What You Might Not Know About The Joker


His IRL Origin is as Muddled as His Fictional One

The early Batman stories were created by a pyramid of collaborators and freelancers with Bob Kane (the only man to officially sign a contract with the publisher) at the top. It’s that reason why there’s conflicting accounts over who “created” the Joker. As a young freelance artist Jerry Robinson was sitting in class drawing doodles in his notebook and he became obsessed with the image of a Joker playing card. Writer Bill Finger remembers seeing Jerry’s drawing and having that inspire him to pull out a photo of actor Conrad Veidt from the movie The Man Who Laughs and working with Bob Kane to flesh out the character. All three men have vaguely different stories about the order of events and who thought of what, with Kane later denying Finger and Robinson’s accounts. However, the original “Joker” sketch has been displayed across the country in museum exhibitions.


‘The Dark Knight’ Borrowed Heavily From His First Appearance

The Joker’s first appearance was in 1940’s Batman #1. Within this epic two-part story are things that are SO vital to The Joker’s character that when it was time 70 years later for Christopher Nolan to revive the villain in 2008’s The Dark Knight he couldn’t help but borrow from the original pages by Finger and Robinson.

Among the parallels:

– The Joker disguising himself as a policeman to get close to targeted victim.
– Gotham’s organized crime families trying (and failing) to kill this strange new criminal.
– The Joker assassinating popular politicians that called for his arrest.
– Joker escaping prison with a smuggled explosive device.

It’s hard to tell whether the filmmakers were inspired by this specific story OR the thousands of comics inspired by it, but it’s incredible to see what aspects of The Joker stay true after all this time.


He Disappeared from Batman Comics for 4 Years

After a moral panic in the 1950s instituted the famous “Comics Code Authority” The Clown Prince of Evil was forced to tone down the “Evil” and play up the “Clown”. These Silver Age stories where The Joker didn’t kill and was less menacing proceeded to tank his popularity and worst of all in the 60s industry legend Julius Schwartz was put in charge of the Batman books as editor… and this guy HATED The Joker. The results of these changes were that entire YEARS would pass without him making an appearance. The only thing that saved the character was the campy television series that made the colorful goofiness of the post-code Batman stories a SELLING POINT instead of an embarrassment. So you have Cesar Romero to thank for all those fun comics you own where The Joker like rips his own face off and kills a busload of orphans.


Alan Moore HATES “The Killing Joke”

For a good while in the 80s, Alan Moore was on a creative rampage stomping his way through the stale DC Universe. Besides his gifts as a storyteller, Moore was able to weave in off-limits topics like the occult, sex, and mental health while still (barely, just barely) making it past the censors. Nowadays, the writer claims that he was trying to break down the idea of superheroes to make way for the medium to explore new ideas, but laments the fact that it just pushed publishers to indulge in the more depraved appetites of their audiences. In multiple interviews, he’s said things like “I’ve never really liked my story in The Killing Joke. I think it put far too much melodramatic weight upon a character that was never designed to carry it.” and “Brian Bolland did a wonderful job on the art but I don’t think it’s a very good book. It’s not saying anything very interesting.”


Jack Nicholson’s Deal in 1989’s Batman was Sweet as Hell

It’s hard to overstate just how much Tim Burton’s Batman did to revitalize the superhero as a cultural figure, and its success paved the way for the current MCU-dominated timeline we now live in. And while Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker has been (debatably) overshadowed by other performances since then, it’s safe to say no single human being has benefited more from the Jester of Genocide than he has. Back in the late 80s, Nicholson accepted half his usual pay for a blockbuster at the time in exchange for a percentage of the movie’s profits (it’s this same kind of deal that keeps Robert Downey Jr. coming back to don the armor/mocap suit). Not only that but this deal got him a share of the Batman merchandise AND the movie’s sequels. At this point Nicholson has earned well over $100 million dollars from his one performance, even then his contract stated he only had to work finite hours and he had the day off to attend every LA Lakers game during filming. Who’s the real criminal mastermind now?


His OG Backstory was… Kinda Lame?

11 years after his debut, writer Bill Finger formally gave the origin story to Batman’s greatest arch-enemy, one that would influence his stories for decades afterwards. But what if that chilling tale of a common criminal, warped by noxious toxic chemicals into a grimacing creature who exists beyond logic and morality, was way goofier than we think? 1951’s “The Man Behind the Red Hood” is actually a comedic tale of college hijinks and a eye-rollingly obvious mystery unfit for an episode of Scooby-Doo. The entire premise revolves around Batman being tapped to teach a criminology class at a local college where he and a bunch of one-off Archie rejects are tasked with catching “The Red Hood” a villain who had escaped Batman’s grasp years earlier. It’s 12 pages of fraternity row scampering and red herrings until in the last page Joker is found tied up in a shed and goes “lol yeah it was me I was the Red Hood and I dove into some chemicals at the playing card company where I worked at as a lab tech”. I can see now why the “mystery” of the Joker’s origin is so enticing for comics writers… because the official one leaves a lot to be desired.

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