How do you not love The Joker? Well, you could be Batman for one, but as long as you’re not, then you can probably find his methods entertaining at the very least. That’s not to say they aren’t disturbing, but just because he can make your stomach turn doesn’t mean he isn’t also incredibly captivating.
The Joker made his debut in 1940 and over the years has amassed countless stories and adventures that need to be told, and are covered below. Some, you may know (like the inspiration for his character), but there are definitely lesser known tidbits included as well, such as his intentional but rarely explored sexual orientation. You’ll also learn some of the worst things he’s done (so far) because there’s no better way to end a list about The Joker than feeling like you need to take a long shower!
Love him or hate him, you need to give credit to the man who’s been able to tussle with The Dark Knight for as long as he has, and lived to tell the tale.
15. The Joker Was Inspired By A 1928 Movie
When it comes to creating such a diabolical character as The Joker, it is always interesting to look back at the original design from Jerry Robinson. Robinson was inspired by the 1928 movie, The Man Who Laughs.
The film is centered around Qwynplaine, the son of a nobleman who upset the King. As a result, Qwynplaine was taken and sold into a group of gypsies who specialized in torturing children and reconstructing their faces into extreme grins. When the group abandoned him during a snowstorm, he came across a deceased woman and her baby daughter, who was still alive. Qwynplaine takes the girl with him and discovers she is blind. The two eventually come across a philosopher, Ursus, who takes them in and uses them as sideshow attractions, where he is given the name of “The Laughing Man.”
Though there is no Batman, the similarities between the two are clear. In 2005, a graphic novel titled Batman: The Man Who Laughs was released for The Joker and details his first encounter with Batman.
14. He Was Almost Dressed As Madonna
One of the biggest impacts on the character was due to the 1989 Batman movie that saw The Joker being played by Jack Nicholson. Warner Bros. was incredibly invested in the type of graphic novels that were coming out, so you can imagine that when Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth was going to feature the Joker dressed up as Madonna, they were a little worried.
Grant Morrison, one of the men behind the comic, opened up about the experience in an interview saying, “The Joker was originally dressed as Madonna. They didn’t want this because they thought people would think that Jack Nicholson was a transvestite. Is this the conclusion you would jump to?’”
To further paint the picture, we’ve included a photo of the music video “Open Your Heart” which featured a very sexy Madonna. Joker was going to be wearing the exact same outfit (with skin whiter than bone), and Morrison explained the reasoning: “He appears as Madonna in yet another allusion to our reoccurring (‘Mother’) theme. Also, and more simply, because she has become an instantly recognizable cultural icon of the type which The Joker loves to mock.”
13. When Martha Wayne Was The Joker
Now, this may be a list peppered full of details about the original iteration of Mr. J, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t include the universe in which Martha Wayne became The Joker. The comic series Flashpoint paints a future in which it’s Bruce that is killed by Joe Chill, and not his parents. As a result, Thomas becomes Batman and, unable to cope with the loss of her son, Martha slashes her cheeks to create the famous faux smile.
It’s far from a light story, as Martha ends up tricking James Gordon into shooting Harvey Dent’s daughter (who she had kidnapped). The daughter survives, but Martha still kills Gordon. When she was confronted by Batman and informed of the alternate timeline (after he got the info from The Flash), Martha ran away in fear at the idea of her son being Batman instead, and fell to her death.
12. The Earliest Origin Story Of The Joker
When you think of The Red Hood, you may think of the version represented by Jason Todd, but the first time readers saw the words ‘Red Hood’ in a DC comic, it was in 1951. It also happens to be the earliest origin story of the Joker– if that’s not cool, we don’t know what is. In the story, Batman and Robin are criminology teachers (on a volunteer basis) and talk about how a mysterious Red Hood planned to steal $1 million from the Monarch Playing Card Company but was supposedly killed after jumping into a basin filled with chemicals after Batman confronted him.
It is later revealed that it was The Joker under the mask and that the chemicals left him with green hair, chalk-white skin, and red lips. The story is elaborated in The Killing Joke, a critically-acclaimed graphic novel that came out in 1988. In it, The Joker is also driven mad by the knowledge that his pregnant wife, who he was struggling to support, has died in a household accident.
11. The Lazarus Pit Made Him Sane
While you probably won’t see this play out on the big screen, one of the more shocking moments came in 2001 in the comic Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Vol 1: 145. In what was part of the series The Demon Laughs, The Joker finds himself shot several times by Talia Al Ghul. Definitely not so good, but anyone familiar with the Al Ghuls knows about the Lazarus pit, which when entered causes people to experience prolonged life and enter into a state of psychosis. Yet, when it was time for The Joker to take a dip in the pit, he was brought into a state of… sanity?
That’s right, The Joker even ended up teaming up with Batman to blow up Al Ghul’s submarine. It definitely wasn’t a long walk on the normal side for The Joker, but it still marks one of the more unique moments in his comics history.
10. How The Columbine Shooting Impacted The Joker
On Halloween in 2000, there was a plan to release the direct-to-video movie Batman Beyond: The Return Of the Joker. Given the success of the Batman Beyond animated series which featured Terry McGennis as Batman and Bruce Wayne as a mentor. The original cut of the movie was supposed to be brutal, but the Columbine shooting in April 1999 caused the film to be drastically re-edited and delayed until December.
There were entire scenes removed, including ones where there were prostitutes, and other less-controversial things like a scene where Bruce and Terry aren’t wearing seat belts. The original story includes The Joker brainwashing Tim Drake and trying to convince him to shoot and kill Batman, but at the last second, Drake shoots Joker instead. In the edited version, the Joker is shoved into a wall that had water tubing and is electrocuted instead. For those interested, there was an “Uncut” version released in 2002.
9. He Was Supposed To Die In 1940
Bob Kane is largely credited with the creation of Batman, and one of his biggest ticks was apparently repeating villains (good thing he changed that mindset). As a result, when Batman #1 is coming to a close, Joker accidentally stabs himself during a tussle with The Bat. The Joker staggers and literally says, “-No-No-It’s can’t be true – yet- there it is—” putting the end to the “Killer Clown.”
Thankfully for us, the editor on the team, Whitney Ellsworth, thought it would be pointless to introduce a character and then just kill them off again so soon. As a result, he went ahead and made sure to add a final panel that featured an ambulance driver saying “My goodness! He’s still alive!” You can imagine that there were no hard feelings between Kane and Ellsworth for him stepping in and making the editorial decision!
8. He Dons The Mask (Yes, Like Jim Carrey)
Do you remember the 1994 movie The Mask starring Jim Carrey? The movie, while hilarious, was based on the character that made his first appearance in the comic book world in 1987. If that wasn’t shocking enough for you, how about the fact that Mr. J has had some hands-on experience with the mask? He was actually one of the main inspirations for the character. In 2000, during the comic Joker/Mask (#1-4) The Joker found the mask in a Gotham City museum, and upon wearing it, he feels motivated to start committing crime again.
Thankfully, Batman convinces Joker to remove the mask. The comic ends with the mask getting buried in the grave of Stanley Ipkiss (who was also the character Jim Carrey played). This was the last main publication to reference The Mask.
7. Killing Batman Caused Him To Lose His Memory
We’re going to give you two fun parts of this next story. The first, is that John Marc DeMatteis first pitched the idea for a storyline centered around what would happen if Joker actually killed Batman. The idea was turned down by DC, and instead, the idea made it’s way to Marvel where it became Kraven’s Last Hunt, which was incredibly well-received. As a result, Batman: Going Sane, was created by DeMatteis in 1994. In the comic, The Joker ends up tracking down Batman and trapping him in an explosion. Believing him to be dead, The Joker’s mind starts to slip back into sanity. This happens to such a degree that he forgets his past and becomes the normal citizen Joseph Kerr. You can imagine that Batman wasn’t down for long, and when he returned to Gotham he made sure to lay the smack down on Kerr.
6. He’s Gay
It was not uncommon for certain comic book characters to take a leave of absence from the comics, and after disappearing for 4 years, fans were eager for The Joker’s return. The 1973 story, The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge, by Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams did not disappoint. It features Mr. J escaping from an institution and realizing that one of his former gang members must have ratted him out to police, so he decides to kill all of them. He even succeeds with 4 of them before Batman catches up to him.
But the iconic story is not the interesting part. In the little-known magazine, Comic Files Magazine Spotlight On Batman Files (published in 1986), was a story in which Neal Adams talks about how he clearly wanted the Joker to be portrayed as a homosexual. The full quote goes something like this: “In 1973, he decided that The Joker was, and always had been, homosexual. So he not only returned the original ruthlessness to the character but added veiled references to this as well.”
5. His Notable Skills and Equipment
When it comes to being loaded with superpowers, Joker is definitely not your guy, but as you know by now, that has hardly ever slowed him down. Two of Joker’s most iconic ‘gags’ (the joy buzzer, and his lapel with acid), were introduced in 1952 and were really intended to be jokes, not fatal.
His Joker venom has also been known to set people into fits of laughter in small doses, while higher doses have led to coma or death, and leaves the victim with the rictus grin. Joker has also modified his venom to turn people into henchmen, which as you can imagine, would come in handy.
If you needed to give him any power, it would have to be his near immunity to poison. Joker developed this ability by consuming his own chemical concoctions and “over years of dedicated abuse,” as Morrison (a prominent writer) elaborated.
4. He Saved America From A Nuclear Bomb
Wait… what? Yes, that’s right, but when you read about this wacky DC/Marvel crossover, The Joker saving America may be the least confusing part.
Debuting in 1997, the comic featured the pairing of Batman and Captain America trying to take out the Red Skull who had hired The Joker to steal an atomic bomb. The comic is set during WW2 and things were going smoothly for Red Skull, at least until The Joker realizes he’s a Nazi. As a result, The Joker turns on him saying, “I may be a criminal lunatic, but I’m an American criminal lunatic!”
The two get into a showdown, with Skull ultimately threatening to bomb Washington. Thankfully for America, Batman and Cap are able to fly the bomb over the middle of the ocean. The Joker then sacrifices himself, pushing the bomb out of the cargo bay, causing him and Skull to fall to their “death.”
3. The Actors Who Played The Joker
One of the biggest reasons behind The Joker’s popularity is due to the fantastic acting that has been brought to the character over the years. The character first came to life on screen in the ’60s by Cesar Romero in the Batman television series and movie.
Jack Nicholson was outstanding and received high praise for his role in the 1989 movie Batman. He was apparently quite upset that he wasn’t asked to reprise the character in The Dark Knight, but who could hate on Heath Ledger’s performance which earned him an award for Best Supporting Actor. Then, of course, you have the recent attempt by Jared Leto.
If you turn to the animated side, Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker) is as good as it gets with his portrayal of the character in Batman: The Animated Series. Hamill also returns in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The New Batman Adventures, Justice League, and most recently in Batman: The Killing Joke (just to name a few).
John DiMaggio, who you may know as Bender (or Marcus Fenix), plays Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood. Michael Emerson who was great in LOST as Ben Linus, also plays Mr. J in The Dark Knight Returns.
The last notable actor may be Zach Galifianakis who will certainly show a different side of Joker when he voices him in The Lego Batman Movie.
2. He Teamed Up With Carnage
If you’re aware of who Cletus Kasady, aka Carnage is, then you’re also aware of how incredibly dangerous a villain he is. If you don’t, you will by the end of this blurb. Kasady in his own right was a serial killer, who was infected by a Symbiote and became “Carnage” (similar to Venom).
In the story, Carnage and Joker find themselves in similar fates as both are held in Ravencroft Institute. Eventually, they escape during transport and begin discussing how to kill the most amount of people. They inevitably get into an argument over which method is best, Joker calls Carnage David Hasselhoff (seriously), and then blows up the building after escaping through a trapdoor.
1. The Joker At His Worst
There are plenty of awful things that Joker has done, and here are the absolute worst.
-He beats Jason Todd, one of the Robins, to death with a crowbar.
-He shoots and cripples Barbara Gordon, and then torments Jim Gordon. He’s also killed his wife Sarah Essen.
-In Death of the Family, Joker kidnapped, and tortured most of the people close to Batman including smashing Alfred with a hammer and poisoning him.
-In Joker, a graphic novel released in 2008, Joker also rapes the ex-wife of one of his henchmen and associates who he felt wronged him.
-He’s beaten and threatened to kill Harley Quinn (and vice versa) more times than we can count.
-He also elected to have his face skinned off, and then decided to wear it as a mask, and he’s even blown up a school full of kids.
It’s only the tip of the iceberg, but at least it’ll leave you feeling perfectly disgusted; which is probably just what Joker would want.