Joker by Ryunosuke Kikuno

The Origins of the Joker

The Dark Knights most infamous antagonist has many origin stories and none of them agree with each other. His decent into madness is clear, but his path to that madness is shrouded in mystique and deception in order to create a character that is as intriguing as he is unstable.

The Joker is a case too tough for even the worlds greatest detective to solve, and no matter how many times the Bat defeats him and throws him into Arkham Asylum, he just keeps coming back, grinning with malice.

Today I want to explore how three different interpretations of the Joker have borrowed from each other, ignored each other, but still use enough of the basis of the Joker’s origin story to be consistent. Meaning – there is no basis of the Jokers origins.


'There's nothing wrong with me...'


In the Tim Burton movie back in 1989 when Jack Nicholson played the character, his origins are clear. He’s a gang leader criminal who get’s pursued by Batman into a toxic waste refinery, where upon – after a shootout with the caped crusader – falls, helplessly into the toxic waste and remains disfigured for the rest of his life.
A surgeon does what they can to save his face, but when he looks upon his new face, he instantly goes insane (I’ve just realised how Lovecraftian that is). Nicholson’s Joker begins his criminal career as a street thug and, in Burtons movie, is the one responsible for the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, causing Bruce to become The Bat. This change was made so that the Joker’s origins were more relevant to the story Tim Burton wanted to tell, but in every other Batman story medium that I am aware of, the Joker had nothing to do with the death of Wayne’s parents and so his actual origins are much more ambiguous. 


As you can see, he's alot happier.



​Alan Moore’s interpretation of The Joker is a man who has multiple, incompatible memories of his own past. Memories that synchronise with each other and thus, in his madness, he cannot be sure what is fact and what is reality – which plays in very well with his character. 


The Joker talks origins in The Killing Joke


In the Killing Joke, the Joker has one bad day. One really bad day, which drives him totally batshit and as such he believes that the only thing separating Commissioner Gordons sanity (or anyone else’s, for that matter) from the inmates at Arkham Asylum is a heavy dose of psychological trauma all at once. He kidnaps the commissioner and handcuffs him to a psycho theme park ride that shows him horrific images with the intent of traumatising him. This plan fails, of course, but it doesn’t deter the Joker from holding this view.



Of course, I wasn’t going to miss him out. The ambiguity of the Joker character was also carried over to Heath Ledgers fantastic portrayal in the Christopher Nolan movies. The Joker asks several characters throughout the story – when referring to his disfiguring, ‘Chelsea grin’ – in a more than a little threatening manner, ‘Do you know how I got these scars?’. He then proceeds to answer the question with a different story every time, ranging from his violent father mutilating him with a knife as a child, to him mutilating himself with a knife to help his wife feel better after she was in an accident, leaving her scarred. 


Quite a disturbing image.


The fact that we the audience never find out which story (if any) is true, adds to the mystique of the villain. He obviously got those scars somehow, but the fact that he uses them to physiologically torture his victims.  


I didn't have time to talk about Mark Hamil's Joker, but here he is.
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