(Warning - SPOILERS for recent Batman comic books very much lie below. Proceed with caution, and such...)
If there's one key element of any superhero or supervillain's history, it's surely their origin story. From the murder of Batman's parents to Iron Man's heart-damaging kidnapping, it's often the moments that made our favorite heroes and villains who they are that define them more than any other.
Strangely, though- despite being one of the most iconic characters of the past century - the Joker's origins remain largely shrouded in mystery. Whether it's his intentionally unclear history in The Dark Knight, or the multiple back-stories offered in comic book form, what we know for sure about the Joker's past can be counted on the fingers of a severely amputated hand.
What's more, with the arrival of DC's New 52 a few years back, a whole lot of what we once thought we knew about the Joker has very much fallen by the way-side, with a whole lot of different origin stories proposed for the Clown Prince of Crime over the past year or two.
Which raise a pretty huge question:
What, Then, Is the Comic Book Joker's Real Origin?
Well, with the New 52 having been able to cherry-pick elements from the history of DC comics, it turns out that pretty much nothing from the past seventy-five years of the Joker's history can be assumed to be true. Instead, what we're left with are hints, teases and what may - possibly in every single case - be complete fabrications.
That being said, here are five of the possible origins we've heard in the New 52 thus far...
5. He Had an Abusive Aunt
Specifically, an aunt named Eunice, who - the Joker claimed in an issue he himself narrated (unreliably) - ruthlessly abused him as a child.
According to that story, the Joker was born when Eunice washed his young self's skin with bleach, causing his pale skin (and permanent brain damage).
That, though, was one of many origins the Joker himself has suggested. A more likely option?
4. He Was (Inadvertently) Created By Batman
Or, rather, the presence in the New 52 of The Red Hood - the Joker's original comic book identity - seems to suggest that the villain originally had a totally different persona. Not least because - much like in the older origin story - The Red Hood ended up falling into a vat of chemicals...
...even throwing in this before he fell:
Y'know, just in case we didn't get the hint...
All of which would mean that the Joker was essentially created by...Batman.
3. He Was Just Some Guy
Specifically, just some guy named Eric Border, who the Joker pretended to be for a while, hiding in plain sight at Arkham Asylum.
Now, the implication was that Border was simply a disguise - with the following explanation offered up as the Joker's 'true' origin - but it's also possible that the Joker had simply used a variation of his real identity, in order to confuse things even further.
That other explanation, though?
2. He Was Immortal
That's right. Immortal.
In this telling, the Joker is one of the world's immortal figures - 'the pale man' - who, alongside the likes of Vandal Savage, has existed for centuries, predating the very existence of Gotham city...
Which is, in theory, that. Except, of course, for the fact that Batman laughs in the face of such uncertainty...
At the close of the recent 'Endgame' story-line - just before the pair seemingly died - Batman may just have revealed the Joker's story of being immortal to be a false one too (by virtue of some nifty bluffing/science.
In its place, then?
1. He Was 'The Man Who Laughs'
Or, in other words, he is - in his own conception of himself, at least - a primal figure. He's not simply a man, but something bigger than himself.
He and Batman, then, are rendered precisely what they've become in popular culture - the twin figures of order and chaos, made solid.
Or, y'know...he could just be clinically insane.
What do you reckon?