There’s a reason The Joker has been on the pop culture scene for eight decades running: as far as villains go, they don’t get much more interesting. This colorful, talkative, chaotic anarchist is the perfect foil for Batman’s dark, stoic order-enforcer. Just the way George R.R. Martin likes it.
With Jared Leto set to portray the Clown Prince of Crime in Suicide Squad, the character continues to draw interest, probably because there’s so much room to explore such an enigmatic character. There’s no telling what kind of crazy thing The Joker will do next. At least part of that curiosity stems from the lore that the character has developed over the past 75 years. A storied character is bound to have a storied past, and The Joker’s history could fill a book (and on occasion, it actually has). But even with so much history and mythology to look at, it’s possible to pick out a handful of facts that help illustrate the character’s pop culture impact across the years, and why he’s remained so captivating.
There may be a few facts below that you’ve heard before, but hopefully we can shine some light on a very elusive character. Here’s our list of 10 crazy facts about The Joker! If we missed anything, don’t be afraid to let us know in the comments!
This Inspiration Dispute is Part of the Lore
Though we’ve already verified the original inspiration for The Joker’s creation, that’s not to say it hasn’t been hotly disputed over the years. Batman creator Bob Kane was known for hogging credit on his creations, and writer Bill Finger wasn’t identified as a co-creator of the comic until after his death.
Original inker Jerry Robinson dealt with similar a dispute when he took partial credit for the creation of The Joker. Robinson was fine with sharing credit, but claims to have presented Kane and Finger with a joker playing card that he’d drawn. Kane noted how the playing card looked like Conrad Veidt, who played a man with a freakish perma-grin in the 1928 German Expressionist film The Man Who Laughs. Kane denied this, saying that Robinson’s card was merely a place holder. The real Joker, Kane claims, was inspired by Veidt after Finger pointed to a picture of him and said, “Here’s The Joker.” Regardless of who officially merits credit for the character’s inspiration, the creation of The Joker was a team effort, from three hall-of-fame comic book guys.
The Joker’s First Appearance Was Almost His Last
Batman (or “The Bat-Man,” as he was originally known) debuted in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, looking pretty much the same as he does today. The Joker, the earliest of Batman’s long-term enemies, was introduced to the world in Batman’s very next appearance, Batman #1, in the spring of 1940. Right from the get-go, The Joker was murdering helpless people, bringing “death to his victims with a smile,” stealing their goods, and leaving behind a Joker playing card. Sound familiar?
Still, such a well-developed character was almost killed off and left for dead after his first appearance. Finger thought a recurring villain would make Batman appear inept, so he wanted to kill him off in the first issue. Fortunately, editor Whitney Ellsworth recognized The Joker’s vast potential and he was brought back to life with the addition of a quickly-drawn panel showing the character alive and imprisoned. Very quickly, The Joker was established as Batman’s arch enemy, appearing in 9 of the first 12 Batman comics.
Cesar Romero’s Classic ‘Stache
Before Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger would embody The Joker, the world knew the living, breathing character as played by Cesar Romero on the ‘66-‘68 ABC TV series, Batman, and in the 1966 film, Batman: The Movie. Romero made his debut pitching underhand in a Gotham State Penitentiary softball game. After a lot of laughter and some pretty decent curve balls, The Joker throws out an exploding softball. Kaboom! Then we hear a springing noise and when the smoke clears, an officer exclaims, “the devil, he sprung himself!”
Throughout the show’s three seasons, Romero appeared in 22 episodes, but he almost refused to play the part at all. Romero had made a career out of playing mustachioed leading men, “a Latin lover for years,” as Adam West recalled. So when he was asked to shave his mustache for the part, which was necessary to apply the makeup, Romero refused. They ended up applying the makeup over his famous ‘stache, which gave the character an even more maniacally campy look.
Nobody Knows Where He Came From
The Joker’s origin isn’t covered in the TV series, but it probably wouldn’t have helped to clear up the character’s murky past anyhow. Since he tells multiple conflicting stories about his life, any story The Joker tells from his past is hard to believe. Nothing is sacred or canonical when it comes to The Joker’s origin. That’s the way Robinson and Finger wanted it, as Robinson once said that having a true origin “takes away from some of the essential mystery.” Still, two origin stories are held in particularly high regard.
The first happened eleven years after the character’s first appearance, when Detective Comics #168 told us about a lab worker who dons a colorful, blank mask, and becomes the Red Hood in order to steal big money from his employer. Batman thwarts the plan, and the Red Hood falls into a bubbling vat of chemical waste, which gives The Joker his famous red, white, and green features. That’s the basis for Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Eisner Award-winning Batman: The Killing Joke, which fleshes out the story by transforming The Joker into a failed comedian who is talked into robbing the chemical plant that used to employ him. A variation on this origin story is used in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989).
Robin Williams Came so Close to the Batman Universe
A cross between Mork from Ork and the serial killer from Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia might give us an idea of what Robin Williams would have done with The Joker had he not been “screwed” out of Tim Burton’s Batman. Curiously, the actor also claims he was passed over for the role of The Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. It’s hard to think of anyone else filling the clown shoes of Jack Nicholson, and Jim Carey’s performance perfectly suited the silliness of the film it appeared in. Still, it would have been interesting to see Williams play either role. Or any Batman role, for that matter.
Along with many others, Williams was rumored to be circling the role of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins. And Williams made it quite clear at the time that he was more than interested. He even imagined how he’d take on the part: “Well, you want to do a different Joker. You know, if they do Arkham Asylum, it would be amazing. Arkham Asylum is one of the greatest, nastiest comic books ever. It’s truly, it’s like the Marquee de Sade on that level, and wonderfully damaged and quite tragic,” Williams said in 2006. Alas, the part went to Heath Ledger, who certainly gave us a darker Joker than we’ve ever seen on screen.
Ledger Originally Approached for Batman Role
“Take this guy: armed robbery, double homicide, got a taste for the theatrical, like you… leaves a calling card,” says Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) as he flips over The joker card at the end of Batman Begins. And from that point on, the vast mystique of The Joker loomed ever more eerily. Even more so after Ledger played The Joker in the darkest, most terrifying version of the character we’ve seen on film. Knowledge of Ledger’s passing in early 2008 was like a specter haunting The Dark Knight‘s marketing campaign, and lent an uneasy feeling of fatality to Ledger’s final role in a major film.
But Ledger wasn’t initially interested in the Nolan’s reboot. Back when he was approached about playing Bale’s dual roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne, Ledger told Nolan “he’d never do this kinda film.” But when it was time to cast The Joker, Ledger was “hungry” for the part, and “had a vision for something.” Nolan helped Ledger see that vision through, starting with suggested reading of Francis Bacon’s work and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
The Force Is Strong With This Joker
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Mark Hamill’s contribution to The Joker mythology, dating back to Batman: The Animated Series. The former Luke Skywalker got his start on the show as the voice of Ferris Boyle, a corrupt businessman. After Tim Curry dropped out of the show, Hamill was invited to take over him as the voice of The Joker. Really, he’s been playing that role ever since, voicing the character dozens of times through the years in cartoons, video games, and even live action … kind of. In an episode of the WB series, Birds of Prey, The Joker is shown in a flashback when he shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon (aka Bat Girl). Hamill recorded The Joker’s lines, and then his voice was dubbed over actor Roger Stoneburner, who was filmed in the shadows.
So we’ve never actually seen Hamill onscreen as The Joker, but his voice is the first that pops into many heads when they think about the character. Hamill will be taking over the role again in next year’s animated version of The Killing Joke.
Jared Leto’s Joker Has a Sick Sense of Humor
We’ll soon see Leto’s version of The Joker in Suicide Squad. Undoubtedly, Leto will give the character yet another original spin. Though we’ve seen plenty of takes on the White Duke of Death, there are plenty of reasons to expect Leto’s Joker will be uniquely his own: the character just lends itself to edgy performances.
Plenty of yarns have been spinning about just how “out there” Leto was willing to take things on set, or even before he made it there. He arrived late in the schedule to director David Ayer’s shoot, so Leto sent many of his co-stars letters that he wrote while in character as The Joker. He also filmed a video of himself in costume, telling everyone he was working hard and that he would be there soon. But that wasn’t all. Like a twisted Santa Claus, Leto also sent Margot Robbie a live rat, Will Smith some bullets, and everyone else got a dead hog.
The Joker Suffered Abuse, Maybe
It’s hard to talk about someone’s storied history and not bring up that person’s romantic history, even if it’s completely volatile. Just because he’s a sociopath doesn’t mean The Joker can’t find love, or at least become the object of someone else’s. That’s what happens in the 1993 episode of Batman: The Animated Series titled “Mad Love.” Thanks to Arkham Asylum intern psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D. (aka Harley Quinn), The Joker’s life gets a whole lot more complicated.
Dr. Quinzel is fascinated by The Joker and the prospect of hearing all his dirty secrets. It takes her nearly three months to finally interview him as part of her psychiatric studies. Quinzel thinks she’s ready for anything, but that changes when she finds out that The Joker had an abusive father, who used to “favor the drink.” This helps Quinzel to see The Joker as a tragic figure, so she ends up falling for the big green-haired galoot. Later, she helps break him out of prison and ditches her boring, ordered life for one of villainous chaos.
Maybe The Joker was abused by his alcoholic stepfather, but maybe he wasn’t. Batman tries to convince Harley of the latter, telling her that she was being used. But it’s still up for debate if abuse is a part of The Joker’s past, or if that was just another tall tale.
Creed Quinn, Blessed With The Joker’s Genes
In 1996, a 4-issue DC/Marvel crossover run called DC Vs. Marvel, pitted heroes from one comics powerhouse against heroes from the other. Things got weird when the Spectre and the Living Tribunal merged the two comic universes and created a third. In this new universe, heroes and villains from the DC universe were amalgamated with heroes and villains from Marvel. These hybrid characters took on a life of their own in the Amalgam Comics line of stand-alone issues. Not surprisingly, two of the most popular characters in the new universe were inspired by the Dark Knight and the Nemesis of the Knight. Well, partially inspired.
In “Legends of the Dark Claw,” Batman is merged with Wolverine to become Dark Claw, while The Joker is fused with Wolverine’s biggest rival, Sabretooth, to become the white-faced, green-maned Hyena. If the combination of their powers (and looks) isn’t enough to chew on, the characters both have alter-egos, Logan Wayne and Creed Harley Quinn, respectively. Wayne and Quinn were both part of the top secret Weapon X Project, which was supposed to turn both men into living weapons. Wayne eschews his new destiny, while Quinn embraces his, laughing all the way to Air Force 1, where he tries to poison the President. Sounds like a great movie, doesn’t it?
In 75 years, so many stories have been told about The Joker that it would be very difficult to count them all. Since the stories reflect the times, and the times are always changing, so too has The Joker. Hopefully we can agree that it would be hard to speak about The Joker without speaking about most of these facts, which help us understand who The Joker was, is, and may yet become. Obviously, these aren’t the only ten facts we know about The Joker. These are just ten nuggets of Joker-trivia that represent a handful of stories, and are in no way meant to represent all of The Joker’s many incarnations. We rely on you for that. So please, tell us your favorite things about The Joker in the comments!