The Joker’s Wild
The Joker: “It’s not a question of stomach, my friend, it’s a question of style! Any idiot…nothing personal, of course… can go out and slaughter a few thousand people, but where’s the laughter and tears? The handstands and histrionics? In short, my dense and sanguine pal, where’s the theater?”
Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds
The Joker is one of the most famous supervillains. He’s plagued the DC universe since the 1940s and been played by some of the biggest actors in Hollywood: Cesar Romero, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, Joaquin Phoenix, the list goes on and even includes Jared Leto.
The Joker has many secrets despite almost eighty years of appearances. We don’t even know his real name. What other secrets has the Joker been hiding? Let’s find out.
#5: Multiple Choice Past
The Joker: “I mean, what is it with you? What made you what you are? Girlfriend killed by the mob, maybe? Brother carved up by some mugger? Something like that, I bet. Something like that… Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”
Batman: The Killing Joke
The Joker’s biggest mystery is his origin. We don’t know who he is, where he’s from, why he became a costumed psychopath, nothing about his backstory. Even when a hint is given, Joker goes out of his way to cast doubt on it. It’s like he popped out of a dark alley, fully grown and ready to put the laughter in slaughter.
The most consistent backstory has the proto-Joker break into the Ace Chemical plant disguised as a crook called Red Hood. After tussling with the police, Red Hood encounters Batman on a catwalk over vats of chemicals. He somehow falls and emerges from the chemical bath with bleached skin, green hair, and mind-boggling insanity. Red Hood is gone. The Joker is born.
The Batman movies taken their own stabs at The Joker’s origin. The ‘89 flick featured Jack Nicholson as a comedic hitman named Jack Napier. He was tied into Batman’s own backstory as the guy who killed the Waynes. Jack then went through the aforementioned backstory and became The Joker. Many fans and writers have adopted the Jack Napier name for Joker’s pre-crime life.
2019’s Joker seemingly borrows from the classic story The Killing Joke, with a pre-criminal Joker as a struggling comedian. Will it be successful? Time will tell.
#4: Joker vs. The Marvel Universe
The Joker: “You mean that isn’t some crazy disguise? I’ve been working with a Nazi?!”
Red Skull: “But of course. Why are you so upset, Joker? From what I have read of your exploits, it seemed obvious you would make a superb Nazi!”
Joker: “That mask must be cutting off the oxygen to your brain. I may be a criminal lunatic, but I’m an American criminal lunatic! Keep back, boys! This creep is mine!”
Batman and Captain America
It’s unheard of for Marvel and DC Comics to work together now although they created frequent crossovers in the 80’s and 90’s from Superman meeting Spider-Man to The X-Men working with the Teen Titans. So once Batman started crossing over, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Joker made a few appearances too.
The first was in Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds. A doctor developed a new device to keep insane people docile. Desiring fame, she decided that The Joker and Carnage would be her guinea pigs. It didn’t work and both psychotic villains escaped. They tried to work together, but split up over creative (or is it destructive?) differences.
The second Joker appearance was in Batman and Captain America. Joker and his gang teamed up with the Red Skull to wreak havoc. Red Skull had promised Joker one million dollars, and eventually revealed that Hitler wanted to personally reward him for his assistance. Joker realized his ally was a real Nazi and promptly turned on him, even sacrificing his life to stop Red Skull from dropping a nuke.
The final Joker crossover was a cameo in DC vs Marvel Comics when Joker talked with a Spider-Man clone who had been transported to Gotham City. There haven’t been any crossovers between DC and Marvel lately, mostly because of a pissing contest between higher-ups of both companies. Hopefully that changes. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a crossover between The Joker and Deadpool?
#3: Psychotic Showtunes
Joker Hallucination: “Nobody serenades you but me, Bats. Take it away, boys!”Batman: Arkham Knight
One of The Joker’s biggest quirks is his habit of breaking into song, even when featured in print. There are enough tunes to fill a concert with a couple left over for the radio on the drive home.
The Joker’s first original song was an untitled ditty sung by Cesar Romero as his goons tied up Batman and Robin, coaxed on with Joker’s maniacal sung instructions. The next Joker tune was “Smile (Darn Ya, Smile)” from Batman: the Brave and the Bold performed by Jeff Bennet. This was followed by Alan Moore’s “I Go Looney” in Batman: The Killing Joke. The lyrics were written out in the comic, but wouldn’t be sung until Mark Hamill got hold of the adaptation in 2016.
Mark Hamill has sung plenty of Joker songs. He performed the parody “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” in Batman: the Animated Series. He constantly crooned throughout the Arkham video game series, with covers of Hank Williams “Cold Cold, Heart,” The Platters “Only You (and You Alone), the original song “I Can’t Stop Laughing”, and its melancholic reprise “I’m Not Laughing”.
There’s more to Joker’s rhythmic repertoire. He’s frequently sung “Vesti la Giubba” from the opera Pagliacci. And he performed a duet of Hank Williams “Setting the Woods on Fire” with Harley Quinn in The Batman. This mixed-up madman makes for quite the mixtape.
#2: Emperor Joker
Joker: [after killing Batman] “I can’t believe it. He’s… he’s actually gone. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the passing of a man who was more than just another do-gooder in tights. He was the best arch-nemesis a sociopath could ask for. [beat] Okay, let’s do it again!”
Batman: The Brave and the Bold “Emperor Joker!” (Season 2, Episode 19)
For all his depraved cruelty, The Joker is still only a normal psychopath. This changed in the story Emperor Joker, where he stole reality warping powers from the Superman villain Mr. Mxyzptlk. The new, god-like Joker reshaped Earth to his liking.
Superman was trapped in Arkham Asylum while the Justice League were twisted into mockeries and forced to do Joker’s bidding. The cosmic characters that could stop Joker were brainwashed into repeating the Budweiser “Wassup” commercial.. And Batman had it worst, with The Joker killing and endlessly resurrecting him.
Joker was only stopped when Superman pointed out that his damaged psyche couldn’t let him permanently kill Batman. The realization that Joker’s nothing without Batman causes him to lose his powers.
The Emperor Joker story was adapted into an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It cut out the other heroes, had a smaller scale, and replaced Mxyzptlk with the similar character Bat-Mite.
#1: Three of a Kind
Alfred: “It’s The Joker.”
Batman: “In Civic City. One dead in a candy store, two more held hostage, but…”
Alfred: “Master Wayne?”
Batman: “The Joker was caught outside of Baltimore three hours ago. They’re transferring him to Arkham as we speak.”
Alfred: “So what is this then? There are two Jokers?”
Batman: “No Alfred. The chair said that there are three. I need to find out what that really means.”
Justice League: The Darkseid War
Joker’s greatest secret is also one of his most recent. During the series Darkseid War, Batman temporarily used an artifact called the Mobius Chair, a high-tech throne associated with the god Metron that gives its user borderline omniscience. Batman used the chair to learn who killed his parents, then asked for the Joker’s identity. We don’t see the answer, only his shocked reaction.
Bats later revealed the chair showed him that there are three Jokers. One is a silly prankster based on his appearance in the Silver Age of Comics. The second is visually based on Nicholson’s version and is the standard Joker. The final Joker is the brutal psychopath of the New 52 comics.
This story is still ongoing. With no current explanations, fans should anticipate answers but not necessarily a resolution in 2019’s Batman: Three Jokers.
Didya Get All That?
Joker’s got a lot hidden up his sleeve.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.