(Warning - major SPOILERS for recent Batman comic books lie below. Tread softly, and all that...)
Sure, Superman may have the most iconic chest in the world, and sure, Batman may have infiltrated pretty much every piece of pop culture going - but for a whole lot of fans, neither hero will ever quite measure up to another of DC's most iconic characters: the Joker.
The Clown Prince of Crime has, after all, evolved in recent years from the campy, fluorescent lunatic made famous in the 1960s into one of the most enduring and beloved villains in the world. And yet, despite his rampant popularity - especially when played by Heath Ledger back in 2008's The Dark Knight - there's a whole lot about the Joker that we routinely don't actually know.
The big question, then?
Why Is Such an Iconic Character Still So Mysterious?
After all, when it comes to Superman and Batman, their tragic back-stories are so solidly defined that we could likely all repeat them at will - they're so very much defined by where they come from that we can never forget it.
And yet, when it comes to the Joker, there's nothing like the same amount of certainty. In fact - as has been discussed at length elsewhere - the very question of the Joker's origin (whether in The Dark Knight, or in the comic books) is one of the most recurring debates in geek-dom.
The most important element of that debate?
We Can Never Really Be Sure About Which of the Joker's Potential Origins Is the Real One
Whether it's his theoretical soldiering past in The Dark Knight, or his potential immortality in the comic books, the Joker has always retained a certain air of mystery about his reputed origins - and thrown any certainty as to their truthfulness into doubt at the earliest possible opportunity.
Even his more traditional origins - those pre-dating Nolan's Dark Knight series, or the current New 52 DC comic book reboot - have had a tendency to muddy the waters. After all, while many consider The Killing Joke to tell the Joker's definitive origin story...
...there are a whole lot of other competing versions out there with just as much claim to be the genuine article.
Why Isn't There a Definitive Version of the Joker's Origin, Though?
After all, while older Joker-featuring comic books can largely be forgiven for their lack of coherent continuity (consistent origin stories really weren't a priority for DC until pretty recently), the modern day comic books and (especially Nolan's) movies seem to almost revel in their unwillingness to give us a definitive origin for the Joker. There's certainly the opportunity to provide him with a conclusive origin, but it's one that the likes of Nolan and current Bat-comic scribe Scott Snyder have seemed fundamentally reluctant to take.
Which, as it turns out, is exactly the point.
The Joker's Lack of a Single Origin Story Is What Defines Him as a Character
As Christopher Nolan put it to Empire, while discussing The Dark Knight-era Joker:
"We always wanted him to be an absolute; in terms of he's a fully formed individual. People's reactions to him are not fully formed so were seeing him change the world, rather than himself. He doesn't have an arc, as such - a character arc or anything like that - he really just...I like to say he cuts through the movie the way the shark does in 'Jaws'."
That, he argued, was entirely intentional - with the alternative stripping the character of what makes him so interesting:
"If you look at Hannibal Lecter or someone like that, the more you explain where he came from, the less interesting he is, I think. In that first Michael Mann film, where he's just sitting in that jail cell, pontificating about serial killers, he's absolutely terrifying and then each of the films that have had him in as a character have progressively revealed more and more about who he was and have made him more of an ordinary person and he gets less and less interesting..."
With the Joker, though, we know virtually nothing - which is precisely what makes him so terrifying...and fascinating.
As Scott Snyder revealed to IGN, in relation to the big comic book reveal that the Joker may actually be immortal, the point isn't to create a definitive origin - it's to create fundamental doubt:
"Well, what I want you to believe is whichever side you prefer, because he's trying to make an argument to Batman that Batman absolutely will not accept. It's not meant to be something you see and say, "Oh, of course that's true." You're supposed to be with Batman, kind of like, "That cannot be true. Is it true? I hope it's not true," all of that stuff."
So much so, in fact, that even after Batman seemingly debunked the Joker's assertions of immortality a few months back, the villain still somehow managed to throw the whole thing back up into the air:
We Need the Joker's Origin to Be Mysterious
After all, it's what makes him the character we all know and love...
And so, for as long as creators who really seem to 'get' the character are working on him, we're extremely unlikely to see anything like a definitive explanation of where the Joker comes from, or why he does the things he does.
Now, here's hoping Suicide Squad keeps that dream alive...