Comic Book Origin
He may be the Clown Prince of Crime but this villain has to be taken seriously. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we will explore the comic book origin of theJoker.
As with most comic book characters, there are often re-imaginings and different versions of a character’s past. We will explore the events which unfolded in 1951’s Detective Comics No.168, which was expanded upon in 2004’s Batman: Gotham Knights No.54, 2007’s Batman: Confidential No.7 and 10, 2010’s Brave and the Bold No.31 and 2013’s Batman No.23 and 24.
The Joker is one of the most iconic supervillains in comic books; a twisted genius with a desire for chaos and seemingly random motivation. While he has sometimes been played for laughs, the Joker is as ruthless as he is insane. His complete disregard for human life makes him an especially deadly and terrifying foe.
Detective Comics No.168
Although the Joker’s true origin has been subject to debate, we’re using 1951’s Detective Comics No.168 as a starting point. In this story, Batman is teaching a criminology course and recounts an unsolved case from early in his career. A criminal named the Red Hood, whose head and face was completely disguised by a scarlet covering was conducting a crime spree. When Batman confronted him at a playing card factory. The Red Hood escaped by diving into a vat of chemical waste. Years later, Batman learned that the Red Hood had been a lab worker who decided to earn a fortune through theft. When he escaped from the vat of chemical waste, he found his skin, lips and hair had been discolored – and thus was born the Joker.
The Killing Joke
Alan Moore’s landmark The Killing Joke expanded significantly upon this original story, picturing the Joker originally as a failed stand-up comic named Jack with a pregnant wife who needed money. When thugs offered to pay him to wear the red hood and help with a heist, he agreed – which eventually led him to a fall in a vat of chemicals and a new life of crime.
Batman Gotham Knight No.54
In a 2004 story arc, some more information came to light. In this re-telling, Jack tried to back out of the heist at the behest of his wife. Instead, the criminals threatened to kill her if he didn’t help them. He did, again leading to his chemical bath. In this telling, the thugs blamed Jack for the scheme going wrong and so they hired a crooked cop to torch his apartment – with his wife in it. And it was this last development which drove Jack insane.
Batman: Confidential No.7
A different take on the story came along in a 2007 look at Batman’s early days. In this retelling, the Joker was already a brilliant criminal. Highly intelligent and a brilliant strategist, his every criminal endeavor was successful – and he had become bored. A sociopath, he had no regard for human life – and because he was bored, he was ready to end his own. But then Batman started his crusade in Gotham City, Joker found himself with a new purpose in life, complete with thrill and challenge.
Batman was hunting him down, but the Dark Knight had enlisted a gang lord to help him. The soon-to-be Joker had impinged on his territory and when he foundJoker, he paid him back good. But even after the gangster beat him at a pharmaceutical plant, he couldn’t defeat the Joker. The gangster did, however, manage to unleash a torrent of antipsychotic drug waste on the Joker – and you know the rest.
Brave and the Bold No.31
There had been hints through the years that the Joker came from a less-than-ideal family life. A 2010 story in which the Atom had to enter the Joker’s brain to cure him of a rare disease took a peek into his early life. Readers learned that as a child, the young Joker had expressed violent tendencies toward the some of the kids he went to school with. When the young Joker’s parents argued over what to do about their son, he calmly trapped them in their house and set it on fire.
DC’s revamp of their lineup with the New 52 project meant that a new Joker was needed. In this re-telling, Joker was brought up by an abusive Aunt Eunice and was again bullied by schoolmates. As an adult, he became the Red Hood and led a whole gang of criminal wearing red hoods. It turned out that his inspiration for this life of crime came from the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents. The randomness of their deaths and the fear it created inspired him to eventually found his criminal empire.
Batman No.23 and 24
At this time, Bruce was fighting the Red Hood, but not as Batman. He was simply wearing a range of disguises to hide his identity. However, after a brutal beating by the Red Hood, Bruce was inspired to become Batman. He confronted the Red Hood gang at a chemical plant and snared the leader as he attempted to escape. When the railing they were on collapsed, Batman tried to rescue the Red Hood. However, the Red Hood voluntarily jumped into the sea of chemicals below him, secure that he would survive – and be back stronger than ever.
No other villain has quite reached the notoriety and infamy of the Clown Prince of Crime, which explains his popularity in other media. The yin to Batman’s yang, the id to his superego, Joker is the perfect foil for the Dark Knight. And even at his most maniacal and evil, there’s something perversely fascinating about the Harlequin of Hate.
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