfect for the role.

  53. And now we wait and see if Leto's Joker can live up to the hype.

  54. Loved the article but the only thing it's lacking is all of the games hes been in and the new 52 and movie coming out in 2016. Although I absolutely hate the new 52, it's an important part of his history.

    1. This article was written in 2010, before New 52 and Suicide Squad (though that still doesn't explain why Arkham Asylum was passed over, since the game was in 2009)

  55. Loved the article but the only thing it's lacking is all of the games hes been in and the new 52 and movie coming out in 2016. Although I absolutely hate the new 52, it's an important part of his history.


    Greetings, dear GothamStreets (owner of the magnificent Gotham Alleys blogspot)! Long-time admirer here. My name is Yan Eden and I really wanted to share this very personal animated project o'mine with you (it encapsulates my love for the DCAU as well) that includes an original script, great vocal performances from such talents as Jay Nelson & Mark Hamill himself (the O.G. Joker from the animated series).

    Took me a long time to accomplish it, but it's so worth it - it's about the essence of the Joker and how he transcends our perception of him at one moment in time or another (there's also some stuff about DCEU's recent news and announcements). It's like a classic radio show mixed with beautiful animation mixed with unhealthy doses of insanity and madness. Thank you for an inspiration! Hope you enjoy it! Have a great day, everyone!

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