Joker (character)

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The Joker is a supervillain who appears in American comic books published by DC Comics. The Joker was created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson and first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book Batman on April 25, 1940. Credit for the Joker's creation is disputed; Kane and Robinson claimed responsibility for the Joker's design while acknowledging Finger's writing contribution. Although the Joker was planned to be killed off during his initial appearance, he was spared by editorial intervention, allowing the character to endure as the archenemy of the superhero Batman. In his comic book appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a criminal mastermind. Introduced as a psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor, the character became a goofy prankster in the late 1950s in response to regulation by the Comics Code Authority, before returning to his darker roots during the early 1970s. As Batman's nemesis, the Joker has been part of the superhero's defining stories, including the murder of Jason Todd—the second Robin and Batman's ward—and the paralysis of one of Batman's allies, Barbara Gordon. The Joker has had various possible origin stories during his decades of appearances. The most common story involves him falling into a tank of chemical waste that bleaches his skin white and turns his hair green and lips bright red; the resulting disfigurement drives him insane. The antithesis of Batman in personality and appearance, the Joker is considered by critics to be his perfect adversary. The Joker possesses no superhuman abilities, instead using his expertise in chemical engineering to develop poisonous or lethal concoctions and thematic weaponry, including razor-tipped playing cards, deadly joy buzzers, and acid-spraying lapel flowers. The Joker sometimes works with other Gotham City supervillains, such as the Penguin and Two-Face, and groups like the Injustice Gang and Injustice League, but these relationships often collapse due to the Joker's desire for unbridled chaos. The 1990s introduced a romantic interest for the Joker in his former psychiatrist, Harley Quinn, who became his villainous sidekick and later escaped an abusive relationship with him. Although his primary obsession is Batman, the Joker has also fought other heroes, including Superman and Wonder Woman. One of the most iconic characters in popular culture, the Joker has been listed among the greatest comic book villains and fictional characters ever created. The character's popularity has seen him appear on a variety of merchandise, such as clothing and collectible items, inspire real-world structures (such as theme park attractions), and be referenced in a number of media. The Joker has been adapted in live-action, animated, and video game incarnations, including the 1960s Batman television series played by Cesar Romero and in films by Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989), Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008), Jared Leto in the DC Extended Universe (2016–present), and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019); Ledger and Phoenix each earned an Academy Award for their portrayals. Mark Hamill and others have provided the character's voice ranging from animation to video games.

Concept

Jerry Robinson's 1940 concept sketch of the Joker. (right) Actor Conrad Veidt in character as Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1928). Veidt's grinning visage inspired the Joker design. Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson are credited with creating the Joker, but their accounts of the character's conception differ, each providing his own version of events. Finger's, Kane's, and Robinson's versions acknowledge that Finger produced an image of actor Conrad Veidt in character as Gwynplaine (a man with a disfigured face, giving him a perpetual grin) in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs as an inspiration for the Joker's appearance, and Robinson produced a sketch of a joker playing card.[2][3] Robinson claimed that it was his 1940 card sketch that served as the character's concept, and that Finger associated with Veidt's portrayal.[2] Kane hired the 17-year-old Robinson as an assistant in 1939, after he saw Robinson in a white jacket decorated with his own illustrations.[4] Beginning as a letterer and background inker, Robinson quickly became primary artist for the newly created Batman comic book series. In a 1975 interview in The Amazing World of DC Comics, Robinson said he wanted a supreme arch-villain who could test Batman, not a typical crime lord or gangster designed to be easily disposed of. He wanted an exotic, enduring character as an ongoing source of conflict for Batman (similar to the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty), designing a diabolically sinister-but-clownish villain.[5][6][7] Robinson was intrigued by villains; he believed that some characters are made up of contradictions, leading to the Joker's sense of humor. He said that the name came first, followed by an image of a playing card from a deck he often had at hand: "I wanted somebody visually exciting. I wanted somebody that would make an indelible impression, would be bizarre, would be memorable like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or any other villains that had unique physical characters."[8] He told Finger about his concept by telephone, later providing sketches of the character and images of what would become his iconic Joker playing-card design. Finger thought the concept was incomplete, providing the image of Veidt with a ghastly, permanent rictus grin.[5] Kane countered that Robinson's sketch was produced only after Finger had already shown the Gwynplaine image to Kane, and that it was only used as a card design belonging to the Joker in his early appearances.[3] Finger said that he was also inspired by an image in Steeplechase Park at Coney Island that resembled a Joker's head, which he sketched and later shared with future editorial director Carmine Infantino.[9] In a 1994 interview with journalist Frank Lovece, Kane stated his position: Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt – you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo. ... Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, 'Here's the Joker.' Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it, but he'll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card.[10][11] Robinson credited himself, Finger, and Kane for the Joker's creation. He said he created the character as Batman's larger-than-life nemesis when extra stories were quickly needed for Batman #1, and he received credit for the story in a college course:[12] In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker, Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was the first mention of it ... He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine. Bill finished that first script from my outline of the persona and what should happen in the first story. He wrote the script of that, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals, so Bob was also.[13] Finger provided his own account in 1966: I got a call from Bob Kane.... He had a new villain. When I arrived he was holding a playing card. Apparently Jerry Robinson or Bob, I don't recall who, looked at the card and they had an idea for a character ... the Joker. Bob made a rough sketch of it. At first it didn't look much like the Joker. It looked more like a clown. But I remembered that Grosset & Dunlap formerly issued very cheap editions of classics by Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo ... The volume I had was The Man Who Laughs — his face had been permanently operated on so that he will always have this perpetual grin. And it looked absolutely weird. I cut the picture out of the book and gave it to Bob, who drew the profile and gave it a more sinister aspect. Then he worked on the face; made him look a little clown-like, which accounted for his white face, red lips, green hair. And that was the Joker![14]

Golden Age

The Joker debuted in Batman #1 (April 1940) as the eponymous character's first villain, about a year after Batman's debut in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). The Joker initially appeared as a remorseless serial killer and jewel thief, modeled after a joker playing card with a mirthless grin, who killed his victims with "Joker venom," a toxin that left their faces smiling grotesquely.[16] The character was intended to be killed in his second appearance in Batman #1, after being stabbed in the heart. Finger wanted the Joker to die because of his concern that recurring villains would make Batman appear inept, but was overruled by then-editor Whitney Ellsworth; a hastily drawn panel, indicating that the Joker was still alive, was added to the comic.[2][17][18] The Joker went on to appear in nine of Batman's first 12 issues.[19] The character's regular appearances quickly defined him as the archenemy of the Dynamic Duo – Batman and Robin; he killed dozens of people, and even derailed a train.[20] By issue #13, Kane's work on the syndicated Batman newspaper strip left him little time for the comic book; artist Dick Sprang assumed his duties, and editor Jack Schiff collaborated with Finger on stories. Around the same time, DC Comics found it easier to market its stories to children without the more mature pulp elements that had originated many superhero comics. During this period, the first changes in the Joker began to appear, portraying him more as a prankster than a threat; when he kidnaps Robin, Batman pays the ransom by check, meaning that the Joker cannot cash it without being arrested.[21] Comic book writer Mark Waid suggests that the 1942 story "The Joker Walks the Last Mile" was the beginning point for the character's transformation into a more goofy incarnation, a period that Grant Morrison considered to have lasted the following 30 years.[22] The 1942 cover of Detective Comics #69, known as "Double Guns" (with the Joker emerging from a genie lamp, aiming two guns at Batman and Robin), is considered one of the greatest superhero comic covers of the Golden Age and is the only image of the character using traditional guns. Robinson said that other contemporary villains used guns, and the creative team wanted the Joker—as Batman's adversary—to be more resourceful.

Silver Age

The Joker was one of the few popular villains continuing to appear regularly in Batman comics from the Golden Age into the Silver Age, as the series continued during the rise in popularity of mystery and romance comics. In 1951, Finger wrote an origin story for the Joker in Detective Comics #168, which introduced the characteristic of him formerly being the criminal Red Hood, and his disfigurement the result of a fall into a chemical vat.[25] By 1954, the Comics Code Authority had been established in response to increasing public disapproval of comic book content. The backlash was inspired by Frederic Wertham, who hypothesized that mass media (especially comic books) was responsible for the rise in juvenile delinquency, violence and homosexuality, particularly in young males. Parents forbade their children from reading comic books, and there were several mass burnings.[2] The Comics Code banned gore, innuendo and excessive violence, stripping Batman of his menace and transforming the Joker into a goofy, thieving trickster without his original homicidal tendencies.[17][26] The character appeared less frequently after 1964, when Julius Schwartz (who disliked the Joker) became editor of the Batman comics.[2][17][27] The character risked becoming an obscure figure of the preceding era until this goofy prankster version of the character was adapted into the 1966 television series Batman, in which he was played by Cesar Romero.[2][17] The show's popularity compelled Schwartz to keep the comics in a similar vein. As the show's popularity waned, however, so did that of the Batman comics.[2][27] After the TV series ended in 1969, the increase in public visibility had not stopped the comic's sales decline; editorial director Carmine Infantino resolved to turn things around, moving stories away from schoolboy-friendly adventures.[28] The Silver Age introduced several of the Joker's defining character traits: lethal joy buzzers, acid-squirting flowers, trick guns, and goofy, elaborate crimes.

Bronze Age

In 1973, after a four-year disappearance,[2] the Joker was revived (and revised) by writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams. Beginning with Batman #251's "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge", the character returns to his roots as an impulsive, homicidal maniac who matches wits with Batman.[31][32] This story began a trend in which the Joker was used, sparingly, as a central character.[33] O'Neil said his idea was "simply to take it back to where it started. I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. I tried to get a sense of what Kane and Finger were after."[34] O'Neil's 1973 run introduced the idea of the Joker being legally insane, to explain why the character is sent to Arkham Asylum (introduced by O'Neil in 1974 as Arkham Hospital) instead of to prison.[35] Adams modified the Joker's appearance, changing his more average figure by extending his jaw and making him taller and leaner.[36] DC Comics was a hotbed of experimentation during the 1970s, and in 1975 the character became the first villain to feature as the title character in a comic book series, The Joker.[37] The series followed the character's interactions with other supervillains, and the first issue was written by O'Neil.[38] Stories balanced between emphasizing the Joker's criminality and making him a likable protagonist whom readers could support. Although he murdered thugs and civilians, he never fought Batman; this made The Joker a series in which the character's villainy prevailed over rival villains, instead of a struggle between good and evil.[39] Because the Comics Code Authority mandated punishment for villains, each issue ended with the Joker being apprehended, limiting the scope of each story. The series never found an audience, and The Joker was canceled after nine issues (despite a "next issue" advertisement for an appearance by the Justice League).[38][39][40] The complete series became difficult to obtain over time, often commanding high prices from collectors. In 2013, DC Comics reissued the series as a trade paperback.[41] When Jenette Kahn became DC editor in 1976, she redeveloped the company's struggling titles; during her tenure, the Joker would become one of DC's most popular characters.[39] While O'Neil and Adams' work was critically acclaimed, writer Steve Englehart and penciller Marshall Rogers's eight-issue run in Detective Comics #471–476 (August 1977–April 1978) defined the Joker for decades to come[31] with stories emphasizing the character's insanity. In "The Laughing Fish", the Joker disfigures fish with a rictus grin resembling his own (expecting copyright protection), and is unable to understand that copyrighting a natural resource is legally impossible.[32][35][42][43] Englehart's and Rogers' work on the series influenced the 1989 film Batman, and was adapted for 1992's Batman: The Animated Series.[35][44] Rogers expanded on Adams' character design, drawing the Joker with a fedora and trench coat.[36] Englehart outlined how he understood the character by saying that the Joker "was this very crazy, scary character. I really wanted to get back to the idea of Batman fighting insane murderers at 3 a.m. under the full moon, as the clouds.

Modern Age

Years after the end of the 1966 television series, sales of Batman continued to fall and the title was nearly cancelled. Although the 1970s restored the Joker as an insane, lethal foe of Batman, it was during the 1980s that the Batman series started to turn around and the Joker came into his own as part of the "Dark Age" of comics: mature tales of death and destruction. The shift was derided for moving away from tamer superheroes (and villains), but comic audiences were no longer primarily children.[45][31] Several months after Crisis on Infinite Earths launched the era by killing off Silver Age icons such as the Flash and Supergirl and undoing decades of continuity,[46] Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (1986) re-imagined Batman as an older, retired hero[47] and the Joker as a lipstick-wearing celebrity[36][46] who cannot function without his foe.[48] The late 1980s saw the Joker exert a significant impact on Batman and his supporting cast. In the 1988–89 story arc "A Death in the Family", the Joker murders Batman's sidekick (the second Robin, Jason Todd). Todd was unpopular with fans; rather than modify his character, DC opted to let them vote for his fate and a 72-vote plurality had the Joker beat Todd to death with a crowbar. This story altered the Batman universe: instead of killing anonymous bystanders, the Joker murdered a core character in the Batman fiction; this had a lasting effect on future stories.[49][50] Written at the height of tensions between the United States and Iran, the story's conclusion had Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini appoint the Joker his country's ambassador to the United Nations (allowing him to temporarily escape justice).[51] Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke expands on the Joker's origins, describing the character as a failed comedian who adopts the identity of the Red Hood to support his pregnant wife.[25][52] Unlike The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke takes place in mainstream continuity.[53] The novel is described by critics as one of the greatest Joker stories ever written, influencing later comic stories (including the forced retirement of then-Batgirl Barbara Gordon after she is paralyzed by the Joker) and films such as 1989's Batman and 2008's The Dark Knight.[54][55][56] Grant Morrison's 1989 Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth explores the psychoses of Batman, the Joker and other rogues in the eponymous facility.[57][58] The 1992 animated series introduced the Joker's female sidekick: Harley Quinn, a psychiatrist who falls for—and ends up in an abusive relationship with—the Joker, becoming his supervillain accomplice. The character was popular, and was adapted into the comics as the Joker's romantic interest in 1999.[59] In the same year, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's comic book Anarky concluded with the revelation that the titular character was the Joker's son. Breyfogle conceived the idea as a means to expand on Anarky's characterization, but O'Neil (by then the editor for the Batman series of books) was opposed to it, and only allowed it to be written under protest, and with a promise that the revelation would eventually be revealed incorrect. However, the Anarky series was cancelled before the rebuttal could be published.[60] The Joker's first major storyline in The New 52, DC Comics' 2011 reboot of story continuity, was 2012's "Death of the Family" by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. The story arc explores the symbiotic relationship between the Joker and Batman, and sees the villain shatter the trust between Batman and his adopted family.[19][61] Capullo's Joker design replaced his traditional outfit with a utilitarian, messy, and disheveled appearance to convey that the character was on a mission; his face (surgically removed in 2011's Detective Comics (vol. 2) #1) was reattached with belts, wires, and hooks, and he was outfitted with mechanics overalls.[62] The Joker's face was restored in Snyder's and Capullo's "Endgame" (2014), the concluding chapter to "Death of the Family".[63][64] The conclusion of the 2020 "Joker War" storyline by writer James Tynion IV and artist Jorge Jiménez sees the Joker leave Gotham after Batman chooses to let him die.[65] This leads into a second ongoing Joker series, set to begin in March 2021 with Tynion writing and Guillem March providing art.

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