A Brief History of the Clown Prince of Crime

Many many years ago I aspired to be a teacher. It never happened but I’m going to put my skills to the test in this, what I would call, history lesson.

With Joker out, we thought it would be great to give fans a slight overview of the Joker’s history. Ranging from his inception to his modern day appearances. Obviously, it would be incredibly challenging to cover all aspects of The Joker’s history so we’ve selected the important aspects.

Now, Batman and The Joker’s rivalry is essentially the stuff of legend. It’s deep, it’s unusual and it will probably go on and on… there is no end in sight. What makes the Joker stand out is his obscurity and his bizarre nature. The fact he lacks a definitive origin, his crazy appearances that have become increasingly more daring overtime, and his complex relationship with The Caped Crusader. It is a relationship unlike any other- Not even Superman and Lex Luthor’s can match it.

Batman made his debut appearance in Detective Comics #27 in 1939- Yep 80 years ago. Sometime later, Batman received his own series and in Batman #1 (April, 1940) both Catwoman and The Joker appeared. Batman and Robin teamed up to stop the Joker from unleashing his infamous Joker Venom, known for leaving a permanent smile on the victims face. From that point I doubt anyone could have predicted how influential The Joker would become.

Originally, Bob Kane and Bill Finger had planned on killing The Joker in Batman #1. The Joker accidentally stabs himself in the chest and that’s it. However, Whitney Ellsworth (the editor) made a last minute change revealing that The Joker had survived. Just imagine if the Joker had died.

After his first appearance, The Joker appeared in many Batman comics. Typically he would find inventive and cruel ways to kill people and then evade capture. Or if he was captured, it would never be for long. A cell can only contain the Clown Prince of Crime for so long. Rinse and repeat.

As time passed, the Joker’s stories became more intricate and definitely a lot darker. One story that has puzzled comic book readers for years has been the mysterious origin of The Joker. Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke seemingly revealed the true origin of the Joker. A failed comedian who turned to crime in order to support his wife, but when the Red Hood meets Batman he leaps into chemical materials and disfigures himself.

However, The Joker in Moore’s novel isn’t even certain that that story is his real origin.

Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! HA HA HA!

The Killing Joke.
The Joker
The Joker

Also, look at Heath Ledger’s Joker. Throughout The Dark Knight we are given multiple stories regarding his scars.

While Batman and Joker’s history runs deep, it wasn’t until the 80s when things really shifted. For many, the relationship between Batman and The Joker was a cat and mouse game. However, their relationship reached new heights when the Clown Prince of Crime changed the Bat-family forever.

When fans started to get tired of Jason Todd, DC Comics gave readers the opportunity to choose whether Jason lived or died… sheesh. In A Death in the Family, The Joker kidnapped Robin and beat him with a crowbar before setting off explosives that killed Robin and his mother.

Then we can jump to The Killing Joke again where The Joker paralyzed Barbara Gordon by shooting her. Batgirl was gone but the Oracle was born. The game changed from that point on. The Joker wasn’t just a villain who killed people for fun, he impacted the Dark Knight and that has had a lasting effect.

Of course, The Joker has tormented Batman from beyond the pages of a comic book. The Joker’s onscreen appearances vary.

  • Cesar Romero played the Joker in the original Batman TV series with Adam West from 1966 to 1968.
  • Jack Nicholson donned the iconic makeup in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman which actually provided him with an origin story- After Jack Napier fell into a vat of chemicals which dyed his hair and lips, a failed plastic surgery procedure left a permanent smile on his face… soon sending him insane.
  • Mark Hamill voiced The Joker and is often credited as being the most iconic. Hamill first voiced the Joker in the Animated Series in 1992 and he continued to bring The Joker to life in many other animated shows and films. This also includes the Arkham video game series.
  • Heath Ledger provided an unforgettable performance in 2008, offering a unique interpretation of The Joker. Instead of being scarred by chemicals, The Joker uses makeup to hide his scars that create a smile along his mouth.
  • Jared Leto portrayed The Joker in the DCEU. While his fate is left somewhat unclear, Jared Leto is supposedly set to appear in future installments including a Joker and Harley Quinn centered movie.

Other actors include John DiMaggio, Michael Emerson, Troy Baker, and Zach Galifianakis.

Now we can add Joaquin Phoenix to the list. Check out our review of Joker right here. You can also check out our top 5 Joker moments here and here.

Joker is out now in cinemas. Don’t forget to check it out.

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