After appearing in comics for over 75 years, the fact still remains that few comic book villains are as iconic as the mysterious Joker. However, fans now live in an age where we like every secret to be explained in detail to us. With that in mind, a few questions about the Joker do present themselves, including which team is the Clown Prince of Crime “batting” for?
As it is with Batman’s no killing rule, there have been so many different versions of the Joker across innumerable comics that it’s hard to find one definitive answer. Nevertheless, here for your convenience is a breakdown of the Joker’s sexuality!
Is The Joker Straight?
For the most part, the Joker is depicted as a cruel and psychotic character that has no compunctions about killing, maiming or manipulating others since he shares no emotional connection with them. Yet there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Batman’s nemesis falls under the usual heteronormative label.
Certainly, in 'The Killing Joke' comic, the Joker was shown to be married to a woman called Jeannie and expected a child with her, prior to Jeannie's untimely demise and his fall into insanity. But that life-changing event never seems to have stopped him working the old charm on some lovely ladies. In Tim Burton’s Batman, Jack Nicholson’s Joker is shown to have a strong attraction to a repulsed Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and The Dark Knight also saw #HeathLedger’s incarnation take a particular interest in Rachael Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The comic books even took this further, with several characters such as Anarky and Duella Dent insisting that the Joker is their absent father.
Yet if we’re considering the Joker’s weakness for women, we must look to the only long-term relationship he's ever had and that's the one he shared with Harley Quinn. The Clown Prince famously seduced the one-time psychiatrist and far from being a cold-hearted lover, the Joker has occasionally displayed a strong fondness for his girlfriend — the sort that almost makes him seem kind of normal. Suicide Squad depicted Joker (#JaredLeto) going to some lengths to rescue her from Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), and when Harley (#MargotRobbie) showed surprise at his actions, he replied:
"Oh, you know I'd do anything for you... By the way, I've got some grape soda on ice and a bearskin rug waiting."
Additionally, the Joker was highly jealous when Harley distanced herself from him in the ‘No Man’s Land’ comic arc, and the 'Arkham' video games even suggested that he even loved Harley enough to consummate the relationship. Thankfully, we never actually see their liaisons happen onscreen — the thought of that is scary in itself — but plenty of fans have taken it upon themselves to depict the duo doing the nasty.
Y’see, the Joker/ Harley pairing is a very unhealthy one, and it has proved to be a highly controversial talking point in their more recent appearances. After all, the Joker directs highly abusive behavior towards his “expendable” assistant, whom he has threatened, beaten and even attempted to kill on the odd occasion. Certainly, the devotion that Joker shows the Harley in #SuicideSquad is less endearing when you realize that he twisted and tortured her into insanity, and the comics are practically bursting with instances of his domestic violence. Thankfully, more recent editions have shown her walking away and forming a career of her own.
But this brings us to another idea: is the sex merely another tool to enforce his sadistic, criminal ways? It’s definitely arguable that they have more to do with the Joker wanting power and influence than as a fulfillment of his sexual desire. 'The Killing Joke' famously saw him assault Barbara Gordon to try and drive her father insane (the jury is still out as to whether he raped Barbara in the process, since the original artwork is pretty explicit and suggestive), and then there’s the lesser known case in Brian Azzarello’s 'Joker'. This alternate universe finds the Joker discovering that his bodyguard Johnny Frost has been withholding information from him, so the Joker rapes his accomplice’s ex-wife to punish him for his indiscretion.
Aside from highlighting the misogynistic slant of comics, these unpleasant panels further highlight how monstrous the Joker is. Certainly, it is a widely accepted notion that rape is more about control and violence rather than satisfaction, but does this mean that the Joker is an outright heterosexual? Or is there another angle of him that has yet to be considered?
Is The Joker Asexual?
As The Joker's sex life doesn't factor often into #Batman stories, many people assume that conventional sex and love don’t typically factor into the Joker’s thought processes either. Sure, there’s the odd kiss or affectionate hug with Harley here and there, and a bit of innuendo and flirting in his Cesar Romero incarnation, but there is very little else to suggest that their passion progresses from that point onward. This lack of detail isn’t simply because cartoons, comics and films are for younger audiences, but because many fans feel that Joker's insanity and obsession negates his carnal desire.
The Joker’s relationship with Harley is a large indicator in all of this. Certainly, the Joker may like to keep her around as a companion, yet the only source of affection comes from Harley, such as in the famous ‘rev up your Harley’ scene from The Batman Animated Series. Amusingly, #Joker is more interested in plotting against Batman, and so he rebuffs her gestures. Many fans believe that this is generally the default Joker. After all, he’s generally pretty busy either being locked away in Arkham Asylum or fanatically fighting Batman to be getting down and dirty all that often. Some have surmised that aside from this, a character that’s as obsessive and insane as the Joker wouldn't consider sex, or want to sully himself with it. Then again, he may just be holding out for the right kind of person... or more specifically, the right kind of man.
Is The Joker Gay?
With his frequent use of pet names for men and his occasional use of lipstick, could this mean that the Joker leans towards the queer end of the spectrum? The fact that he’s largely shown a disinterest towards Harley and Gotham’s other female characters is quite telling. Along with his penchant for clashing, garish colors, the comics are filled with many suggestive panels; he notably groped Batman in Grant Morrison’s 'Arkham Asylum', and he was also fairly open to the concept of anal sex with the villain Onomatopoeia in Kevin Smith’s 'The Widening Gyre'.
It's a similar case in the movies. Leto’s onscreen version also got handsy with Officer Griggs (Ike Barinholtz) in Suicide Squad and in #TheDarkKnight, Heath Ledger’s Joker dressed up as a female nurse; merely a disguise? Or something more?
This is a tricky point really, since publishers have refused to include #LGBTQ characters due to our historical social prejudice, and even if there are hints of it like we see in the Joker, it’s not unusual for villains to be simply coded as queer characters. Writers have long written their antagonists “unnatural” sexual desires – or else insinuated that they have them – to contrast with their heroes and thus threaten the standard heteronormative behavior that they embody. So if Batman fulfils alpha-male desires with his buff body, cool cars and girls, does the Joker simply challenge his manliness with his leaner form and flamboyancy?
Overall, it’s hard to say whether or not the Joker is sexually attracted to men, or if he’s only acting that way to mess with the manly-men of Gotham City and thus reinforce his unpredictable persona. On the other hand, do these sexual undercurrents hint at a more specific salacity?
Perhaps He's Even...Bat-Sexual?
The fact that the Joker is rarely shown in any substantial or healthy relationships or getting frisky, is (to some fans) evidence of another theory: that the Joker is ‘Batsexual.’ This essentially implies that Joker is similar to an adrenaline junkie, and only gets his — ahem, rocks off — by battling Batman. There are certainly a lot of indicators to support this, namely the fact that the Joker is highly possessive about the Caped Crusader’s attention; indeed he despises the Bat-family for this very reason. In a recent comic run (‘Death of The Family’) he openly said that they were distractions for Batman's "affections," and even #TheLegoBatmanMovie saw him go to great lengths to earn the title of “Batman’s Greatest Villain.” As such, his adoption of pet names and homosexual overtones might be the only way that he can convey this kind of infatuation.
We can certainly draw parallels with other heroes and villains, such as Will Graham and Hannibal in NBC's Hannibal. As their allegiance progressed in the series, their common state of mind and their mildly suggestive physical contact meant that a palpable sexual frisson began to develop. Although it was never acted upon — and indeed, seemed very likely to become physical — their shared experience of the darkness in the world forged an intimacy which transcended physicality. Thus, it's the same with the Joker and Batman.
Fans often highlight how well Batman and Joker complement each other. Both had that "one bad day" causing them to change into these parallel archetypes and this is what fuels the Joker's "Bat-sexuality." However, because this “intimacy” is obviously very warped and never acted upon, it might be a bit of a stretch to label this as sexuality unto itself. Still though, the Joker definitely derives some kind of deep pleasure from his interactions and commonalities with Batman. Why else would he continue to delight in tormenting Batman for years on end?
So What's The Deal?
Though he mainly leans towards asexuality in the comics, the Joker’s sex life is as changeable as the comics themselves. Filled with retcons and reinventions, the Joker’s preferences very much depends on whatever writer is behind the story that’s being told or who the story is aimed at. This approach is also the same for his other portrayals throughout pop-culture; thankfully we never saw a rapey Joker in The Batman Animated Series.
All in all, it would seem that the Joker’s sexuality is as “chaotic as his conception and origin,” and that’s actually a good thing. Indeed, the Joker’s lack of any singular sexual preference is what helps enforce his mystique. This is a character, after all, that works best with no back-story. Indeed, his mystery and his refusal to act in any predictable way is what makes him such a powerful and iconic foil for our beloved Batman!
What do you think the Joker's sexuality is? Straight as an arrow or multiple-choice like his backstory? Head to the comments and let us know!