His smile is a smile almost anybody can recognize, and for good reason: he is one of the greatest (if not, the greatest) Batman villains ever. Despite his popularity with comic book fans (most especially Batman fans), not much is known about the Joker. He remains one of Batman's most iconic and enigmatic villains ever to grace the pages of a comic book, televisions screens and cinemas worldwide. But who is the Joker?
If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!
He first appeared in the issue Batman #1 (1940), as a serial killer who chose his victims on a whim. Already portrayed as a perpetually smiling psychopath, this incarnation of the Joker is the basis of how we see the Joker today. The thing is, the Joker was supposed to be killed off in the Batman #2. He was a character that the writers saw as a potential threat to the effectiveness of Batman as a crime-fighter. Thankfully, then-editor Whitney Ellsworth opposed this idea. The Joker then became a recurring villain in the following issues.
The Joker was a living as a happy, comic book, psychopathic killer until 1954, when the Comics Code Authority was established after quite a few ridiculous complaints that comic books were corrupting children everywhere. It was because of this that the Comics Code Authority set forth a list of regulations that would filter comic book content. It was after this that the psychopathic nature of the Joker would be toned down a notch and because of this, the Joker was reduced as a nuisance to the Batman, as some sort of prankster with a remarkable sense of humor. However, the toned-down villainous nature of the Joker also provided several ways to introduce some of the villain's iconic character traits such as acid flowers, prank guns and whimsically-planned crimes.
The Joker would then on to have his own comic book series, The Joker. Penned by Dennis O'Neil, it was here that the villain would have his own crazy adventures without having to thrive in the shadow of the Batman. The series would focus on his rivalry with other villains, with each issue ending in his incarceration. (Refer to the Comics Code Authority rules) Despite the promising premise, the comic series never got to establish a following and was cancelled after nine issues.
In the next years, the character's mental issues were brought to light, often being the center of every story concerning the Joker. These stories eventually were the basis of the characterization of the Joker in the 1989 film, Batman, directed by Tim Burton, featuring Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Michael Keaton as the titular hero. These stories would also be adapted in the fan-favorite television series, Batman: The Animated Series.
Eventually, sales of Batman comics began to dwindle and fall, as the character of Batman started to grow less popular, but with the introduction of the Joker as an insane, but whimsical adversary of the Batman, the series took on a dark turn, with the subject matter coming closer to crime fiction rather than superhero fiction. The villain became a much macabre figure in the Batman stories. The dark aspects of these narratives then culminated in the shattering tale, Death in the Family, the villain brutally murders the second Robin, Jason Todd. This was based on a vote by fans because the character of Jason Todd was largely unpopular in this time, so with a crowbar and a bit of laughs, the Joker did what must be done to revitalize the series.
For decades, the Joker lacked an origin story of how he came to be, giving us a story in flashbacks of how he was a struggling comedian with a pregnant wife. Because of his struggles in achieving fame and paying the rent, he joined a bunch of criminals and put on the Red Hood identity to rob a chemical plant where he used to work. Unfortunately, the Red Hood misjudged the lack of security in the plant, resulting in a shootout between the security guards and the criminals. Batman arrived at the scene. After a scuffle between the vigilante and the Red Hood, the Red Hood fell into a vat of toxic waste.
Moments later, the Red Hood was flushed out by the drainage system, and took off his mask. The toxic waste twisted his mind and his body...
... and the Joker was born.
The Joker has appeared in other media such as films, television series and video games.
In television, he has been portrayed by Cesar Romero in the live-action television series, Batman (1966-68). He was voiced by Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95). Hamill reprised his role in several more animated adaptations such as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), and videogames Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) and Batman: Arkham City (2011). Troy Baker filled in as the Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins (2013), after Hamill announced his retirement as the character.
In film, the Joker has been notably portrayed by Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989), and by the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008).
He will be portrayed by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad (2016).