Emerging from the history of DC Comics back in the 1930s, Batman's arch nemesis Joker remains one of the most iconic and enduring comic book villains in popular consciousness.
From Heath Ledger's widely mythicized performance and tragic demise before the release of The Dark Knight in 2008 to your edgy cousin photoshopping green and red face paint over their profile picture, Joker mania has always gripped Batman fans and it's not letting go anytime soon.
And such was the furore when Jared Leto's initially controversial-looking Joker was first unveiled to the world. The foil to Ben Affleck's Batman in the DC Extended Universe, Leto's Joker debuts in this summer's Suicide Squad, presumably causing trouble for our gang of not-really-reformed-at-all bad guys. Check him out in the Suicide Squad blitz trailer below!
And, though it's actually looking like he's going to be a pretty damn formidable Joker, Leto still has a lot to live up to.
What Came Before
It's not just the likes of Ledger and Jack Nicholson — who famously portrayed Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman — that Leto has to worry about. The Joker of the comic books has appeared in so many different incarnations that it becomes a little hard to keep up, and many of them have gone on to become as iconic as their on-screen counterparts.
When Joker was first introduced in the late 1930s he was a pretty vicious sort and had no problem with killing people, in fact that was pretty much his jam. But Jack Schiff being brought in as the Batman editor in the 1940s and the introduction of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s changed that, with the CCA banning "gory" content, amongst other things.
The Joker of the 1950s became heavily softened, reduced to a camp troublemaker rather than a stone cold killer. So, it's perhaps apt that the CCA — which had a blanket ban on portrayals of homosexuality until the late 1980s — arrived around the time of this, the infamous Joker and Batman "boner" exchange.
'The Joker’s Comedy Of Errors'
Yeah, I wish I'd just made that up. Joker's boner gaffe occurred in 1951 in Batman Issue 66 — "The Joker's Comedy of Errors" — by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Lew Schwartz and Charles Paris.
The comic opens with Joker making a boner — which in the 1950s meant a slip up or an embarrassing mistake, unlike nowadays where it's become contemporary slang for an erection. Take from that what you will in terms of how language has evolved.
When committing a robbery at an electric company building, Joker and his men cut the power and cause a blackout, but are unable to escape with the company payroll due to the fact that they can't see properly in the dark. Excellent plan, guys.
The Gotham City newspaper widely publicizes the Joker's "boner," causing the Clown Prince no small measure of humiliation.
And Now For Batman's Boner
So, rather than striking back or hiding under a rock for a while, the Joker decides that he's going to take this boner and run with it, planning a series of crimes based on other famous historical boners — which Joker describes as "the great boners of all-time." And everyone keeps saying the word "boner" like it's going out of fashion.
He begins by recreating the grounding of the USS Missouri battleship of 1950, stalling a ship carrying diamonds out of Gotham bay and robbing it, then recreating a modern leaning Tower of Pisa to rob an oil magnate's home. Meanwhile Batman and Robin are searching frantically for Joker's new hideout, to little avail.
The Joker then declares his intention to trick Batman into making a boner of his own, because if DC history has taught us anything it's that Joker is obsessed with Batman's boners.
The Dynamic Duo go on to figure out that Joker's next crime will be a recreation of the Trojan Horse and — though they show up in time to foil the crime — Robin commits a boner of his own (they start so young) by falling over and allowing Joker to escape.
This only fuels Joker's desire to witness a Bat-boner though, and he decides it's time to put his tricky boner plan into action.
Using a directional beam transmitter, Joker forces the Batplane off course while en route to California to attend a court case. Batman ends up flying to England instead in a recreation of Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan's 1938 flight, in which he flew from New York to Ireland instead of his destination in California.
Those Tricky Boners
This leads to the papers lauding Batman's boner, calling him "Wrong-Way" Batman. The Joker is overjoyed at the humiliation he has wrought upon Batman's boner, but he should've studied up on his history a little more. Just as Corrigan flew to Ireland "accidentally on purpose" — as he wasn't given clearance to fly across the Atlantic as he'd wanted — so did Batman commit a purposeful boner in order to trick the Joker.
It's revealed that Batman figured out Joker was going to use the directional beam to force him off course, and by pretending the plan had worked, he was able to track the beam transmitter back to Joker's hideout. By faking his own boner, Batman was able to get the Clown Prince to expose himself in the greatest boner of all.
So ends the great Joker boner debacle of the Batman comic, truly an issue that will go down in history. And now we can never look at the ending of The Killing Joke the same way again. As Joker said so eloquently: "Gotham City will rue the day it mentioned the word boner!"
Now we really can't wait to see if Jared Leto is able to trick Ben Affleck into exposing a boner when Suicide Squad rolls around.
Suicide Squad is set for an August 5, 2016 release date.